The Teacher's Secret
Suzanne Leal

I spotted this book in the bookstore and being a retired teacher, it piqued my interest.

The book is based around a school year in the life of a male primary deputy principal, Terry, who starts the year in his long-term school with an acting principal. She turns the school upside down with changes, without any prior knowledge of the staff. Some, including Terry, don't take too kindly to her changes and her constant references to staff not coming up to scratch in regards to child protection policies.

In any school, it is mandatory to have a refresher and update of this area at least at the beginning of each term. The guidelines are stringent, but Terry in particular finds himself bucking the rules and bending the way he behaves with students, based on his extended knowledge of the students and their families. In particular, it explores one needy student, Bridie and her grandmother with whom Terry has a long and detailed background. The acting principal is determined that things are wrong and that she will not tolerate his behaviour. How it pans out is the subject of this book.

There are other sub-plots concerning families in the local community and two other teachers whose complicated personal lives get revealed in the process. Along with this the story also follows a refugee family, students in the class, the general assistant at the school and neighbours and parents whose lives are revealed.

Although I have heard some stories play out like parts of this, I didn't picture exactly where this one was heading. It's a bit like a hook and twist, expecting one thing and getting another, but the story is all too real, with secrets exposed which ultimately change their outlook and lives forever.

I read this book in two nights – no mean feat for me. It is dramatic yet touching, suspenseful and yet unbelievable. It is caring and in some ways downright scary. But it is an excellent and thought provoking read for anyone, but especially for teachers. I couldn't recommend it more highly. As this is Suzanne Leal’s second novel, I now feel compelled to seek out her first. If it's half as good, I know I'll enjoy it.

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