Books for Teachers to Read

As many of us teachers drive our kid’s camp carpool, sleep in, read books, and recharge our teaching batteries over summer, administrators and PD directors are planning the new school year which is right around the corner. I know many of us don’t want to think about the fall just yet, but it will be here before you know it. Many teachers will roll into the new year and be beyond excited (sarcastic emoji) about a book study they will be engaging in for PD during the school year. Personally, I have been a part of many book studies as a teacher. If you spend just a few minutes on Amazon, you will see just how many books are out there for teachers. While it can seem overwhelming,  the great thing is, there is something out there for everyone. With that in mind, I wanted to put together a few suggestions for folks interested in doing a book study to deepen their learning and in turn effectiveness as an educator. Now, these are just a few of the great books I've read recently and I could have surely included many others. 

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We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be by Cornelius Minor

I think the title really helps give a clear picture of what this book tackles and in turn the tremendous value it has for all teachers. Minor has not only hit on issue of equity with compassion and a deep understanding but also with research and personal anecdotes. It is a powerful read for any teacher looking to truly connect with each and every student. Not only will this book gives teachers great ideas and strategies, it will create rich and critical conversations we need to be having in schools around equity and access.

The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey

Yes, I think the intended audience for this book was in fact parents. However, it is so powerful in how it addresses how to interact with kids in any situation. Lahey provides in-depth research and case studies that analyze why kids do what they do and how we as parents and teachers can respond and react. In a culture where many kids are coddled, bailed out, and generally entitled, this book really hits home on how to help our kids navigate childhood in order to become successful adults. Not only would this book be great for a teacher book study, but would be even more powerful as a book study done with parents in a school community.

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook--What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz

Kids do a lot of things in our classrooms that we don’t understand. In the past few years, my own school has been doing a lot of learning around trauma and the impact it can have on children and their behavior. To say I was blown away and overwhelmed by how much I didn’t know and understand would be an understatement. Perry and Szalavitz have provided a book that not only shocked and saddened me but open my mind in ways I didn’t think possible. This book goes deep into the ways in which trauma experienced by children can manifest in all sorts of behaviors that seem to defy logic for those of us witnessing it on the surface. This book is a powerhouse of stories, research, and strategies to help teachers and administrators provide support and empathy for our most vulnerable students.

Drawn to Teach: An Illustrated Guide to Transforming Your Teaching by Josh Stumpenhorst and artwork by Trevor Guthke

I know, I know, shameful of me to try to promote my own book in a post. Yet, I am doing just that. Drawn to Teach is an easily accessible book for all teachers regardless of where they are in their professional journey. The book is a graphic novel hybrid with narrative stories in each chapter which are then broken down and analyzed with a traditional text section. Each chapter is rich with content structured in a way to raise questions, challenge thinking, and inspire change for all teachers. Plus, if you take this book on a book study, I am confident the author will be willing to drop in on your discussions and participate in some way with your group of teachers. 🙂

The final group of books is actually not really “teacher” books as they are in fact Young Adult literature. They will likely not be good for a whole staff book study but are the books I think all teachers should read. We have students in our schools who are not what many in society consider mainstream or of the “norm”. These students are often subject to harassment, bullying and overall poor treatment by both students and staff alike. As someone who likes to believe the best in all people, I think much of the problem stems from ignorance and a lack of understanding and therefore empathy. The following books are great reads to help any student or staff gain a perspective likely different from their own and I hope to develop some compassion and empathy for others.

One of the most recent books I finished was The Summer of Owen Todd. This was ripped my heart out and made me sick to my stomach. It is a story about a boy who is being sexually abused by an older male. Yes, that content is heavy but it is not descriptive and I think appropriate for a junior high audience. A good friend of mine, Pernille Ripp, said it was the kind of book that will save a life. I agree. Read it, learn from it, share it.

Given what we see in the media on almost a daily basis, it is no surprise the overwhelming amount of literature tackling the race issue. I feel as though I am beating a dead horse by saying everyone should read The Hate U Give, but it bears repeating. If you have not read this book, go purchase it now. It dives into the issues of race in a way no other book has. Another book I would put up there would be Dear Martin. This book is also a powerful story but told in a different manner that connects to the work of Dr. Martin Luther King. Both stories are powerful narratives of the experiences so many people of color have in our communities.

No list is complete without include Speak and Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson. For too long, sexual assault has and sadly in some cases still is not a topic worthy of being discussed. As a result, many kids don't ever talk about it or have a chance to understand it. Anderson shares from her own personal experiences and in my opinion every Junior High and High School student, as well as their teachers, should read these books.

I struggled with suggesting a book for this given that it truly is a “new” phenomenon within young adult literature. I am sure more books will come out with this topic but two jumped out at me as critical reads for two different reasons. The first is Gracefully Grayson. I like this book because while it is about a young boy transitioning, it is more about acceptance. It truly is a book about finding yourself, accepting who you are, and the struggles most adolescents can relate to. The second book is The 57 Bus which is a little more mature in the content which would make me suggest upper junior high and high school. This book for me was the single more educational book I’ve read that addressed topics of gender. Not only does it have a powerful story about a crime that nearly kills a child, it educates the readers on pronouns, gender types, and a whole host of other content I was just plain ignorant of.

Another hot topic in books which was not included in my reading experiences as a student is that of sexuality. Gay characters were not included in the reading experiences I had as a student. I see a lot of books where a character’s sexuality is viewed as trendy and not authentic. For me, Simon Versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a great story written in a beautiful manner. It brings the perspective of a child who is struggling not with the sexuality but with the ways in which to share it with family and friends. There are a great many of our students who I know struggle with this very issue.

Internment was a tough read for me because it mirrored much of what is happening in the current day United States. I know teachers are not supposed to be political, but how can we not when folks are being treated differently based on their religion or the color of their skin? This book is a haunting reminder of what happens when we don't stand up for each other, especially those with less privilege.

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