Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Review: Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher by M. Shannon Hernandez

Book Stats
Title:  Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher
Author:  M. Shannon Hernandez
Publisher: Mill City Press
Language: English
ISBN-13: 978-1-62652-962-5

M. Shannon Hernandez takes a hard look at the public school system in her memoir, coming to the conclusion that it is failing its students and teachers.  She uses a straightforward approach, capturing education’s major problems by chronicling her last forty days as a teacher.  Her goal is to speak out for educators and students, and to make parents, administrators and policy-makers involved with public school education aware of glaring issues within the system. 

As an educator for more than fifteen years, Hernandez is more than qualified to write on this topic.  Anyone who teaches for even a year will see the same problems with education in the United States.  And Hernandez certainly paints a grim picture.  She is not adequately paid, lacks essential supplies for her classroom, is undermined by her principal and watches her students face unthinkable poverty and lack of familial support.  Ultimately, she makes it clear that teachers are the people “in the trenches.”  If not adequately supported, the students pay the ultimate price.  Ironic, considering all the talk about making students the number-one priority among policy-makers.

Hernandez is extremely candid.  She takes the reader on her journey, sharing her joys, sorrows, successes and failures to prove her point.  Her personal anecdotes, however, ultimately leave the reader feeling quite somber.  It’s impossible to read about the daily struggles of these teachers and students without becoming frustrated. 

Despite the fact that Hernandez worked in an urban environment and my school is quite suburban, as  a fellow educator, many of the problems she encountered are all too familiar to me.  The lack of respect teachers face is probably the most upsetting, as they are sorely underpaid and do not have access to the materials they need in the classroom.  I was most affected when she said, “. . . I realize we are so busy teaching a curriculum that is so scripted, test-heavy, and inauthentic that we have lost the opportunity to connect with students on a personal level.  Instead, we are focused on raising test scores and teaching testing strategies, day in and day out” (36).  What teacher can’t identify with that statement?

My only caution to the reader is that her situation seems insanely difficult.  This is not to say she is exaggerating the problems, because they are real and need to be addressed.  But she seems to have an extraordinarily high number of students living in extreme circumstances, and her principal, without a doubt, behaved in a horribly unprofessional way.  She goes above and beyond for her job and is barely acknowledged for her efforts, which does not happen in my school.  Teachers with her level of dedication are admired and celebrated. I would be interested in seeing the statistics of teachers who encounter problems on this level on a consistent basis.

There are times when I laughed out loud and nodded in agreement, shook my head in frustration and ached for her hardships.  Her story of being unfairly accused of inappropriate contact with a student is one I will never forget.  It is also immensely frightening.  I don’t want to give too much away, but it is certainly an important anecdote for teachers to read.

Teachers will identify with Hernandez, making this a worthwhile read.  However, it is administrators, parents and policy makers who need to read it, and I hope they take her words to heart.  


Find Shannon's website here


  1. Hi Bethany! Thanks so much for hosting Shannon today. I'm also curious about the challenges teachers face in urban as opposed to rural/suburban schools. If Shannon stops by today, I'd love to hear her thoughts on this, as I believe she taught in both during her career.

  2. Excellent, well written and thought out review! I had similar thoughts about the hardships of her students, but I experienced this myself when I lived in a loft in downtown Long Beach, CA and taught art to neighborhood kids after school. We provided a place for them to get creative and a safe to stay because the neighborhood had several drug dealers and lots of homeless, and most of their parents were working or simply not around. Those are the kids I pictured in my mind when I read Shannon's book. I'm glad to hear it's not like that everywhere though, and that teachers are appreciated in other schools.

  3. I will definitely be reading this. I'm so glad a former teacher was brave enough to speak out about the devastation of the public schools.


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