Adequate Yearly Progress: A Novel— Roxanna Elden

A fictional yet witty and honest take on teaching and the American school system

(Click image to buy on Amazon)

Late in Adequate Yearly Progress, many of the main characters end up at a wedding reception and find that they are assigned to a “teachers table”. The explanation is that there is a “teacher table” at every wedding, because everyone knows multiple teachers, and those teachers always want to have conversations in which no one else has any interest. I have found that to be too true. Teachers easily have a rapport with each other because we have similar experiences. We find things funny or tragic or annoying that others don’t relate to.

For that reason, I thought that Roxanna Elden’s new novel Adequate Yearly Progress would only relate to teachers and school administrators while all others would be hopelessly lost in education references and inside jokes. I was wrong. While I do believe that a teacher would get the greatest enjoyment out of this book because it would so closely match some of his or her experiences, anyone could pick up Adequate Yearly Progress and laugh through it all the same.

Elden’s new fiction book (her nonfiction See Me After Class is already a staple in schools everywhere) follows several teachers in what is meant to be a Dallas high school (although the city remains anonymous) called Brae Hill Valley High School. It is truly a humorous book, described by the publisher as The Office but set in a school. I don’t think that’s the most apt description of the humor, but more on that later. The perspective shifts each chapter, which keeps the story fresh and also keeps you waiting to see how a storyline will continue. These perspectives include a science teacher, English teacher, math teacher, and a social studies teacher, and the principal of BHVHS. The plot revolves around a big-time educational author (who of course has never stepped foot in a real classroom since he was a student) becoming superintendent of the school district and making many, many changes in the work lives of these educators.

Adequate Yearly Progress was a joy to read as a teacher because it is just so true. I found parts of myself in each of the teachers, and the problems with which they are faced not only resonated with me but were legitimately funny most of the time. While most of the characters are not humorous themselves (unlike The Office) the writing creates humor out of situations. For instance, the names of pretty much everything are meant to reflect on and make fun of different facets of the educational system. The new superintendent Nick Wallabee brings in a consulting firm named TransformationalChangeEducationalConsulting (no spaces). The district department in charge of overseeing the documentation of… well pretty much everything, is called the Office for Oversight of Binders and Evidence of Implementation (OBEI). The terrible teacher in the school is even named Mr. Comodio. Yes, like a toilet. That was probably the funniest series of things in the book, along with the running joke of the number of things they require the teachers to write on the board every single day and the last-minute nature with which teachers are given to implement new things. (So true y’all.)

If I had serious problems with Adequate Yearly Progress, it was that I couldn’t always tell what was exaggeration for effect and what was meant to be the observed reality of the school system. For one, I’ve never seen a school district tell teachers what curriculum standard to teach every day, which is one of the first changes made in the book. I’m not even sure who would have time to do that for each course, since different courses have different curriculum standards. Maybe that happens somewhere, or maybe that was an overt exaggeration. Also, it seems like Roxanna Elden did not run the book by anyone from Texas in the publishing process. There are no glaring problems, I would say, but there are details that do not match up to this story being set in Texas, such as a reference to the school year being divided into “9 weeks” or quarters instead of it being divided into six divisions of “six weeks”. This would have been an additional factor to work in, as progress reports come out every three weeks and add another stress to teachers.

Overall, I thought Adequate Yearly Progress was extremely enjoyable and worthy of the advance praise it has received. Teacher or not, I recommend it.

Adequate Yearly Progress releases on August 1, but it is already available for shipment on Amazon? Get it there.

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Jason Park

Jason Park

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Book-reviewer, AP World History and AP Psychology Teacher. MAT Secondary Social Studies, University of Arkansas. Arlington, TX.