Behind the Schoolhouse Door
In the third book of The Roughneck Series, author Donna Orchard covers her educational experiences (1960s to 1990s) in North Louisiana and Alabama as a Physical Education teacher/coach, an English teacher, and her assistant principal and principal positions. Newly married and fresh out of college, twenty-two-year-old Orchard has no idea what she is getting herself into as she begins her first teaching job at North Louisiana high school, amid a bigoted society. Orchard’s memoir gives a glimpse into a tainted southern educational system and the hardships associated with women’s roles within a patriarchal environ.
Donna F. Orchard’s memoir is a surreal blast into the past. As chapters open with poignant and idealistic statements from the Brown v Board of Education in Topeka 1954 court proceedings, Orchard shows a different picture as she shares her trials and triumphs in the world of education in 1969. Atop an underlying theme of racism, being a white teacher back in Orchard’s day was quite challenging. Schools were ill equipped across the board and expectations for (particularly female) teachers were often grueling and unrealistic. It didn’t help that her white school officials handled the integrated student population with superficial tolerance—undoubtedly a sign that bigotry exists. Orchard often scratched her head questioning to herself, “Can’t we just get along?” Nonetheless, Orchard finds herself overwhelmed with pressures from every side—principal, parents, students, and even the Federal Marshals.
Moving on into the 1980s and 1990s, Orchard describes a time period that is fueled by unresolved conflict from the past and is replete with condescending viewpoints on women holding administrative positions. Schools have been slowly evolving, but so have racial issues. As a result, there is a rise in apathetic students, as well as intense bullying—and this time, accompanied by weapons. While highlighting all of the above negative educational aspects and her personal struggles, Orchard punctuates her narrative with lighter moments, such as positive interactions with her students and vintage recipes. That said, kitchen alchemists would love creating old favorites, such as Jalapeno Cornbread, 30 Minute Chocolate Cake, and Refried Bean Platter.
Orchard brings her account to a close by joining her sister on a visit to their old stomping ground. Although the sisters grew up during a time of Jim Crow laws, returning to their childhood area reveals a sad reminder that racism is still alive. Behind the Schoolhouse Door is a great addition to oral history collections.
Donna F. Orchard