Inside America’s teaching crisis

Journalist Alexandra Robbins profiles three public school teachers for a year—and gets a glimpse into why they’re so exhausted.

Last year, after the caps and tassels were tossed to the May sky and the seniors had hugged and cried and laughed their goodbyes, I too said a final farewell to the school and, for the foreseeable future, to teaching.

I wasn’t alone. Before the pandemic, in spring 2019, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute reported on what they called “teacher and staff shortages” nationwide, citing low relative pay and lack of professional support as reasons for the attrition, as well as myriad troubles collectively described as a “challenging working environment”—parental aggression, workplace bullying, violence, and threats of violence. Then, of course, came 2020. Data suggests that 10 percent of the country’s teachers left the profession at the end of the 2021–2022 school year, an increase of 4 percentage points above pre-pandemic levels. Significantly more teachers left in districts serving students of color and in those with high rates of poverty.

In her latest book, journalist Alexandra Robbins shows us why some teachers persist despite these adversities. In addition to sketching the social, political, and historical contexts for the challenges teachers face, Robbins introduces us to three teachers: Penny, a middle school math teacher in the South; Rebecca, an elementary schoolteacher in the Northeast; and Miguel, a special education teacher in the West.