The Teachers by Alexandra Robbins follows three public school teachers – a special ed teacher in CA, a middle school math teacher in the south, and an elementary school teacher on the east coast – over the course of an academic year, to paint a picture of the challenges they face, especially post-covid. This is a disturbing, frustrating, but very important book about one of our most undervalued professions and the devotion and sacrifices of those who enter it, and choose to return, year after year.
Why I picked it up: I wanted to get the real story of what it is like to be a teacher.
The Teachers details a long list of horrible things that teachers face today: unsupportive administrators; unreasonable workloads; safety issues (student violence, covid); test score mandates; crazy, demanding parents; insufficient supplies; toxic workplaces – on and on. And yet, these dedicated men and women are expected to keep our children safe, engaged, challenged and emotionally supported, day after day. It’s not surprising that so many teachers burn out or leave the profession, especially post-2020. By tracking an academic year, Robbins conveys the relentless pace, frustration and exhaustion these teachers experience after the initial ebullience and hopefulness of September wear off. Robbins also intersperses discussions of various topics throughout the chronological narrative, such as bullying among teachers, no work-life balance and poor physical working conditions. She also answers some questions that readers want to know, such as what teachers really think of parent-teacher conferences, teacher-teacher romances, and how teachers decide which classes students are put in.
I know this all sounds bleak, and it is. But what also shines through this book is the love that so many teachers have for their students and their passionate commitment to teaching. You might ask yourself why they stick with it year after year when there are so many negatives, but the answer is pretty clear: they love making a difference in the lives of their students. And that’s what is ultimately hopeful about The Teachers. The main question, then, is what can be done to make things better? Robbins doesn’t offer much in the way of ideas for reform, nor does she go deeply into school board politics or public school funding on state or local levels. I’d like to hear how she thinks things can be improved and how taxpayers and parents can help make that happen.
I experienced The Teachers as a read/listen combo, and I recommend sticking with the print. Robbins narrates the audiobook, and while she is a great writer, her narration can be a little jarring, especially when she adopts the accents of the people she interviewed for the book.
The Teachers was the 26th book of 2023.