2016 POPSUGAR Challenge · Book Review

Book Review: Schooled

Overview

Schooled

Schooled by Anisha Lakhani is based on the author’s time as a teacher and tutor at The Dalton School in New York City. Anna Taggert feels proud of herself having recently graduated from Columbia and immediately landing a teaching job at Langdon Hall School, an elite private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Anna’s pride starkly contrasts with her parents’ disappointment in her decision to “waste” her Ivy League education to be paid “less than a garbage man.” Anna leaves home and stays with her successful i-banker sorority sister Bridgette in a cushy doorman apartment. Bridgette admits she doesn’t like her job, but the monetary and social perks make up for the drudgery of her daily cubicle existence. Anna feels morally superior because while she chose a career that pays substantially less, she’s at least going to make positive changes in the lives of her students.

In the weeks before school begins, Anna remains positive, dreaming of how cute her students will be and imagining all the great new teacher friends she’ll make. Naturally, the dark underbelly of private schools dashes Anna’s dreams. Student files include gossipy notes written by former teachers. Students from high-donation families receive As so the school won’t lose funding. At least one teacher secretly tutors students from other private schools on the side. Gossip spreads like wildfire and Anna is warned to keep herself guarded at all times. Fellow teacher Damian Oren acts as Anna’s guide to Langdon life and paints a bleak picture of corruption and nepotism. Damian’s creepy so Anna decides not to take him seriously and still hopes for a great first year.

On her first day, Anna’s students promptly chew her up and spit her out. Anna is excited to read Robert Frost’s “The Road Less Traveled”, hoping she’ll be their Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. Her students remain bored and unmoved and Queen Bee Blair makes a big stink about being a visual learner, forcing Anna to make a visual for the poem. At the end of class, one boy approaches her to let her know even though the lesson sucked, he liked the Frost poem.

Anna is scandalized when she stumbles upon one of her colleagues, Randi, tutoring one of their students, which is ILLEGALLLL. Anna immediately tattles on the teacher and is shocked when, instead of firing the teacher, the principal reprimands Anna for bringing it up. Yeah, Anna still hasn’t caught on to her school being totally okay with shady business despite everyone all but explicitly telling her so. I’m not sure how she managed to get into and graduate from an Ivy League school. Sorry, I’m letting my snark slip in too quickly. Anna manages to recuperate from this and instantly becomes a master teacher until parent complaints about student workload (they demand less work) stifle her creativity.

When Anna is referred into the cycle of tutoring, she’s finally able to afford all the things she had to forgo on her teacher salary, but she has to deal with the ethical ramifications of the nature of her tutoring. She’s paid egregious amounts of money to do homework for her students. As if the money isn’t enough of a reward, the respect and adoration she gets from parents and students thanks to her illegal help reassures Anna that her actions are not reprehensible. Will Anna continue compromising her morals for a quick buck, or will…

No, you know what? I’m DONE with this book.

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My Thoughts

Here’s my unedited list of Pros and Cons I noted while reading this book:

What I Liked:

  1. The book highlighted realistic problems teachers face
    1. New, idealistic teacher realizing teaching is harder than it seems, students are difficult to reach and inspire; being an effective teacher takes more than having a dream.
    2. Kids really do eat new teachers alive, especially the idealistic ones who don’t think they’re going to have any problems with classroom management and assume all their going to instantly inspire and endear themselves to their students, as Anna does.
    3. Ethics can often take a backseat to pleasing parents in school districts.
      1. Parents complain students have too much homework; principal immediately tells Anna to decrease the amount of homework and classwork.

What I Hated:

  1. Judging from my experience as an educator for six years, there were a ton of offensive inaccuracies about teachers/teaching including:
    1. An elite private school hires freshly graduated Anna? Sure, this might happen but SUPER RARELY.
    2. No teacher walks into their new classroom, looks at their desk, and gets excited over grading and parent conferences.
      1. When parent teacher conferences arrive, teachers are rarely like “I can’t believe I have to do conferences, what am I supposed to do?” Really, Anna, a few months ago you were so excited about conferences, now it’s the worst thing in the world?
    3. I sure as hell hope there aren’t schools that keep files of snarky notes about students written by teachers through the years. In any fully functioning public school, this is a HUGE no-no, and I would imagine private schools would be even stricter about this because if such a thing leaked to the public, it could mean a mass withdrawal of students and funds from the school.
    4. Anna’s pissed she can’t eat peanut M&M’s at school because one of her kids has a deadly allergy; “Benjamin sounded like an overindulged child who would probably think nothing of the sacrifice I would have to make in giving up my peanut M&M addiction lest I so much as breatheon him.” Pg. 40. Yes only spoiled children have food allergies, you’re right. Poor Anna can’t stuff her gob with peanut M&M’s all day while she’s not doing her job.
    5. Anna only prepped ONE lesson and then wandered around during her THREE-HOUR BREAK looking for teachers to hang out with? Are you kidding me? Any real teacher would take those three hours to prep!
      1. When she has no lesson planned for a day, she shows her classes MEAN GIRLS.
      2. When a concerned parent asks about the pedagogy behind showing Mean Girls,Anna bullshits a connection to Romeo and Juliet…and then tells the mother the students were assigned a paper on it, which her child should be working on already. Why would you lie like that when the parent can just be like, “How’s that Mean Girls paper coming?” and the kid can be like, “Um she never assigned that…”
    6. Anna has a student with a serious peanut allergy, but Anna isn’t trained on how to use an EpiPen.
    7. Why do the parents of Anna’s students have her cell phone number? Maybe private schools allow this, and if they do, that is incredibly invasive.
    8. Anna goes to a student’s faux bat mitzvah and gets tipsy on chocolate martinis. You NEVER get drunk in front of students, let alone imbibe the sweet nectar at a student-run event.
    9. As Anna begins a lesson, a few kids are like “Ugh we don’t wanna do this!”, as kids are wont to do, so Anna screams, “THEN DON’T DO IT!” and storms out crying.
    10. Anna manages to pay off all her debt after a few tutoring sessions. Did she only have $2400 in debt? If so, what was she bitching about when she was like “I’ll NEVER pay off my debt on a teacher salary!”???
    11. When she comes to work tired and the kids suggest they watch Zoolanderfor the next two days, she’s like “GREAT IDEA now I don’t have to prep lessons for two days!”
  1. giphy
    1. Anna is generally an idiot
      1. Anna running away to the city with only $1500 to her name
      2. “”She bats both ways,” Damian announced, clearly enjoying himself. I was shocked. I knew that phrase! She was bisexual!” You graduated Columbia and you’re proud you’ve heard of bisexuals before as if it’s a concept only taught at Ivy Leagues?
      3. Anna runs into Randi illicitly tutoring a student from Langdon and presumes they’re having an affair: “I was going to report it immediately!” Oh shut up, Anna, you’re such an idiot.
      4. Anna thinks highly of herself, probably has a narcissistic martyr complex about her career choice.
      5. She comes to work in an aqua terry cloth Juicy Couture tracksuit, and gets excited when students call her “hot.” Hey, unprofessional.
      6. She’s SHOCKED when her student Katie puts a SKULL sticker on a binder. A SKULL. HOW GOTH.
      7. “[A] call came between my second and third viewing of Zoolander, a movie I could now recite perfectly much to my students’ delight: I’m really really good looking.” Pg.164: WOW ANNA YOU MEMORIZE THE MOST QUOTABLE LINE OF MOVIE YOU’RE A FRIGGIN QUOTE SAVANT! I really freakin HATE Anna.
    2. Super chick-litty call-outs to designer brands, Lifetime, The O.C., peach bellinis, margaritas, Juicy Couture, Cartier, Dolce and Gabbana, shopping and Starbucks and blah blah blah dates with hot, rich men blah.
    3. The other characters suck
      1. Damian-Anna’s coworker; black hair, pale face, dark eyes, twitchy lips, clammy hands, wicked glint in his eye, winked mischievously…SUCH HEAVY-HANDED CHARACTERIZATION LIKE WE GET IT HE’S BAD.
      2. College friend Bridgette is obsessed with wealth and status and drops Anna as soon as anyone more successful comes along.
      3. Students are spoiled manipulators.
      4. Administration and staff are corrupt, unhelpful.
      5. You could hide the names of the students and parents whom Anna deals with and be unable to tell them apart because there was no attempt at characterization for any of them. Queen Bee Blair is set up to be a major foil to Anna, yet we don’t hear about her at all in the second half of the book. All of the parents are hoity-toity, oblivious, “money-is-no-object-just-do-our-kid’s-homework” caricatures.
    4. The writing is flat and bland.

    It was painful trying to get through this book. I had to resist the urge to set the book on fire. This book attempted to bring to light the corruption and academic dishonesty in elite private schools. Unfortunately, it was so wrapped in cotton candy it was hard to take seriously. I couldn’t cheer for Anna who, despite her claims that she was in teaching for the most noble of reasons, came off as arrogant and selfish. She was a completely unsympathetic character and frankly a shitty teacher. I don’t understand how the author, who worked as a teacher, could write such an unrealistic teacher! Any teacher would JUMP at the chance for a three-hour prep and use that time well. They would plan, and if they happened to need to wing it, they definitely would NOT show Mean Girls to their 7th grade class. I mean I’m sure teachers out there do these things, but they’re the inept idiot teachers. Was the author being tongue-in-cheek, writing a character who THINKS she’s a great teacher when in reality she’d be fired? Unfortunately, I don’t think that was the point. Sure Anna had some great ideas for lessons…when she actually WROTE lessons instead of walking into class like “I was too tired to write a lesson so we’re gonna watch The Hangover.

    UPDATE: Comments on this Gawker article published when the tell-all was first announced includes comments from people claiming to be Lakhani’s former Dalton students, the school she based Langdon on. Prime comments include:

    “I wonder if she will mention the inappropriate stuff she did, such as sneaking her dog into school one day under her jacket. At the end of the day, she spent her time at Dalton trying to be a friend to the students, often talking about everything from shopping to her wedding. Now she is betraying all of our trust.”

    “I go to dalton [sic] as well, and was also in her class. I have no trouble believing that this is the kind of underhanded, lying bullshit that she would pull. She was a shit teacher, and much more interested in making the popular kids like her than helping students. She would absolutely [sic] lie through her teeth and betray every student she has tutored if she thought it could earn her a buck or a moment of fame.”

    “The book is dedicated to her fucking dog. I remember when she got those fantastically expensive professional photos done of her dog, then talked about how expensive it was, and then proceeded to hang the one she got printed in her room, like a poster.”

    Of course, this could be from people who weren’t really her students, but the descriptions sound exactly like Anna that I imagine they must be authentic.

    She comes off as arrogant in this Observer article. Here’s a snippet:

    “I’m not going to do that vapid thing, like I’m not a socialite, but I’d just say read my next book,” she responded. “I knew nothing about that world when I was teaching, but after I finished the book, I had some time on my hands and some research I wanted to do so I started going out. I won’t lie, there is another story bursting to come out of me. Does that explain it? Wink, wink?”

    This is hypocritical because after leaving teaching, Lakhani seems to make a living off appearing with socialites. So yes, you are vapid. It makes sense Anna was such a shitty teacher because Anna is actually an expy of the author, who was apparently a shitty teacher. What a disgrace to the profession. Walking away from this book completely disgusted. Teachers already get a bad rap without this asshat trying desperately to prove it. I promise most teachers are not inept, image-obsessed, wannabe-socialite brats.

    Rating: 1 out of 5 I don’t even have the energy to come up with a witty scale, that’s how awful this book was

2016 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Category: A Book With a Protagonist That Has Your Occupation

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