The American Teacher: A History

Rowman & Littlefield. May 2024. 250p. ISBN 9781538189115. $34. ED
Samuel, an independent scholar of American studies, makes clear from jump that this book is not a research study. Instead, it is an examination of the role of U.S. teachers over the last century. Divided into 10 chapters (one for each decade, starting with the 1920s), the book argues that the evolution of the teaching profession is inexorably tied to historical events and the social mores of the United States. The evolving roles of women and teachers of color, for instance, can be traced through their treatment by school boards, courts, and communities. Another focus is the historical (and ongoing) effort to separate proficient teachers from their less-successful counterparts. To bridge the gap, sometimes there’s teacher training; rarely are there increased salaries for the most skilled teachers. Even into the 2010s, many successful teachers were forced to supplement their meager income with side gigs. Samuel also probes the tension that arises in the United States’ disparate societal understandings of what a teacher does: some see the task of teachers as producing critical thinkers, while others want educators to produce students who work within the status quo.
VERDICT An in-depth look at a profession that is alternately valued and reviled but is consistently a microcosm of society.
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