Roxanna Elden has penned a hilarious satire of a year in the life of a <insert your favorite word for a school targeted for state intervention, closure, or worse> school. In Grumpy Old Teacher’s (GOT) district, the names have varied over the years: turn-around, SIG (for school improvement grants back when those were a thing,) Quality Education for All, challenging, get-out-and-don’t-come-back-if-your-test-scores-aren’t-high-enough … okay, GOT made that last one up but it fits not only the ever-changing yet never-changing programs with one and only one focus on test scores … it fits into the theme of the book: one year in the life of teachers who work in a school targeted for improvement, which means <cough, cough> privatization.
The genius of the author lies in her accurate portrayal of schools under the hard pressure created by unrealistic demands of ed reform and the very realistic environment of their location. While it seems ridiculous, this is daily life to a veteran educator recognizing far too many of the reform ideas that penetrate the school and woe to anyone who does not comply. Ms. Elden creates sympathetic characters who face life struggles as teachers trying to have a human existence while satisfying the demand to be a superhero teacher.
Did GOT say teacher? Ms. Elden is also brilliant at portraying three administrators: the principal, who is old-school, who works to keep district foolishness at bay while shielding his teachers (Shut your door and teach; I’ll handle the rest,) who finds himself targeted by a superintendent eager to push his reputation forward by finding victims to pillory … hmm, not saying anything more although a few faces are flitting across GOT’s mind … the loyal admin who tries hard to support her school although she is often left hanging by last-minute HQ emails and no one appreciates the nuance … the out-for-myself figure whom one should ever turn a back on.
It starts with the edict that every teacher will write the Curriculum Standard of the Day on their whiteboard. As the year progresses, the Sample Question of the Day is added as well as the Research-Based Best Practice, wherever will a teacher find all the whiteboard acreage needed and still have room to actually demonstrate what to do for students?
At the end of the year (no spoiler alerts, GOT is giving nothing away,) we see some teachers fired, some bailing out, some moving on to district offices to torment those left behind, some surviving.
In a very sad way, this book sums up our pandemic year in which no good deed will go unpunished and standardized testing must go on because, dammit, you can’t let a pandemic stop the punishing.
Florida, looking at you.