I'm a teacher, so the subject of No Teachers Left Behind by HBF (Hopeful But Frustrated) is near and dear to my heart. As soon as the book arrived, I sat down and read it in its entirety, nodding to myself at passages that hit way too close to home and sharing the frustration of burnt out teachers left at the mercy of a hands-off administrator. Yep, way, way too close to home.
Told through emails, poetry, memos, and short dialogue, No Teachers Left Behind follows a group of educators in a middle school where the executive principal is most concerned with looking good herself, violent children are allowed to get away with outrageous behavior because enforcing discipline makes the school look bad, and NCLB (No Child Left Behind, the federal law that all public schools must bow down to) reigns over good sense. At first glance it might seem that the students' behavior is too dangerous, too flagrant to be ignored, and yet, as an educator myself, I see these things being allowed to occur all in the name of raising a school's test scores and attendance rates. Principals who do enforce rules for students often face censure from their administrators and parents, but those who don't, such as the one found in this book, place their teachers and other students at risk.
I can recognize many of the teachers spotlighted in this fictitious school. There is the one just marking time until retirement because she's seen it all come down the pike and back around again and none of it works against the current mindset against education. There is the teacher who desperately wants out but cannot afford to leave, and the one who is in charge of sending ranting emails to all colleagues in order to spread the grief around. There is the fresh young teacher who truly wants to make a heartfelt difference, and what is most sad is that many of my own colleagues and myself once felt this way, too.
The author captured the different styles of administration perfectly by injecting the book with realistic situations and personalities. The idea that there are administrators who are never seen is so close to what I experience on a daily basis that I had to laugh; how on earth could HBF know how it is at my school? There truly are positions that are so far away from actually educating children that I know HBF has to be in a school himself/herself to know how to describe these positions. The memos and emails? The shortness of supplies? All true, all worded to perfection to let us know that it is "an opportunity for creativity". I suspect HBF may have saved and used actual emails/memos, changing only the details in order to protect the innocent or clueless.
I'd like to say that not all teachers are as cutting and burnt out as those found in the pages of this book, yet somehow their voices rang too true for me to put that stamp on it. I wish I could say it's just the personalities of the various teachers (because, after all, all professions have a few bad eggs), but I know for a fact it is the constant beating down of ideas, creativity, and teaching that makes the teachers' voices throughout this novel so realistic. And the parent notes/emails? Priceless! We've shared more than a few just like those at my school, so HBF gets high marks from me for letting others know that yes, we are at the mercy of the ignorant and the indulgent.
My biggest problem with this book, however, isn't the fact that I felt so defeated while taking on the problems and attitudes of the teachers in its pages, but the ending itself. While I could see that we were building toward a very dramatic conclusion, I take exception that the teachers involved were the "good" ones, and I believe that while these things can happen, the event itself was a bit of a stretch. Most teachers are not and cannot be forced to do after school duty supervising students on school bus routes, and if there is a health reason such as pregnancy, a teacher would not be forced to do anything that would go against a doctor's orders (as this would have so late in a twin pregnancy). While it was heart-wrenching, a setting within a school would've made more sense. However, the administrator's reaction was dead-on in a world where test scores and positive images rule over common sense and good educating.
I will highly recommend this book for all public school educators as a way to let them know they are not alone. I would also encourage anyone not directly involved in education to read it as well so perhaps some insight might be gained into what a typical school day is really like. I would also encourage college students and administrators to read this novel, not to discourage potential teachers from coming into the field, but to let them know that it's not quite as pictured in college classes. We're at a crisis point in education, and I would love to see this book generate a thoughtful, meaningful dialogue about who is truly being left behind.