Teacher Books (Gifts That Makes YOU Look GOOD)

Teacher Books

I have a confession.

I’m not actually a big fan of education books. I’ll wait here a bit while the expressions of shock, disappointment, loathing, and calls for violence and bodily harm against me play themselves out.

No doubt much of this is a reflection on my personality and style. I’m all about good pedagogy and understanding our kids, but most of what I do halfway decently comes from years of trial and error, stumbling into success or personal humiliation, then adjusting and throwing myself back into the madness for lack of a better plan. 

The other bits I’ve simply stolen from watching other teachers.  I’m can only think of one activity I like which originated in a teacher book I read at some point. It’s a good one, but still…

Teacher ReadingSome people love edu-books, it seems. I’m fine with that, but several I've started and discarded struck me as rather pompous – driven by edu-babble and postulation – which I despise. Others commit what is in my opinion the unforgiveable pedagogical sin, and insist that because something has worked for them at some point in a particular context, it is All-Truth Do-Now Silver-Machine-Gun-Bullets-In-A-Belt.

I hate that. 

Still, much smarter people than myself find great value in edu-title after edu-title. So maybe it’s just me.

That being said, there are several rather dramatic exceptions which I’d like to recommend, either for your personal consideration or as holiday shopping ideas for that aspiring #11FF in your world. Books make such a nice mid-level gift – as fillers to open along with the ‘fancy’ presents, or as modestly upscale purchases (by their very nature implying that both you and the recipient are at least KINDA smart) for people you care enough about to stuff some tissue paper and warm thoughts into that decorative bag you saved from last year, but won’t be spending Xmas morning drinking hot chocolate next to. 

My Favorite Teacher Books:

TheZenTeacherThe Zen Teacher (Dan Tricarico) – If you don’t follow Tricarico at www.thezenteacher.com, you might be thrown a bit by the title. He’s not kidding, if that’s what you’re wondering – he’s legit all up in the Zen. But neither is he spooky vague or touchy-feely nonsensical.

Rather, TZT is all about taking a breath and seeing our daily existence a bit more thoughtfully, and carefully… maybe even lowering our blood pressure a bit. Tricarico clearly knows the academia of Zen, but he’s also realistic about the practical grind of public education. He’s not looking to take you to another plane of reality; he’s offering very practical, good-humored insights into how you might bring more reality back to you. 

A Favorite Passage:

These days it’s hip to be prepared for the zombie apocalypse. But sometimes it feels like the apocalypse has already happened. So many of us spend our days powering through life, racing from one thing to another, unable (or unwilling) to slow down, uninterested in waking up and seeing what is right in front of us. As a result, we often lurch through our lives like extras in George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

If you haven’t noticed these modern-day zombies, you may be one. I know I certainly can be. On any given day, you’ll often find me staring in to the eerie glow of my phone or tablet, glued to the Internet, or otherwise buried in my work.

As author Joseph Campbell said, “The unpardonable sin is the sin of inadvertence, of not being alert, not quite awake.” Calling inadvertence, the act of not paying attention, an unpardonable sin is a strong statement, but he’s right.

TheWeirdTeacherHe’s The Weird Teacher (Doug Robertson)Robertson is NOT Zen. He’s actually a bit of a spaz, near as I can tell. This text is a loose gathering of his classroom, student, and life philosophy, shared not as a pedagogical lecture, but as late-night drinking friends who are passionate about their convictions but so comfortable with one another they can pull no punches yet provoke no offense.

Reading Robertson makes you love kids and your job again on those days you have trouble remembering what that was like. 

A Favorite Passage:

If I designed a teaching program for a university I would make a beginning acting class a requisite. What are we doing if not acting? The skill sets are very similar.

We have to memorize dialogue. We have an audience, possibly with us, possibly hostile, possibly only there to get out of the rain for a while. We have to keep the audience interested in what we have to say. We have to make complicated things comprehensible for the people in the way back of the room. And we have to do the same show over and over without getting bored.

Good actors connect with the material. Good teachers might not connect with multiplying fractions, but they know how to make it look like multiplying fractions is an interesting, amazing, important thing.

YoureWelcomeTHE Teaching Text {You’re Welcome} (Doug Robertson) – In this much shorter book (i.e., stocking-stuffer or office party size), Robertson takes on a fully satirized persona of every pompous edu-enlightener. And, as with any good satire, it hurts how thoroughly he punctures our vanity, cluelessness, and desperation.

I found it particularly daring how often he chooses wry & dry over zany madcap – rather risky, but trusting his audience to ‘get it’ for a much bigger payoff. This tiny little book is brilliant. 

A Favorite Passage:

I love to watch student faces lit with the soft, comforting glow of the computer screen, and adore seeing their furrowed brows as they work out complex equations in their heads.

I see your puzzled expression. Your head tilts, not unlike a confused Corgi wondering where the ball went. Of course in their heads. All skilled teachers impart upon their students the strategies and arcane secrets of mental calculation. Calculators and the vulgar phone have no place in the classroom and even less of a place in the testing environment.

If you cannot have your students, whether they be kindergarteners or high school seniors, rattling off facts from their heads, I question your dedication to the science of educating. I do not even allow my students scratch paper. Not even to roll up and scratch their backs with ha ha ha. (Humor has its place in the classroom, if used sparingly. This was an example of that. You’re welcome.)

TeachingMythologyTeaching Mythology Exposed: Helping Teachers Create Visionary Classroom Perspective (Starr Sackstein) – If you or your teacher friend prefer a kinder, gentler approach – especially one tailored towards the fresh-faced and hopeful (i.e., relatively new) classroom educator, Sackstein has just the thing.

TME is broken into manageable chapters tackling practical issues most teachers face at one time or another, with just enough encouragement and hard-won wisdom to keep it both positive and real. Get this for someone. Seriously.

A Favorite Passage:

We sometimes mistake a student’s attitude about compliance and authority with his/her ability to learn. By not focusing on the work (any or all products and proof of learning in our space), we fail the students by forcing them to jump through unnecessary hoops…

Kids learn in many different ways and just because they refuse to jump thorugh hoops in which they might not find value doesn’t mean they aren’t listening or that they aren’t capable. Don’t underestimate your students at any cost – talk to them first…

Education is not about justice; it’s about learning. Remember that when you are grading.

WhatFreshHellCurmudgucation: What Fresh Hell (Peter Greene)Greene is less warm and fuzzy, but deeply cathartic for those of you fighting the good fight both within and without of the classroom. This collection of ‘best essays’ from his Curmudgucation blog is ideal for that well-read co-worker across the hall or any parent, administrator, or classroom teacher who appreciates sharp insight and a scathing turn of the phrase.

The man is a modern day Oscar Wilde, but with an actual soul. 

A Favorite Passage:

The Wrongest Sentence Ever in the CCSS Debate… “Businesses are the primary consumers of the output of our schools, so it’s a natural alliance.”

As a semi-professional hack writer and fake journalist, I can tell you that it’s a challenge to fit a lot of wrong in just one sentence, but Mr. Golston has created a masterpiece of wrong, a monument of wrong, a might two-clause clown car of wrong. Let’s just look under the hood.

"Output of our schools." Students are not output. They are not throughput. They are not toasters on an assembly line. They are not a manufactured product, and school is not a factory…

Talking about the “output” of a school is like talking about the “output” of a hospital or a counseling center or a summer camp or a marriage. When talking about interactions between live carbon-based life forms (as in “That girl you’ve been dating is cute, but how’s the output of the relationship?”), talking about output is generally nto a good thing.

"Primary consumers." Here’s another thing that students are not. Students are not consumer goods…

ThisIsNotATestThis Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education (José Vilson) – I conclude my recommended list with the most serious of the lot, a book by renowned speaker, blogger, and of course classroom educator @TheJLV. There are several good books on race and education which I could recommend, but this is arguably the most accessible and powerful no matter what the reader’s background or socio-political orientation.

Rather than choose a short excerpt to reproduce here, I suggest reading this chapter shared on Chalkbeat.org

I share my wisdom freely and without expectation of recompense, but keep in mind when you’re the Hero of Yuletide that you should share the blessings of Blue Cereal with all you encounter. That was the SECOND thing Ebenezer did after flipping some kid a coin to go buy that turkey. (By that point, of course, we’re all so teary-eyed and inspired that most of us completely miss the poignant scene in which he tweets links to favorite posts.)

In the meantime, go buy these books for people, and pick up one of each for yourself to read by the fire, drinking steaming hot nectar from your #11FF mugs. Feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments below. Just don't include anything that sucks.



Thanks for the new reading material. I am not a fan of that stuff either. I hate when people use 5 paragraphs to say something that could have been said with a bullet point.


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