Breaking the Silence: My Final Forty Days as a Public School Teacher

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This book is dedicated to the superb teachers working in the trenches of public education. The daily battles you fight for our students are not fought in vain. I know the risks you take when speaking up for them and fighting for what is right in public education. I also know that many of you have been silenced with threats to your professional reputation and career advancement. 

This book was written to break the silence: to invite parents, administrators, and concerned community members into our classrooms to witness the reasons why the public education system is failing our children and defeating so many good teachers. It was written to spark discussion at the local level about ways to retain good teachers—like you—who are essential to preparing our children to be thoughtful, contributing members of our society. 

This book is also for those of you who are struggling in jobs or careers that are draining you mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Do not give up! You can find happiness again! I did, and believe with everything in me that you are one hundred percent deserving of living a life you truly love, each and every day.


I laughed and I cried while reading M. Shannon Hernandez’s memoir, Breaking the Silence, a chronicle of Hernandez’s final forty days as a public school teacher, which eloquently shows the academic and personal successes accomplished by skilled and inspiring teachers in schools where curriculum reform has otherwise failed. Her courageous voice gives us insight into the reality and pain students and their teachers experience every day. It is a beautiful account of what public education ought to be, as well as a provocative and stirring look at why so many great teachers are leaving the field.

As a college researcher and educator of teachers, I had the privilege of working and teaching side-by-side with Shannon while she was earning her Master’s in Science Education. Once I witnessed firsthand her gift for teaching language literacy, I invited her to co-teach my classes for pre-service and in-service teachers, which she continues to do today. Our college students love her passion for teaching and commitment to her students, personal attributes that are very apparent to everyone who works with her. 

Yet—this dedicated and influential educator has been pushed out of public education, abandoned by a system at odds with the art and craft of teaching and permeated with callous disregard for the emotional and material needs of teachers and students. 

I am all too familiar with this war on teachers. Many of the young, idealistic educators I teach enter the profession full of promise and optimism, only to be thwarted and attacked by administrators, profiteers, and politicians. 

 It is a great loss and a tragedy that Shannon and other quality teachers like her feel they need to leave the classroom to have a future where they are valued, appreciated, and treated like professionals. The loss of their talent affects every one of us—our children, families, communities, and our country—and denigrates our hopes for a literate and healthy citizenry.

Current discussions about education reform have notably excluded teachers from the debate. However, in Breaking the Silence, you will read one courageous educator speak for her students and her profession. You will become familiar with the seemingly little things in the classroom that are, in fact, critical to teaching and learning: the dichotomy between teaching children and teaching to test scores, the impact poverty and socioeconomic status have on learning, how compassion and kindness are often rejected by our current educational system in favor of undignified discipline and punishment, and why quality teachers will continue leaving education until they are accorded the respect they deserve and included as full partners in the efforts to reform public education.

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