8 Books That Will Make You a Better Teacher

This collection of titles moves through first-hand accounts and data to provide teachers with advice on how to lead a successful classroom.

Teaching is a tough profession, one that requires constant learning, questioning, and adjusting. Stay up to date in 2015 by checking out these publications, both recent and classic, that relate to some of the hottest topics in education.

The following books will help teachers navigate students’ needs and the practice of teaching in today’s schools.

Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone) by Elizabeth Green

This New York Times Notable Book focuses on how to “teach the teachers” and, in the process, improve our schools. In the past, it was assumed that a mastery of subject matter was all that was necessary to create an excellent teacher. Green, however, finds that there’s more to it than that.

The author enters real classrooms to ask critical questions: How do young brains actually learn? How do you teach so that students don’t just memorize, but also analyze and reason? What is good discipline, and how is it achieved? The most important lesson Green learns may be the most encouraging of all: Good teaching really can be taught and learned.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough

One of the most popular education books in recent memory, Tough’s seminal work steers parents and educators away from testing, rote learning, and study materials like flashcards. Instead, Tough argues that what children truly need to learn and succeed has more to do with character than with our usual measures of intelligence.

Pouring through a trove of research, Tough concludes that it is characteristics such as grit, self-control, zest, social intellect, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity that are most important for a student’s overall success. Best of all, these are malleable traits that can be taught, practiced, and reinforced.

For a shorter read, check out Noodle expert's take on the importance of grit to learning.

Shop Class As Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford

Crawford’s intelligent, well-written examination of the value of working with your hands is worth the time of every educator or parent. In our modern society, we place a “do or die” value on higher education, on the life of the mind. Crawford — who is a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and holds a PhD in Philosophy — makes readers consider what is learned from hands-on crafts, like mechanics or woodworking. This New York Time’s best-seller explores how such crafts affect the mind, and what is lost when we focus only on abstract pursuits.

Crawford’s book is full of fresh insight; he does not pander to a “vanished world” nostalgia, but instead asks real questions worthy of deep consideration.

Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon

Bullying is one of the most fraught areas in modern education, and there are dozens of theories about how to best handle it. Bazelon has gone the distance, investigating the extensive research on teenage behavior, schools, bullying, and how to change school culture through a focus on character and empathy. The book — a national best-seller — includes three bullying case studies that illustrate what works and what doesn’t.

Moving beyond stereotypes, clichés, and easy answers, Bazelon lays out a path to change our schools, improve our children’s lives, and put an end to a school culture that allows bullying to persist.

The Red Pencil: Convictions from Experience in Education by Theodore R. Sizer

Few educational writers are as gifted and concise as Sizer, who spent 50 years as a teacher, principal, professor, and dean. This slim, incisive work addresses the major concerns Sizer sees plaguing our schools. While most education books focus on narrow topics (e.g., improving reading with phonics), Sizer takes on much broader concerns: the differences between teaching and learning; the way teachers and administrators communicate; how authority in education policy is shared among schools, parents, and the government; and what he considers our self-defeating obsession with order.

Provocative and philosophical, Sizer’s book raises important questions that are still debated today.

The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do by Peg Tyre

Every teacher today is aware of the growing gap between the achievement of boys and girls in school. Tyre paints a bleak picture, citing damning statistics that reveal just how far behind boys truly are. She writes just as eloquently about the repercussions for girls, as colleges try to balance their gender ratios by making admission for girls more rigorous.

Tyre uses her experience as the mother of two sons, and her exchanges with hundreds of teachers, parents, and experts, to create a prescriptive work. Her solutions to this troubling issue are workable and effective. For any teacher or parent struggling with boys who lag behind their female peers, this book is a must-read.

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley

Time magazine journalist Amanda Ripley sets out to examine countries that are at the forefront of educational achievement by following three American students transplanted into successful foreign schooling systems: Kim, in Finland; Eric, in South Korea; and Tom, in Poland.

Ripley seeks to uncover why student outcomes are so much better in particular countries, and which practices can be applied elsewhere. By learning from these foreign systems, which only started to thrive in education in recent decades, Ripley identifies methods that the United States could and should adopt.

The Age of the Image: Redefining Literacy in a World of Screens by Stephen Apkon

Apkon addresses one of the central issues in modern education, one that plays out across every subject area and grade level: students’ weak literacy skills. Rather than bemoan the failings in traditional literacy teaching, Apkon focuses on the rise of a new kind of literacy, one that students (and adults) have not yet fully adopted: visual storytelling.

Visual storytelling has been with humanity since at least the era of cave paintings, but Apkon explores its evolution and recent ascendancy as a rich, creative mode of expression. Just as written language has its own structures and rules, so does visual storytelling, and Apkon argues that these rules are valuable for students to learn at this juncture.

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