A Survival Guide for Teachers


I was a teacher for thirty years and liked both teaching and teachers.  The teachers I knew were hard working, capable pros who really gave a damn and did their level best to help the kids learn.

They worked in a hostile environment, one that was often dangerous; their cars were stolen at regular intervals; powerful chemicals drifted through the air vents and fried their brains like a pan of eggs; they earned shameful wages and little respect.  But they were, and still are pros.

I was a witness when the system began to fall apart.  The kids took charge of the schools in the sixties, aided and abetted by lunatic-fringe types posing as concerned parents or community activists. School boards everywhere surrendered power to anyone who demanded some, superintendents sold out in droves, school administrators wrung their hands and all of them blamed the teachers for the resulting chaos.

Teachers barely surviving as it is thus get an undeserved bad rap and nobody goes to bat for them.  I thought it was time someone did and this book is the result.  

My story begins with my transfer to MacKinley High School after stints in elementary and junior high schools. MacKinley is a large high school deep in the inner-city of Detroit, an old building in good repair and actually functioning fairly well overall.  The school had churned out reasonably well-educated graduates for forty years and was still doing so when I arrived.

Alas, all that changed soon enough.  Almost overnight Mackinley High turned into an educational nightmare. We had riots and fires and marijuana smoke-ins on a regular basis.  Cops were assigned to patrol our halls along with a dozen security guards and all available teachers.  Doors were chained shut to keep out interlopers, vandals vandalized everything in sight, muggers mugged.

Test scores fell along with morale.  Nobody knew what the hell was going on or what he should do about it.  A new principal was sent in to fix things and he didn’t last a whole semester before riots and chaos sent him packing.  A procession of replacements followed him. Teachers were assaulted and abused, many were driven into early retirement or homes for the unstable.  It was the beginning of what many regard as the end of public education in America, a long slide into mediocrity and intellectual malaise.

This, then, is the author’s eyewitness account of this continuing decline and the lessons learned from it.  The teachers at MacKinley High not only survived but even flourished in this academic maelstrom, and they did it in classic fashion by employing the hit-and-run guerrilla tactics used by underdogs everywhere. You can survive, too, if you memorize and apply the Survival Rules herein.

These Survival Rules are spread throughout the text to provide readers with concrete ideas for getting through the experience alive and in more or less one piece.  These Rules were garnered from thirty years of teaching in some of the worst schools on the planet and all have  been field-tested.  If you can reject idealism for realism, the way things ought to be for the way they are, madness for sanity, then this book can easily give you the edge you need to survive in the frontlines of modern American education and beat the bastards at their own game.

Certain chapters relating to my experiences at MacKinley have been interspersed to provide actual eyewitness accounts of the madness and mayhem our staff was required to live with—and still is to this day.  Some of these incidents have been exaggerated for dramatic effect but not by much.

We’ll take things in no particular order and without apparent rhyme or reason just as they occur in real life.  We begin with an overview of study halls and finish our overview with an analysis of school administration and what to do about it.

Finally, and best of all, we close with a sure-fire scheme that will straighten the whole mess out and restore sanity and order to our nation’s public schools literally overnight at no additional cost in money or other resources.  In short, a single, solitary idea properly executed can make our schools safer places for staff and students alike and enormously improve the quality of both the schools and the kids coming out of them—and that is what this book is ultimately about.