This summer while I was backpacking around Europe I also spent time reading and developing as a teacher (and people think teachers don’t work in the summer). I read a few good books that energized me for starting this year and I wanted to share them.

First, I read a now classic for teachers called Teach like a Champion by Doug Lemov. If you haven’t already read this and you’re a teacher, then you should go pick up a copy ASAP. I think it’s the perfect summer read because it basically refreshes your memory about what you learned in school and offers you techniques for making your teaching life easier. Now, most things seem common sense but it’s great to see the examples in the DVD and it helps remind you of doing these things after you get into a rut in your teaching.

Second, I read Michelle Rhee’s book called Radical. I decided to read this because I’m also very interested in the politics of education and I always wondered how this former TFA teacher made it to become chancellor of one of the largest school districts in the nation. I admire her tenacity and after reading the book, I must admit that I think she has done a lot of positive things for education (though she also has many opponents). I can’t speak to her time as chancellor because I don’t know the DC school system well enough and of course from her own perspective the story might sound different. The big takeaway, however, was learning about her new organization called Students First. After some research (again, I was on “vacation” but couldn’t help myself), I learned that Students First has a campaign in Missouri. I contacted one of the members and had a meeting a few weeks ago to discuss ways I could get involved. Already I wrote a letter to the editor of St. Louis Today and although I doubt it will get published, it felt awesome to get involved and take one step toward conquering some of the educational problems facing our country.

Lastly, I read the book There Are No Shortcuts by Rafe Esquith. In case you haven’t heard of Rafe, he is a preeminent teacher in one of the poorest school districts of Los Angeles. He started his career working at a well-off school but decided that it was a waste of his talents and instead he transferred and starting a grueling career. I say grueling because he describes in his book how much he sacrificed to help his students achieved. He worked multiple jobs, stayed up all night and lost sleep, taught early and late, and organized as well as fundraised trips for his students. His one simple motto: “there are no shortcuts.” It was a powerful book and it hit home just how much all teachers do this and not because we want the reward or prestige but simply because we want the students to do better and achieve all their dreams. What struck me from the book was how much he had to defy his administrators or how little support he would get from them, despite how amazing of a teacher everyone knows he is. I related to his plight because in three years I have already felt that resistance as I have tried to do the best teaching I can. I think his anecdotes highlighted all too well the trend in education which is to not change things too much and just go with what it has always been. Rafe reiterated that there is no trick to reform other than being in the classroom working long and hard hours until students understand. I stumbled upon an interview of Rafe talking about his newest book, which I will now have to read as well. I recommend checking out the interview which you can find here.

All three of these books should be on every educator’s booklist. I had a great time reading them and they inspired me to take greater strides this next year toward improving my craft and trying my hand at some reform.