The Teachers’ Room by Lydia Stryk


A novice teacher learns many uncomfortable lessons both in and outside of the classroom.


A novice fifth-grade teacher embarks on a clandestine love affair with another teacher, which sets her on the tumultuous path of self-discovery.

It is 1963, one of the most turbulent years in American history. The escalating tensions and conflicts in society at large are playing out in classrooms, principals’ offices, and school boards across the country, along with the first stirrings of social transformation, though the past still holds its suffocating grip. And behind the closed door of the teachers’ room in one small Midwest town, two teachers set eyes on each other and find it hard to look away.

Karen Murphy, fresh from college, has taken on her first teaching job. Despite her best efforts, she can’t seem to stick to the subjects in her fifth-grade school books, helped along by the antics of a girl who upends all her lesson plans. She has a lot to learn, and her women colleagues are there to offer their advice, especially the enigmatic fourth-grade teacher, Esther Jonas. As Karen quickly discovers, the devoted spinster teacher with no life beyond the classroom is a myth—the school is teeming with passion and secrets, her own perilous desire for Esther Jonas included.

The Teachers’ Room offers both a panoramic view of a changing America and an intimate portrait of the hidden lives of teachers.

The Teachers’ Room is a remarkable novel. The presentation of the setting is beautifully evocative, truly recreating an era. And the historical background—1963 in the Midwest, teachers who had to be closeted or risk everything—was such an important and pivotal time in American social history.  But The Teachers’ Room is never dry history. The plot will make the reader keep turning the pages. Most of all, The Teachers’ Room is a wonderful read—engaging, vivid in its depictions, deeply interesting in its characterizations, and very moving.” —Lillian Faderman, renowned scholar of lesbian and LGBT history and literature

“It’s 1963, and in her first year in the classroom, Karen Murphy is “a little too brave,” and not just with her students. The lessons she teaches are often quite different from the lessons she intends or the ones that she has learned. In this fast-moving, vibrant, funny, and wrenching story, Lydia Stryk brings her expert understanding of timing and dramatic tension to fiction, creating a novel that’s at once a mystery, a love story, and a history lesson.” —Sheri Reynolds, author of The Rapture of Canaan and The Tender Grave

“Beyond Hellman’s The Children’s Hour and Highsmith’s The Price of Salt lies The Teachers’ Room, chronicling the events spanning a fifth-grade educator’s rookie year: the time of a president’s assassination and nuclear sheltering under desks, of teachers’ secrets and clandestine lovers, of conservative mores and new radical activism. Lydia Stryk could hardly have chosen a more unlikely setting for her debut tale of lesbian love and struggle than a small town midwestern elementary school in 1963, providing for a compelling page-turner of humor within the classroom, danger outside of it, and compassion in all spheres.” —Kia Corthron, author of Moon and the Mars and The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter

“This fascinating story of two women in the teaching profession leading high-risk lives in the perilous sixties is a striking recreation of an era with tendrils reaching into today. In taking us into The Teachers’ Room, Lydia Stryk illuminates our lesbian lives, animates our history. Her novel belongs with the best of them.” —Katherine V. Forrest, trailblazing author of Curious Wine

Award-winning playwright LYDIA STRYK was born and raised in DeKalb, Illinois, the birthplace of barbed wire and flying ears of corn. After high school, she trained at the Drama Centre in London and pursued an acting career in New York for exactly one year before returning to school to study History and Education. While completing a Master’s degree in Journalism, she wrote a first play, coming full circle back to the theatre, this time as a writer. She has taught in schools and colleges, and her plays have been produced across the country and beyond. She also writes essays. The Teachers’ Room is her first novel.

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