Comment / Books
TEACHERS TALK, by John Godar. (Glenbridge, $19.95.) Exhausted after 12 years of teaching high school English, John Godar quit his job in 1985 and traveled the country to find out what public school teachers think about teaching. The result is an engaging book of interviews in which dozens of teachers talk with great intensity about everything from shattered idealism to indifferent parents. The news isn't all bad; the majority of teachers are highly committed. But the teachers--from poor and wealthy districts alike--are obviously under great strain, and even the most calm and self-reflective voices occasionally bristle with anger. Teachers find themselves in an impossible bind: Society expects them to perform miracles, yet they are denied even basic control over what they teach. Over and over again, teachers talk of being treated with disdain, even contempt. One goes so far as to say that "teaching is slavery.'' Others tell compelling horror stories: A principal encourages cheating to raise standardized test scores; a teacher is evaluated by someone who knows nothing about her field. The reader finishes this book feeling great admiration for teachers who succeed against all odds and deep pessimism about a public school system that seems impervious to change.
The reviewer, former chairman of the English department at University Lake School in Hartland, Wis., is on leave to write a novel.