Thursday, June 21, 2018

Summer Reading List for Teachers

One of my mentors used to start each one of his inspirational speeches with the quip, “What are the two most compelling reasons to be a teacher? July and August!” Although it seems like a lot of vacation, master teachers know that most of that time is used taking apart classrooms, refining curricula, mastering new skills, and beginning the new school year by setting up rooms afresh. All the same, it’s a good idea to set aside some time to rest and recharge for the coming year, and what better to do that with than a good book?
 My number-one recommendation to newer teachers has always been Teach Like a Champion, by Doug Lemov. The classic teacher guide has now been joined by a 2.0 version that includes a DVD, and there’s a workbook that you can purchase separately. Lemov’s writing is easy to read and understand, and while it makes somewhat unorthodox beach reading, can be absorbed anywhere.
As a student, I read the book Skullcaps and Switchblades, by David B. Lazerson. A bearded Orthodox Jew, “Laz” is assigned to a classroom of African-American children with learning disabilities in an inner-city school in Buffalo, New York. His style of writing is humorous, and he doesn’t take himself too seriously. The reader is along for a terrific ride as Laz uses Talmudic precepts and beatboxing to reach his students across a gaping cultural divide. This book is a must-read for any teacher who works with diverse populations.
Any teacher who’s struggled with discipline should read Teaching With Love and Logic. A spin-off of the very popular parenting book and program, it’s very easy to follow. It’s also logical, as you can tell by the title.
If you’re over 30, it will definitely be helpful to read iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us. By Jean M. Twenge, this book will help you understand the very different world in which your students are growing up. I found it more than a bit frightening, but very illuminating.
Last, here are some books that aren’t specifically about teaching, teachers, or students, but I’ve found to be very helpful in shaping what and how I teach.
·         Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell. This talks a lot about what goes into true mastery of any skill.
·         Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, by Jared M. Diamond. If you teach history, this is a must!
·         The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch. This is very moving, and it’s not very long.
·         Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. If you haven’t read this already, read it this summer. No, watching the movie doesn’t count.
Here’s to a wonderful and growing summer to all my teacher friends and colleagues. May you all walk into your new classrooms in September refreshed, rested, and ready to do your best to get the best out of your students!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I'll Be the Victim! (All Your Life...)

This week's haul was actually fairly good -- quite a few of the books were readable. I've written before about how sometimes the books I take out all seem to have the same theme or a similar character/location/event. This week, three of the books dealt with women who were victimized, but all in different ways.

First: The Widows of Malabar Hill. This is a mystery set in Bombay in the late Raj period. There is a lot of literature about this era, but this book sets itself apart with its very narrow focus -- Indian women in the 1920s. The main character is Perveen Mistry, who is working as a solicitor in her father's firm, even though women cannot be members of the bar. Throughout most of the story, Perveen's experience is contrasted with that of her British friend, Alice, and the eponymous widows of Malabar Hill. Perveen and the widows are all victims to one degree or another, and it's nice to read about how women of different backgrounds and beliefs support each other. Some of the book is in flashback, and it doesn't flow quite as well as I would have liked, but it's a worthwhile read.

The Book of Essie at first seems to be yet another story about kids growing up in the generation of reality TV and constant self-publicity, but turns out to be more about using today's media to take back one's life. Essie presents as a victim who refuses to allow life to play out as her parents write the script, but is able to seem as though she's cooperating while she manipulates the outcome. This is a compelling story, although sad, and the ending is liberating for Essie. However, the reader can't help wondering how things play out long-term.

I didn't expect to like Not That I Could Tell, because it seemed a bit too much like A Simple Favor, but it was SO much better! First, no creepiness! Second, the ending is happy! For everyone! There is just enough suspense to keep the reader guessing, but not so much that the ending is anti-climactic. This book also does a good job in raising awareness about domestic violence in a way that's not pushy or preachy.

Happy reading!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Beach Reading (Or, What To Read While on Vacation)

June has arrived, and with it the hot and humid weather that characterizes summer on the East Coast. Some of you are planning vacations (lucky you), and others will be carefully carving out weekend beach time. For this, you will all need reading material.

Many associate beach reading with light and fluffy fare (literally as well; it's a lot more convenient to put a paperback in your holdall than a hardback), but it's not necessary to let this limit your reading. Summertime is a great time to relax, true, but it's also a good time to move a bit out of your comfort zone and explore new genres (steampunk! nonfiction!), or just attempt to read the book that's always daunted you just a bit -- think War and Peace, which I have attempted four times and have not yet managed to get past the battles. No, I won't be revisiting it again. Those are hours I will never get back.

If you don't want to intimidate or impress your fellow vacationers, a good choice are the books of Kevin Kwan. Beginning with Crazy Rich Asians (and I implore you, read the book before you see the movie, as there is no way it's as good as the book), it continues with China Rich Girlfriend, and then on to Rich People Problems. The two main characters, Nick Young and Rachel Chu, provide the sweet and somewhat naive lens through which the readers meet  the cultural phenomenon of the, well, crazy rich Asian. The other characters range from colorful to must-have-recently-been-in-the-loony-bin, and the local color and language make these books funny and blissfully entertaining.

Another wonderful choice is Eligible, by Curtis Sittenfeld. This is really a Pride and Prejudice remake, but this time it's done well -- this is the book Jane Austen might have written if she was born in 1975 instead of 1775. It doesn't quite parallel the original, but it's very true to the characters, who are so well crafted that they become people you think you might have met. It's also absolutely hilarious, and very, very contemporary.

If you're the War and Peace type, or the kind of person who wants to snob out one's fellow vacationers (I'm not such low-brow as you seem to be, my dear friend in the yellow deckchair reading Sophie Kinsella), first I'll ask you to exercise some restraint. Didn't you learn about being kind to others? Along with everything else you learned in kindergarten? Which reminds me of Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, a splendid book for someone like you. However, if you really must read something a bit more substantive, try for something less obnoxiously obvious than Tolstoy. I hear some of the Man Booker Prize books are readable (I refuse to read any of them; a book that's even been nominated for a Man Booker is automatically off my list). Or go for a Penguin classic -- it's light and will fit in your beach bag, and has the benefit of being discreet.

Happy reading!