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October 1, 2018

11 Books for Educators to Refresh Their To-Read List

By Christine Dickson

For book lovers, it’s the best month of the year. October is National Book Month, a celebration of books and the incredible knowledge that they contain. For educators, this should be a big deal in your schools and classrooms. Celebrating books is just one way to get students on the road to becoming lifelong readers.

But while you’re celebrating National Book Month with your students and encouraging them to read, let’s not forget about what you’re reading. That’s right, it’s important for us adults to also be stimulating our minds with books. We know that educators don’t have that much free time during the school year, but then again neither do students. It’s up to the teacher in the room to set an example of what an avid, dedicated reader looks like. The month that specifically honors books is as good a time as any to renew your commitment to read more, and it can be something you do together with your students so that you can all hold each other accountable.

As for what you should be reading, we’ve got you covered. Whether you’re rekindling your reading flame or looking for more books to fuel the fire, the list below is a perfect to-read list. It’s not just PD-style texts about teaching. It’s a mix of nourishing fiction, what the kids are reading these days, and eye-opening commentary about the current state of U.S. education.

1. Educated by Tara Westover – What happens to a child when her family doesn’t believe in public education? The author of this memoir answers this question, and shares how she found her own way out of ignorance to an eventual PhD from Cambridge.

2. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – This smash-hit YA novel takes readers right into the heart of racially-charged police violence when the protagonist’s best friend is fatally shot by a police officer. The movie adaptation hits theaters Oct. 5, and it may be a popular one among the teens who’ve read the book.

3. How Schools Work by Arne Duncan – Whether you agree with his policies or not, the former Secretary of Education under President Obama has a lot to say about education that is worth at least listening to. He explores a status quo in education that harms instead of helps students while also giving credit to the administrators and educators who are giving it their all to actually make education right.

4. What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers across America by Ted Dintersmith – It feels like there are articles left and right expounding on everything that’s wrong in U.S. education. All of these critiques weigh heavy on teachers’ shoulders, and can get very discouraging. For an optimistic view on what U.S. education could be, read this book. It focuses on actions and initiatives that teachers and schools across the country are implementing which challenge students to go beyond rote memorization and learn through real-world problem solving.

5. Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo – A Harvard-educated Teach for America teacher Michelle Kuo meets and teaches eighth grader Patrick in rural Arkansas. After her two year commitment, she leaves teaching to pursue law school, but later on learns that Patrick is in jail on charges of murder. In this memoir, Kuo shares the transformation that occurred in both herself and Patrick after she returned to Arkansas to continue teaching Patrick from his jail cell.

6. Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper – This one’s for all you English teachers out there. Dictionaries have been and still are a staple in education and an unchallengeable resource in life, but how they’re put together and how official definitions are established are mysteries most of us assume we’ll never know. This book takes us behind-the-scenes of how dictionaries are put together, and what you learn from it could make for some impressive trivia tidbits for your students.

7. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai – It’s been several years since this beautiful memoir was released, but it makes our list because it’s worth revisiting for those who haven’t yet had a chance to read it. Malala takes us through the adversity and violence she faced while she fought for her access to education in Pakistan, and helps you understand why she’s become such an important figure in the movement to improve education worldwide.

8. Wonder by R.J. Palacio – If you haven’t already read this heartwarming children’s book, it’s well past time to. The protagonist of Wonder is August, a 10-year-old boy born with distorted facial features, who struggles to fit in at school. Between August’s phenomenal outlook on life and his friends’ exemplary acts of kindness, this story is rewarding for adults and kids alike.

9. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs – Any teacher would have declared Robert Peace’s life a success. Raised by a father who was convicted of murder and a mother who worked long hours, Peace rose out of a Newark ghetto to eventually receive a full scholarship to Yale. After graduation, he even went back to his hometown to teach. So why did Peace get involved in a drug trade that led to his murder at 30? His college roommate tells the story in this book.

10. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi – Comedian and culture blogger Luvvie Ajayi explores the complexities and absurdities of our current culture, both online and offline, and gives us a funny guide to best navigate it. Several of the topics she investigates, like race representation in the media and cringy things our friends share on Facebook, may even come with implied suggestions on how to handle sensitive topics with older students in your school.

11. 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List by Justin Mustich – If the above 10 books aren’t enough to fill your to-read list, there are plenty of places to find more recommendations like in this new book. Ranging the gamut of genres and authors, Mustich shared in a Goodreads blog post that he meant for this hefty compilation “to be an invitation to a conversation — even a merry argument — about the books and authors that are missing as well as the books and authors that are included.” Why not dive right into the discussion, and perhaps draw your students into it as well?

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