Adequate Yearly Progress

If you write a novel about teaching, how realistic should it be?

If, in particular, it’s supposed to be a satire, then how realistic should it be? Can you distinguish a satire from reality? Sometimes it’s hard to do that. Writing a satire presents several opposing risks, including at one extreme making it laughably implausible and at the other extreme making it just a straightforward telling.

Roxanna Elden’s Adequate Yearly Progressa name that will mean more to some of you than to others—is never implausible and may in fact be so realistic that it doesn’t seem like a satire at all. It’s the amusing but serious tale of an inner-city high school in Texas, focusing primarily on teachers in a variety of departments, including some young (but not first-year) ones. Other characters are the administrators and the students, all portrayed very convincingly. Of course football is important—this is Texas, after all—but otherwise we learn about English, math, history, and science teachers, how they interact with each others, with their students, and with the school and district administrations. We learn what can get an excellent teacher fired—excuse me, “disencouraged to return”—and what can get a school board to hire an inappropriate superintendent because he has a program that he claims will cause every student to success.

After reading the book, I checked out a few reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, and I particularly liked this one:

I am a teacher in a public school and have been for the past sixteen years. It is like someone sat in my school, every day, for all these years, and then wrote a documentary.

And this is fiction.

I can’t rave about this book enough. I loved it. I hated it. I laughed out loud and quoted passages to other teacher friends and teared up at passages detailing the struggles of students.

Every teacher should read this. Everyone curious about the struggles of teaching in public school should read this.

Adequate Yearly Progress is set in a public school dealing with the myriad problems they face. It is written with rotating perspectives by chapter so you get to see things through the eyes of several teachers and administrators. And it treats all the players with respect while still showing the darkly humorous idiocy of many decisions. It shows admin struggling under missives of a board office and their series of initiatives that make little sense and shows how teachers try to follow all the rules while still actually educating. It shows new hopeful teachers struggling with the cynicism of some colleagues as well as helping students with family issues.

It shows everyone preparing for an outside audit and the fear that creates (while still trying to actually educate students). We see the struggle of maintaining a personal life and balancing work, worry about others, and the vying for funds with charter schools.

In short, it is the teaching experience. While it’s fiction it is also, quite literally, the most accurate portrayal of teaching I have ever read.

Yeah, as he said.

Categories: Books, Teaching & Learning