The Teachers: a Year Inside America’s Most Vulnerable, Important Profession by Alexandra Robbins

8. March: Teacher Confessions: Behind the Scenes Dish

  • (Doug: Several chapters mention the notion that teachers work very long hours and some do. English teachers who carefully grade lots of writing assignments may fall into this category. On the other hand, there are teachers that put in very little time outside of class. These might include people who teach subjects like secondary math and PE.) Teachers want to differentiate, but it’s difficult. Some computerized lessons and games can help as students work at their own pace.
  • There is a concern about some special ed kids moving to the high school where there are police and people who don’t yet know their quirks. It isn’t unusual for teachers to date and marry. Gossip about teachers seen together often can be a problem. As for social media, it’s best that teachers avoid it. They can’t avoid emails however and Alexandra mentions some of the associated problems. Emails from former students usually make a teacher’s day.

9. April: “Just Part of the Job”: How Violence and Short-Staffing Create a Violent Profession

  • While there is little research on the topic, the many anecdotal reports here make it clear that many teachers are assaulted and injured each year. These are generally teachers who work with emotionally disturbed special education students and who lack sufficient support staff. Again the theme of bad leadership arises. Many require written reports prior to intervention or the outright lack or consequences for violent behavior. (Doug: As an elementary principal I had to frequently restrain students who were out of control. I knew how to do this in a manner that resulted in zero injuries in 13 years.)
  • Although school shootings are rare, they have increased and as a result, teachers have had to learn how to lock things down and keep students safe. Such drills can’t be good for anyone’s emotions. The push for inclusion has resulted in more violent students in general education classes. There is no uniform data collection on this topic and some teachers fail to report incidents for fear of looking bad and even reprisal by administration.

10. May: “Do No Harm but Take No Crap”: Workarounds, Happy Hours, and Other Pro Tips for Educators

  • Many students suffer from test anxiety, which is usually worse when students are faced with high-stakes standardized tests. This means that teachers also need to help students with this emotional issue. Some have also found that computer programs that take a game-like approach can help kids with ADHD.
  • The rest of this chapter offers nuggets of advice for teachers. They include: listen to parents and validate their concerns, document everything, choose a teacher you admire to be your mentor, be aware of your biases, avoid gossip, and don’t spend time in the staff lounge if the climate is less than positive.

11. June

  • At the end of the school year, each of the three teachers Alexandra studied intensively reflect on good things that happened. This includes seeing growth and compliments from students, teachers, and peers. In a sense, they have succeeded in spite of the hardships they have all faced and look forward to continuing in the fight.
  • The chapter ends with Andrea’s reflections on her stint as a long-term substitute where she also experienced gratification and joy working with students who didn’t view her as a sub. She then encourages the readers to do what they can to improve the circumstances in the profession as a whole. This includes higher salaries, smaller class sizes, more support staff, all the supplies they need, and supportive administrators. Teachers deserve better and the current situation may be a national crisis. If we trust our children to them, we should at least give them the tools they need.
  • Help teachers acquire their wishlists here.

Alexandra Robbins

  • Alexandra is the author of five New York Times best selling books. She is an award-winning investigative reporter who has written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. She has appeared on hundreds of television shows including 60 Minutes, Today, CBS Mornings, The Opera Winfrey Show, The View, and The Colbert Report. She is @AlexndraRobbins on Twitter where she uses the hashtag #ClearTheList. You cansend her a message here.
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