Fiction: “Adequate Yearly Progress” Is a Hoot
Reviewed by Rita Platt
If you’ve been in the classroom for more than a few years, you know both the good and bad side of the profession. Sometimes, it’s more good than bad. Those years, we can shut our doors and teach children while mostly ignoring the politics of testing – the onslaught of new “best-practice” related edu-babble, and those higher in the food chain who push us in every direction.
Other years, it feels like bad is winning. We have a tidal wave of directives, tough groups of kids, and we can’t even find peace behind our closed classroom doors.
Being a teacher is hard. Those of us who have taught in schools with less than successful academic track records know it’s often very hard. So-called “failing schools” are bombarded with bad ideas from outside consultants.
Even the hardiest among us needs to stop, take a breath, focus on the good stuff, and remember why we became educators. For my money, the best way to do that is to laugh.
Reading Roxanna Elden’s book chronicling the trials and tribulations of teachers and administrators at fictional Brae Hill Valley High School made me laugh. A lot.
Here’s someone who knows what it’s like
Elden, an NBCT and author of See Me After Class: Advice for Teachers by Teachers, gets it. She knows teachers and she knows the cacophony of carpetbaggers who – in the guise of experts – can leave teachers bedraggled and downtrodden.
She introduces readers to Lena, an English teacher and spoken word poet looking for love in the wrong places. We meet Hernan, a good-hearted science teacher who, in spite of the odds, makes learning happen in his classroom but isn’t rewarded for it. Kaytee, a Teach for America-type, learns some hard lessons while also learning to love public schools, warts and all.
Many other characters round out the fictional faculty, and all deal with the flavor-of-the-month reform nonsense ushered in by new superintendent, Nick Wallabee, who spouts platitudes such as “Believers are achievers” and forces principals to issue “believer ratings” to teachers.
Truly, Elden’s themes are dark. Public education faces a great many obstacles, and she aptly makes the reader think deeply about the impact of many of them. From poverty to absentee parenting, from big-business, factory-style education management to shaky alternative teacher-licensing programs, and from high-stakes testing to crumbling facilities, Elden doesn’t flinch.
The portrait Elden paints of inner-city high schools seems bleak and often close to the truth; there is much darkness in our public schools, many of which are starved for resources. But, there is good there too. Thankfully Elden also shines a light on the positives, with well-written and believable examples of the small everyday successes teachers have and how they can and do touch the lives of the children they serve.
Even better, Elden makes the reader laugh. Take, for example, the chapter titled, “Faculty Engagement.” There Elden shared the acronym PHCDMACD, which is “short” for the Pre-Holiday Cross-Departmental Midyear-Assessment Data Chat – held annually in Brae Hill Valley’s media center. As teachers enter the room, they encounter a life size mechanical Santa decoration. But, sadly,
“The years in the school’s supply room had been rough on Santa. He’d developed some programming glitches, one of which caused him to stop mid-sentence, give one jerky kick, and yell, ‘Ho!’” The Santa didn’t so much spread holiday cheer as add to the crazy vibe at Brae Hill. So much so, Elden relates, that “There is a sign near him that reads, ‘Students, stay three feet away from Santa at all times.’”
Educators, read the book. You earned it. You deserve it. Kick up your feet, shout a hardy “Ho!” and laugh off some of your stress.
Rita Platt (@ritaplatt) is a National Board Certified Teacher with master’s degrees in reading, library, and leadership. Her experience includes teaching learners in remote Alaskan villages, inner cities, and rural communities. She currently is a school principal, teaches graduate courses for the Professional Development Institute and blogs at Heart of the School for MiddleWeb.