Many of us saw Sydney Rawls’ viral TikTok about all the work she has to do before students can use her classroom library. Emily Clay’s heartbreaking Facebook post about her own classroom library is also making the rounds. Unfortunately, these teachers’ stories are not isolated or rare. Teachers across the country this year are being loaded down with more work, stress, and shame than ever before because of movements to censor school and classroom libraries.
We talked to several different teachers who told us about their experiences. Here’s how they said their community’s efforts to ban books has made their job notably more difficult.
Catalog entire classroom libraries.
“All of the books in our classroom library must be cataloged with title and author. We have to put them all into an Excel spreadsheet and let parents have access to them through our digital platform. I teach high school and have taught for about a decade, so I probably have about 500 books right now. I’ve never cataloged them before, so now I have to go through and get them all written down. There has been word from other districts near us that have to include a synopsis of each book to share with parents.”
—Anonymous high school English teacher in Kingsport, Tennessee
Type up and share extensive rationale for every book they’ve chosen to teach.
“We have to write a multiple-page rationale and create an entire website to give parents access to information explaining or validating our curriculum choices. For one book, our rationale is about nine pages. It feels like any objection results in hours of work on our end.”
—Anonymous high school English teacher
Note: I asked to see this commenter’s website for one of these units and it is unbelievably thorough. Even working with a team, this would take any teacher hours and hours of time outside of school to complete.
Be in constant email conversations with parents about current and upcoming books.
“We’re in our first month of school, and I would guess I’ve spent four hours emailing parents who want me to justify the books in my curriculum or ask me about my personal moral beliefs. I tell them I use the district’s curriculum, but it doesn’t seem to matter. My school said I have to continue to engage and repeat our message that we teach state standards and district-set curriculum, but it’s absolutely exhausting.”
—Patricia, middle school English teacher, Dallas, Texas
Create entirely new units for students who opt out of curriculum books.
“If a guardian opts out of a book, even a district-approved one, we have to create an entire alternate unit for that child with a different book that has the guardian and district’s approval. This unit must cover the same amount of time, cover all of the exact same standards, and be student-led because we also have to find a place outside the classroom for that student to be while we read or discuss the book they weren’t allowed to read.”
—Brandy, English teacher in Jordan School District, Utah
Have their creativity stagnated by long review processes and ordering freezes.
“I’m not allowed to buy ANY books for my classroom right now. There’s a district hold for librarians too.”
—Krissy, fourth grade teacher in Houston, Texas
“Every single class novel we teach (even if it has been part of the curriculum forever) has to go through a review process. It’s a whole bunch of paperwork and requires us to have our colleagues read and review the book as well.”
—Anonymous, high school English teacher in Northern Virginia
Teachers are the enemies of the community now.
“The work is one thing, but what makes me the saddest is that respect for teachers seems to have plummeted. Many churches in our area are issuing vague warnings about ‘what’s happening in schools’ like we’re some kind of cult. I introduced myself as a teacher last week at a community event and was immediately met with questions about whether I was one of the teachers trying to brainwash kids. I’m relatively conservative, but I would vouch for the integrity and professionalism of every single one of my colleagues. It just makes me sad.”
—Connie, third grade teacher, Florida
I keep thinking about an exchange I saw in the comment section of Emily Clay’s Facebook post I mentioned at the top of this article. One commenter responded, “Just wait until there aren’t any teachers left.” A user named Shelly, replying to that comment, said, “Even worse, wait until they’ve lost all good teachers and start filling positions with the very type of people we try to protect children from.”