Thursday, March 12, 2015

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

Because of my love of reading and writing, I always had a soft spot for my language arts teachers. Mrs. Jones was the first one who got me involved in public speaking during my freshman year of high school, and by junior year I had come out of my shell enough to place in drama competitions across the state. I fondly remember the time she took to stay after school and coach me, nor could I ever forget Ms. Eury, who put in a personal call to the admissions office of my first-choice college to ask them why they decided to put me on a wait list. Those teachers took more interest in my success than my own parents did at the time, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Book Review:

Reading Breaking the Silence brought back a flood of memories, and I couldn’t help but wonder if my own teachers had to deal with the conditions teachers face today. Reading the journal entries of Hernandez’s final forty days teaching eighth grade in Manhattan was heartbreaking, from the lack of bathroom breaks to the misconduct investigation she had to endure, over something I could never imagine one of my children’s teachers being charged with.

What I enjoyed reading about the most in this book was the interactions between Hernandez and her students— and I’m not talking about things like proctoring a standardized test in a classroom. For example, one day she played the song “Empire State of Mind” by Alicia Keys for her class and asked the students what dreams they had for their own futures.

“In this moment of my teaching career, I realize we are so busy teaching a curriculum that is so scripted, test-heavy, and inauthentic that we have lost the opportunity to connect with students on a personal level,” she writes.

Another story she shares is how she coached the painfully shy valedictorian of the class after school until he had the confidence to deliver an impressive speech at the class awards brunch. Beneath all the frustration of working within a broken system, Hernandez remained intent on teaching her students not just school subjects but also important life skills, such as public speaking and dressing appropriately, because they often didn’t have parents at home to guide them.

While Hernandez is no longer teaching in the public school, she still works passionately toward education reform, teaches at the college level, and works as a writing coach and content strategist. She encourages those reading the book not to be afraid to leave careers that are making them unhappy, and shares resources not only for the educational community but also for those seeking reinvention in their lives. It’s a great read for anyone—not just educators, parents, and school administrators.

Paperback: 166 pages
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Mill City Press, Inc. (August 7, 2014)
ISBN-10: 1626529620
ISBN-13: 978-1626529625

Breaking the Silence is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indie Bound.

WOW! Women on Writing is giving away a print copy of Breaking the Silence. The contest ends tomorrow, so visit the link here to enter!

About the book: 
America’s public school system is broken and M. Shannon Hernandez knows why, firsthand. After fifteen years in the teaching profession, three gut-wrenching realizations forced her to recognize that she must leave the career she loved so dearly. She knew that if she continued to work for a failing system, she would also continue to lose a little piece of her heart and soul every day.

You are invited into Hernandez’s classroom for the final forty days of her teaching career to understand the urgent need for school reform, clearly demonstrated in each story. You’ll witness the intelligence, vulnerability, and humanity of her students, and the challenges teachers like Hernandez face as they navigate the dangerous waters between advocating for and meeting students’ needs, and disconnected education policy.

This book is not only a love letter to her students, her fellow teachers, and to the reformed public school system she envisions, but also a heartfelt message of hope, encouragement, and self-empowerment for those who feel they are stuck in soul-sucking careers. It is an essential read for each citizen who is seeking a life comprised of more purpose and happiness, as well as parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers who know our nation’s education system is in desperate need of an overhaul.

About M. Shannon Hernandez:
M. Shannon Hernandez is the founder of The Writing Whisperer, and her mission is to help heart-centered entrepreneurs and heart-centered authors find their brand voices, share their unique stories, gain more visibility, establish themselves as experts, and create authentic marketing messages, all through the use of smart content strategy and engaging copywriting. The Writing Whisperer was named one of Top 100 Websites for Writers by The Write Life in both 2014 and 2015, and Shannon has been featured as a content strategy and copywriting expert on many prominent podcasts and websites. She is a leading voice in the world of authentic business writing and heart-centered education reform, and she writes regularly for The Huffington Post. Shannon’s memoir, Breaking the Silence, chronicles her exit out of public education, after 15 years, and provides readers an intimate view of her journey to business ownership, finding happiness, and reinvention.

Find out more about this author by visiting her online:


Twitter: @WritingWhisper




And now here's my two cents on education for our children . . .

I firmly believe that no matter what type of school our children are in (mine happen to be enrolled in a public charter school) we can't just send our kids in every day and expect their teachers to cover off all their educational needs. Learning may begin at school, but it should continue in the home. It is up to us as parents to ask our kids about what they did at school, check the backpacks, help with homework questions, read their assigned books with them (for the elementary grades), practice their play/performance lines, and check in with their teachers throughout the year to make sure there aren't any problems that need to be addressed. 

Today's world is hectic. Let's face it--we're all busy. Sometimes the last thing we want to do is sit with our kids and read their literature circle book, or double-check math problems when the way we learned to solve them isn't relevant today. (I may sometimes have to ask my 5th-grader to assist me in explaining solutions to my 2nd-grader, but whatever works, right?) However, these are our children. We need to make time for them, because they are important. They matter. Showing them that we care about their education will set them up for a lifetime of self-confidence and love of learning. It's worth the time and dedication it takes to show them we care. Period. And their teachers will appreciate our efforts more than we'll ever know.

I'm curious. What do you think is the most important thing missing in public education today? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Optimistic Existentialist said...

Sounds like a very intriguing book indeed!

Shannon said...

Thanks for the wonderful review, Angela! And I agree, parents play a pivotal role in the entire process. We all need to work together.