Nancy Flanagan, now retired, taught music for many years. She is a keen observer of teaching and also of the pundits who regularly criticize teachers. She has been there, done that, and has no sympathy for armchair “experts.”

She recently reviewed a book that won her praise: Alexandra Robbins’s THE TEACHERS: A YEAR INSIDE AMERICA’S MOST VULNERABLE, IMPORTANT PROFESSION.

This book, Flanagan writes,

does what many other books about teaching are not able to do–take the reader right into the classroom, and describe what’s happening, with empathy and perception. There are lots of books about problems in American education, and lots of books that suggest solutions for those problems, but we seldom get to see examples, conversations and the people doing the work.

If you want a drone’s eye view of American public education—where it’s been, what bedevils the century-old movement to improve it—I would recommend Diane Ravitch’s trio of excellent books that follow education reform over the last couple of decades, or A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School by Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire.

But if you want to see what happens in the classroom and in the lives of teachers, Robbins accomplishes that better than any book I’ve read since Tracy Kidder’s Among Schoolchildren, written in 1989, which now feels like ancient history. The book is a tour de force—every teacher I know who’s read it agrees—unapologetically written from the POV of teachers without feeling the need to make excuses or backpedal.

I read an advance copy of the book and was similarly impressed. I felt that at this very moment, when teachers are being vilified by the likes of Betsy DeVos, Ron DeSantis, and other red state politicians, Alexandra Robbins’ book is a necessary antidote to scurrilous claims that teachers are “grooming” students for a life of perversity or training them to be Marxists. People who rain insults on teachers should be barred from public life.

Robbins follows three excellent teachers and describes their lives, their trials and successes.

Robbins highlights things that other education books don’t notice or can’t be bothered with–in-building teacher jealousies and vindictiveness, physical violence against teachers, the long-term effects of cuts to things once considered normal in every school, what it’s like to sit in an IEP meeting with a recalcitrant parent or clueless colleague.

Flanagan writes:

This book is also the first and best description I have read about the impact of the pandemic on teaching and learning. There have been endless articles and research on “learning loss”–all rife with meaningless data and numbers–but nobody talks about the impact of being expected to position family needs as secondary to students’ needs. Robbins gets this right–there is a line between acting morally vs. choosing school over family, a choice that teachers were urged to make, and reviled when they chose their own families and their own health. We have not yet reconciled that, here in America—but the book makes a good start on it.

Highly recommended for everyone, but especially teachers. It’s a fairly fast and facile read, although well-documented with endnotes, and should give teachers a lift, knowing that their work and their dilemmas have been acknowledged.