Summer Must-Reads for Teachers

Image credit: (2016), CC0/PD

10 beach-chair reads to help you grow professionally

By Rachel Wilser

Hi, my name is Rachel, and I’m a bibliophile. I mean, I’d like to say that I’m just an avid reader, but honestly I don’t feel like that covers it. I’ve been known to pack more books than clothes on vacation, and blow off actual responsibilities (like folding laundry and doing the dishes) to read one more chapter. Ever since I was young, I’d stay up late reading when I’m in a really good book. All of these things seem normal to me, but I’m also totally aware that not everyone loves to read as much or in the same way that I do. Whatever your feelings towards reading, I have 10 books about teaching that you can read over the summer to inspire, organize, or reinvigorate you.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough (published 2012). I received this book as part of our “welcome gift” the summer before I started teaching at a charter school. We weren’t required to read it, but it was definitely highly suggested. Basically, as the title indicates, the author of this book takes a look at new research which indicates that some non-tangible characteristics (grit, curiosity, optimism) matter more to a student’s success than IQ.

I actually really enjoyed this book, and felt like it was a light and easy read. It was something you could relax while reading. I definitely think I made some notes in the margins while I was reading, but it’s not a dense book. It’s reader friendly, something you could take to the park,beach, or pool and enjoy. You could listen to some music or even engage in a light conversation while reading.

I also liked that this book was empowering, in the sense that you feel like you can make a difference in kids’ lives, even when they have some challenges that may feel insurmountable. I haven’t read Carol Dweck’s book about growth mindset, but from what I know about it I feel like this book is in the same vein. If you’re looking for a book that’s easy to read that will be make you feel re-energized to teach in August I would definitely recommend this book. You can pick up this book via Amazon Prime, and it’s free on Kindle Unlimited (or from your library — I assume — if you’re old-school like me).

Putting the Practices into Action: Implementing the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice, K-8. Susan O’Connell, John SanGiovanni (Heinemann, 2013) Before I review this book, I think it’s important to disclose that almost all of my favorite actual resource books are Heinemann published. I think they have so many smart (teacher) authors and their books are generally very user-friendly, in the sense that you can generally find things you can try in your classroom the next day.

I received this book at a Professional Development session I attended during the summer one year; it was a multi-day session basically covering the content of this book (using the SMPs to enhance math instruction). Now let me also say it’s probably not cool to read an actual teacher book at the pool, but I definitely read this one with coffee in the back yard and Diet Coke by the pool. This book is all about guiding kids to deeper mathematical understanding, and you could definitely come away with strategies to use in the classroom, even if you’re not using the Common Core per se.

This is a book that I also frequently refer to, and when I notice that students need some skill building I open this book first for suggestions. It has the double benefit of being easy to read, cover to cover, as well as being a great resource that you can come back to over time. If you teach any type of math K-8, I would recommend this book. Available on Amazon, and also directly from Heinemann (but likely not from the library).

Smarter Charts K-2: Optimizing an Instructional Staple to Create Independent Readers and Writers by Marjorie Martinelli & Kristine Mraz (Heinemann, 2012). This is another book that’s a super easy read, and I totally read outside over the summer in the park//at the pool. This book focuses specifically on ELA, but when I read it I felt like there were several strategies relevant to other content areas (since this book was published, they have written an edition specifically for math, but I haven’t read that yet).

My copy of this book is highlighted, tabbed, and full of notes. I frequently refer to it, and as a self-admitted non-Pinterest, non-artistic teacher I also super appreciate their appendices at the back that give basic directions on making simple chart graphics, like books, people, pencils, etc. While the authors focus specifically on K-2 in this book, I honestly think it would be useful to teachers up to grade 4.
Available via Amazon Prime; also available directly from Heinemann.

The First Six Weeks of School from Responsive Classroom. Let me tell you, this is a book I use EVERY SINGLE YEAR when I plan for back to school. It’s honestly a book I’ve never read cover to cover (because some sections honestly weren’t useful to me as a K/1 teacher), but as a resource I use it every year. This book is written and published by Responsive Classroom, who offer great content for teachers. (In fact, the next three books I’m recommending are all connected to Responsive Classroom.) The basic tenet of this book is that to build classroom community you should take the first six weeks of school to teach procedures and routines while also building classroom community, and then slowly over that time you build up to academic work.

This book is full of ideas, community builders, and activities to set the tone at the start of the school year. In fact, they have sample schedules for the first six weeks of school for multiple grade level bands (which honestly to me is worth the purchase price alone). This book is super easy to use, and something that I use consistently year after year. You can get it directly from Responsive Classroom or via Amazon Prime.

Classroom Spaces that Work by Marlynn K. Clayton with Mary Beth Forton. This book is also under the umbrella of Responsive Classroom, and was published in 2001. This book is great for thinking about how to set up your classroom, which is something I struggle with perennially. I’ve gotten better over time, but some of the things suggested in this book weren’t even on my radar as a first-year teacher, such as organizing your students by birth date so you can look for trends and anticipate changing needs.

The authors also discuss storing materials and setting up your classroom so that the flow of your classroom is helpful to you and your students, rather than becoming a pain point. This book is relevant for K-6 teachers and is another resource that holds up well over time.
Available on Amazon.

The Morning Meeting Book by Roxann Kriete and Carol Davis. Y’all. If you are a K-6 educator looking to build a vibrant classroom community for the coming school year, BUY THIS BOOK. Morning Meeting is a tenet of Responsive Classroom, and they follow a specific format, which is useful and doable even if your school doesn’t use Responsive Classroom. If you can carve out 15-20 minutes every morning for morning meeting, it will pay off. Big time. This book will teach you the structure of morning meeting, as well as giving you ideas for activities (which is a portion of morning meeting) for your class based on grade, time of year, and skill.

One favorite activity year to year is Coseeki, a game where one student leaves the room and while they’re out we pick a leader. The leader basically sets different rhythm patterns and the guesser has 3 guesses to try and figure out who the leader is. Early elementary kids LOVE this game. Another favorite is Buzz! For younger kids, you have to wait until Halloween-ish for this game to really work, but basically you select a number (5, for example) and you go around the circle and each kid says a number. If their number has a 5 in it, they say Buzz instead of their number. If they forget and say the number, they just sit down. This game is also super popular, and once your students are really good at it, you can make it more complicated by adding a second number and sound (like Pop).

My mom gave me this book the summer before my first year teaching, and it is always in my classroom and always near my teacher table. They’re on the third edition now, which I assume contains even activity ideas, but this book is everything. I probably use it once a week during the school year, and you can even use the activities outside of MM. Available via Amazon Prime, as well as Responsive Classroom.

The Together Teacher by Maia Heyck-Merlin. This book has saved me so much time over the years. I read it cover to cover during the school year, which was a pretty impressive feat at the time. I would definitely recommend reading this book cover to cover first, and then you can easily use it as a resource in the future, going back to relevant sections.

Basically, the tenet of this book is that by making small adjustments and developing small habits you can save yourself a ton of time. I’m not going to lie: some of these ideas seemed a little crazy to me when I first read them, but I was a second-year teacher planning a wedding and I needed all the time I could get, so I’ve tried almost all of them. Some of her ideas have stuck with me, and I still use them (clipboard with all the things, I’m looking at you), and some didn’t feel super useful so I didn’t use them. But if you’re looking to save time and be more organized this coming school year (and really, who isn’t?) I’d recommend this as a summer read.

My edition came with a CD-ROM of templates as well; I’m not sure if we’ve technologically advanced past CD-ROMs, but you do get a little more than just the book for the purchase price. This book is available on Amazon Prime, but I purchased this book at a regular bookstore, so that’s also an option for this book.

Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Life by Annette Lareau. OK, I’m going to be honest with you: this book is a bit heavy. It’s not pedagogical, but rather the results of a longitudinal study the author conducted. I read it in grad school for a class, but (like a total nerd) I’ve reread it since then and have recommended it to other colleagues as well. There’s a second edition currently available, which includes follow-up with each of the tracked kids as they became adults. Lareau’s basic conclusion is that socio-economic status affects children’s education as much as if not more than their race.

This definitely isn’t the book to read by the pool or on vacation, but if you’re interested in the social justice piece of education this is a great book. (So is Lies My Teacher Told Me.) It’s easy to be judgmental towards parents, but this book has always reminded me to give a bit of grace because you don’t know families are dealing with outside of school. Available via Amazon Prime; also available for Kindle.

Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time by Greg Mortenson. This book isn’t necessarily about teaching, but is more tangentially connected to education in that it’s about building schools. It’s non-fiction, but definitely an easy read. This is mainly memoir; the author, Greg Mortenson, was an avid mountain climber, but was injured following an attempt to climb K2. He was sheltered in a small Afghan village, and basically he promises to build them a school as a thank you for their help. I liked the book, and I like the cause of his mission.

To be completely transparent, this book has come under a lot of scrutiny in the last few years as the authors have been found to both omit and exaggerate details, and Mortenson also grossly mismanaged the resulting charity (Central Asia Institute). But in the end, I’m okay with supporting their mission (education, but especially educating girls) and I thought the book was interesting. (Jon Krakauer has actually written an article called “Three Cups of Deceit” about this scandal, and it was also covered by 60 Minutes, if you’re interested in that.) Available via Amazon Prime and on Kindle; also probably at libraries and bookstores.

Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, not Bombs, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Greg Mortenson (foreword by Khaled Hosseini). This book doesn’t totally pick up where Three Cups of Tea left off, but it does continue along with Greg Mortenson, following additional challenges of establishing schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially following the 2005 earthquake.

I read this book when I was in grad school; it was a pretty quick read and again, I’m on board for the overall mission so the self-aggrandizing language didn’t really bother me. Available via Amazon Prime; also likely available at libraries and bookstores.

I hope that from this list you can find one book to read this summer that you enjoy. But don’t forget to also relax this summer — you earned it! And maybe even read one book not about teaching.

Rachel Wilser has spent the better part of a decade in classrooms around the country — in private, public, charter, elementary, and middle schools. Now, she chases twins and drinks coffee while planning her return to the classroom.

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