Review of Confessions of a Bad Teacher by John Owens

Let me begin by saying that I am not a teacher. I am also very skeptical of the American education system, so much so that I plan to homeschool my own son, not for religious reasons, like so many homeschoolers, but because I don’t think he’ll get a good education otherwise. So in some ways, I was the ideal audience for Owens’ Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Education. I’m already a believer in the failure of the system.

That said, the book was eye-opening even for me. The author does an excellent job detailing the problems faced by public school teachers in America. He effectively utilizes a mix of statistics, vignettes from public school teachers around the country, and his own personal narrative of his experiences in a Bronx middle school to illustrate how the focus of the school system has changed from students to data. He tells a sad story of ineffective administrators with too much power, scapegoated teachers whose creativity and effectiveness are stifled by micromanagement, and marginalized students. I wish I could say that I thought this book would help to change things. The author’s column on Salon already affected a change in the particular school in which he taught, small changes in individual schools are no longer sufficient. And unfortunately, I fear the book relies too heavily on the author’s own experiences in one school, with one bad principal and not enough on the statistics and vignettes from other teachers to really convince anyone who isn’t already convinced. He makes it too easy for a critic to say, “yes but that was just one bad administrator.” But the book is very readable, and I hope that it ends up in the hands of enough people to at least get the conversation started at a national level. And I hope that Mr. Owens plans to continue his crusade beyond Confessions.

*Full disclosure – I received a free galley copy of the eBook from NetGalley.com.

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