The Teachers: A Year Inside America's Most Vulnerable, Important Profession
Alexandra Robbins opens her compelling and highly important book, The Teachers, with a brilliant hook: “You may think you know what’s inside, but you don’t,” and then repeats, throughout her prologue: “Look deeper,” concluding, “Look deeper, here, and learn.” And that is precisely what she does. Her text is an engaging, well-researched exposé and call to action that delves deeply into the full lives and experiences of American teachers. For those who teach, this book will ring true on just about every page; for those who don’t, this book is essential reading. Most importantly, The Teachers is an indictment of the way America treats its teachers and shows why this needs to change.
Organized by month, The Teachers follows three teachers throughout the course of a school year. She depicts Penny, a beloved sixth grade math teacher from the South, who is subjected to a toxic work environment; Miguel, an extraordinary special-ed teacher who works under appalling conditions and has to fight for his students; and Rebecca, a creative and enthusiastic fourth grade teacher living on the East Coast, who devotes herself to her students and teaching at the expense of most other aspects of her life. Robbins explains: “As the stories in this book illustrate, teachers are among the most vital, hardest working, passionate, and selfless members of the workforce—yet they are also among the most disrespected and undervalued.”
Along with the teachers’ stories, Robbins inserts well-researched essays that examine such themes as school violence, disrespectful and outrageous parent behavior, inadequate support, resources, staffing, and poor working conditions; school administrators, low pay, and mounting demands due to the pandemic; and the disregard, lack of respect for, and exploitation of teachers. Robbins also dispels myths or misleading terms such as “summers off,” “teacher burnout,” and “teacher shortages.” The Teachers concludes with a section titled “Teachers Deserve Better: How You Can Help” as a call to action that includes specific ways to change the system.
Each chapter or month opens with quotations or anecdotes that illustrate the attitudes and treatment of parents and administrators toward teachers. While many are utterly shocking, such as a father of a Missouri public school teacher threatening: “I pay your salary and I can get you fired,” or a father in a North Carolina school staring down a teacher while miming a punch: “My daughter is not to be crossed. I taught her how to punch.” Or a New York teacher who wrote: “I emailed my principal to let him know I was going to the hospital in labor. He called me about something six hours later, while I was in the labor and delivery room.” These stories are all too familiar to teachers. They highlight how despite being devoted, educated, skilled professionals, teachers are underpaid, abused, and disrespected. No other professionals are treated this way.
The Teachers is a refutation of the offensive, far too often used saying in America, “Those who can’t, teach.” This book effectively educates and enlightens readers who don’t teach how inaccurate this saying is. It is a must-read for all parents, school administrators, and legislators. Robbins so aptly concludes her “How You Can Help” Section: “Teachers---exceptionally devoted, critical contributors to society---are the most influential professionals during the formative years of future generations, and they are the key to fixing a broken, needlessly politicized education system. It’s time we treat them right.” Amen to that!