Education Reading


Over the past several years I’ve come across several books that I believe every teacher and community member should read to educate themselves about education policy in our country. These aren’t dry boring research books. They provide a vivid and compelling description of how education in our country has changed over the years and how everything continues to tie together. Whether or not you agree with the premise of each of these books (I do not in all cases) they are still worth the read as they have dramatically influenced how I look at education policy in America. Full disclosure: I have not been paid any royalties by any of these authors. These endorsements are merely my own personal experiences with each of these books as books I think everyone should read. – Jon

The TThe Teacher warseacher Wars by Dana Goldstein ($12 on kindle, $17 hardcover on amazon) – this book does a wonderful job of highlighting how the American teaching profession has changed down through the years. Goldstein also points out how there is nothing new under the sun when it comes to education policy and how most of what we are seeing today is a reincarnation of past education reform efforts. Definitely worth the read to give you perspective on the history of teaching policy in our country in a way that few other books can.




BuBBTilding A Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green ($14 on kindle, $15 for softcover on Amazon. From the Shores of Japan to the snowy north of Michigan State, Elizabeth Green takes us through the effort to understand what truly makes a good teacher, and how we can train better ones. She leaves no stone unturned and no story untold in her quest. This book changed the way I both look at teaching and my mindset on how we improve the teaching profession in general. Definitely worth the read.




Death and LifeThe Death and Life of the Great American School System – Diane Ravitch ($10 on kindle, $12 on paperback) – Whether or not you agree with her sometimes caustic style of public commentary, Diane Ravitch authors an excellent book from the perspective of an education traditionalist. She makes a strong case for why many of the reform efforts we are undertaking in our country are flawed and leaves us with recommendations for what to do instead at the end. Definitely worth a read, regardless of your feelings on education reform, as it will force you to closely examine your own beliefs about how we can best fix education in our country.



TLACTeach Like a Champion – Doug Lemov ($15 on kindle, $16 on paperback) – This book is a great supplement to Elizabeth Green’s book on Building a Better Teacher. Lemov has gone through and codified what the most effective teachers do to achieve their high levels of effectiveness, whether through high expectations, classroom routines or systems. A good read for both teachers and policy makers, it definitely leaves you with the impression that effective teaching is within the grasp of all teachers, not just a select few.




OPCOther People’s Children – Lisa Delpit ($10 on kindle, $12 on paperback) – this book was given to me early in my teaching career in Memphis, it reshaped the way in which I viewed my role as a teacher and how different cultures play a role in the classroom. It is definitely worth a read for anyone seeking to understand the importance of culturally-responsive teaching.







TCTTThe Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, by Parker Palmer ($19.62). I first learned of Palmer in college after my alma mater, Mercer University, received a Lily Grant to explore the topic of vocation. A major emphasis was Palmer’s book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. That book certainly played a role in my journey into the classroom. More recently, I discovered his book on teaching and teachers. All teachers should read it because of Palmer’s perspective of teaching as a vocation, as well as his emphasis on the identity and character of teachers. Teaching absolutely requires solid techniques, but it also about so much more – and Palmer reminds us not to forget the more personal side of teaching.


AFUPA Framework for Understanding Poverty, by Ruby Payne ($11). Memphis City Schools used stimulus funds during the summer of 2011 to train special educators on the work of Ruby Payne. And, although I often malign professional development for its poor quality, I must say that this was some of the most beneficial training I’ve attended. Payne helps teachers understand that poverty is about more than just finances – and, more importantly, what teachers can do in the classroom to help overcome the effects of poverty. This is a must-read for any teacher in Memphis, where the poverty rate is extremely high.




WDCLSWhy Don’t Students Like School? A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom, by Daniel Willingham ($12). There’s so much in this book that it’s hard to know where to begin, but what always sticks out to me is what Willingham says about reading. Content is key, argues Willingham, because it’s hard to use context clues when you don’t know that context. For example, because I like baseball, I can read and comprehend a very dense book on the subject, even if I don’t know all the words; however, I’d have a difficult time making heads or tails of a simple book on thermodynamics because I lack expertise in the subject. This is important for the classroom because so much of what we expect our scholars to read relies of background information, which they may or may not have, and not just literacy skills. Social Studies and Science, de-emphasized in our schools because of accountability measures implemented by NCLB, are far more important than our schools currently make them. Teachers should read this book, then use it to argue for a greater role for content areas. Literacy takes skills, for sure, but knowledge is necessary for reading.

HCSHow Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, by Paul Tough ($11). Intelligence is not always the best predictor of success. And yet there is so little focus in education debates on character and “soft skills” like perseverance, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control. Tough provides research, together with anecdotal narratives, to show that these are better indicators for future success. So why aren’t our schools more focused on developing these skills and traits? Read this book now and learn how “non-academic” skills can help your students be more successful in school and in life.



Together TeacherThe Together Teacher: Plan Ahead, Get Organized, and Save Time!, by Maia Heyck-Merlin ($16). Time management is an essential skill for teacher, and yet most never receive official training to develop it. Maia (I’ve been through her training twice, and we’re on a first-name basis) has created a tremendous system for teachers – don’t worry, though, her system is flexible enough to allow for variations in personal styles. Not fortunate enough to attend one of Maia’s workshops? It’s all in the book. You’ll be carrying your own personal “flexy” in no time and get control of your time.



James Aycock is currently the Director of Scholar Support at Grizzlies Prep, an all-boys public charter middle school located in downtown Memphis. He previously served as the founding Special Education Coordinator with Tennessee’s Achievement School District, after several years as a special educator and baseball coach for Memphis City Schools.

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