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The Secret Lives of Teachers

Welcome to “East Hudson,” an elite private school in New York where the students are attentive, the colleagues are supportive, and the tuition would make the average person choke on its string of zeroes. You might think a teacher here would have little in common with most other teachers in America, but as this veteran educator—writing anonymously—shows in this refreshingly honest account, all teachers are bound by a common thread. Stripped of most economic obstacles and freed up by anonymity, he is able to tell a deeper story about the universal conditions, anxieties, foibles, generosities, hopes, and complaints that comprise every teacher’s life. The results are sometimes funny, sometimes scandalous, but always recognizable to anyone who has ever walked into a classroom, closed the door, and started their day.
This is not a how-to manual. Rather, the author explores the dimensions of teaching that no one else has, those private thoughts few would dare put into a book but that form an important part of the day-to-day experience of a teacher. We see him ponder the clothes that people wear, think frankly about money (and the imbalance of its distribution), get wrangled by parents, provide on-the-fly psychotherapy, drape niceties over conversations that are actually all-out warfare, drop an f-bomb or two, and deal with students who are just plain unlikeable. We also see him envy, admire, fear, and hope; we see him in adulation and uncertainty, and in energy and exhaustion. We see him as teachers really are: human beings with a complex, rewarding, and very important job.

There has been no shortage of commentary on the teaching profession over the decades, but none quite like this. Unflinching, wry, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, it’s written for every teacher out there who has ever scrambled, smirked, or sighed—and toughed it out nonetheless. 


“Deconstructs the myth of the selfless and sacrificial teacher. . . . This is one of the best books (or, in the author’s estimation, a 'series of interlocking essays') about being a teacher (about actually being one, with all its humiliations and petty jealousies, as well as its joys and triumphs) that I have ever read – about a life of service to others and, at times, in mere servitude. . . . Smart, trenchant, and very funny . . . the book asks us to reconsider assumptions about our work, our students, our goals, our limits, and our teaching lives. It is possible you will view yourself—and your profession—differently after you’ve read it.”

Newsletter of the Southern Association of Independent Schools

Table of Contents

Author’s Note
Introduction: Working Propositions

School’s Open
Commencing (opening day)
The Teacher Within
Checking Your Self (badges of identity)
Compensations (money, salary, and working conditions)
Teaching Time (seconds to decades)
Subject Matters (the role of academic disciplines)
Progressive Faith (the default philosophy of teachers)
Among Students
Name Games (the struggle to know one’s students)
Jealousy (dealing with tears)
Transit (apprehending student lives in motion)
Gradients (assessments and their pitfalls)
Romantics (love in various forms)
Questioning (the role of classroom dialogue)
Gingerly Revising (confronting limits)
Native Intelligence (working with unprepared students)
(Dangerous) Diversity (touchy subjects and hurt feelings)
Projection (visiting another school)
Enlarging the World (the struggle to affirm the life of the mind)
Among Parents
Parental Teaching (the parent-teacher power struggle)
Home Work (managing family management)
Among Colleagues
Smart Board, Dumb Teacher (technology and its discontents)
Positions (conflicts between teachers)
Among Administrators
Complaints (the faculty–administration divide)
Brownie Points (problem-solving/ student discipline)
School’s Close
Regraduating (closing the circle)
Afterword: A Note on Context

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