Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss
Professor Chandra is any instructor who has ever felt unappreciated for his work and burned out by teaching. In one disastrous week, the Oxford professor is not awarded the Nobel Prize he has been predicted to win, and then suffers a heart attack after being struck by a cyclist in a busy Oxford road. Ordered by his doctor to “chillax,” he has no idea how to do just that. In this this comic novel, readers follow Professor Chandra as he sets out to “find himself,” a journey that will take him around the world in the curmudgeon’s search for inner peace.
Heather Won Tesoriero
Heather Won Tesorio took a leave from her job in order to embed herself in a science class in a Connecticut high school. She was following the classes taught by Andy Bramante, who himself had left his job as a corporate scientist in order to become a science teacher. His project each year is to prepare his students to compete in the “science fair circuit,” where competition is brutal and college scholarships can be won. Readers are taken on an adventure as they enter a world where high school students invent the next generation of scientific marvels.
What Teachers Make
Taylor Mali bit his tongue when a dinner guest challenged him to name one thing that a teacher “makes.” Determined to be polite, Mali said nothing, but he wrote a poem in which he outlined exactly what teachers make when they make a difference in a child’s life. Then Mali took it further. He wrote this book that illustrates why teaching is “the greatest job in the world.” A perfect book for any teacher who needs a pep talk, and for those who wonder what it would be like to make that kind of difference on a daily basis.
The Gifted School
Holsinger’s forthcoming novel promises to be a great summer read, especially for teachers who want a chance to cackle over the all-too-familiar behavior of parents who compete with one another to produce the “best” kid. Set in the fictional town of Crystal, Colorado, The Gifted School tells the tale of what happens inside the town when standardized testing is implemented in the schools. Four families who have been close become fiercely competitive as they forget who and what is being measured. Novelist Meg Wolitzer describes this fun read as “addictive,” and says that it’s “Big Little Lies with standardized testing.”
We Want to Do More Than Survive
Bettina L. Love
Dr. Bettina L. Love has utilized lessons learned from years of teaching to advocate for a revolution in the ways that children are taught. She argues that children’s education must move away from what she terms the “educational survival complex” the survival lessons that include “test-taking skills, acronyms, grit labs, and character education.” What is needed is the passion of the abolitionists when discussing educational reform. She elucidates a program with an expanded view of civic engagement and intersectional justice in this rousing call for a new approach to teaching. bell hooks praises Love’s book for “[o]ffering readers a profoundly fresh perspective on teaching…”
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means, The Driver's Seat, The Only Problem
When the Guardian, one of the UK’s most respected newspapers, compiled its list of the best 100 novels written in English, Muriel Spark’s short novel about a Scottish schoolmistress made the cut. Maggie Smith won the Best Actress crown for the film in which she plays the bright-hearted teacher who encourages her female students to pursue love and beauty rather than education. And while “her” girls are enraptured by their modern teacher, Miss Brodie’s fall is the stuff of Greek tragedy. A story about a teacher’s hubris and a student’s revenge.
It was George Eliot who declared that “Villette is a still more wonderful book than Jane Eyre. There is something almost preternatural in its power.” And yet, 160+ years after its publication, many readers are unaware that Charlotte Bronte wrote anything other than Jane Eyre. This novel, set in a boarding school in Belgium, has elements of a ghost story, a forbidden romance, and cultural dislocation. For critics, however, Villette is credited with being one of the first “psychological” novels with its story of Lucy Snowe, the young English woman who sails to Belgium in order to take up a teaching position at a Belgian boarding school.
Reading with Patrick
Michelle Kuo is the daughter of Taiwanese immigrants. She went to Arkansas after graduating from Harvard because she wanted to make a difference. She spent two years working with students around literacy issues, encouraging students to read and fostering a love for literature. Eventually, she left to go to law school, but when she finds out that one of her students–Patrick–has been charged with a crime, she returns to Arkansas. A coming-of-age memoir in which both Kuo and Patrick become adults, this is also a story about the power of teaching, not only on the student, but on the person who teaches.
A Lesson Before Dying
Ernest J. Gaines
This novel, which is set in 1948 in the fictional town of Bayonne, Louisiana, focuses on the relationship between a teacher and one student. The lesson before them is to how to face death. Grant Wiggins is a primary school teacher who has come forward to teach Jefferson, a twenty-one year-old man who is scheduled to be executed. Both men are black, although the class and educational differences between them make it difficult to communicate in meaningful ways. But as Wiggins commits himself to helping appeal Jefferson’s unjust sentence, he is forced to confront the way that justice operates and the limits of what one man can teach another.
A comedy that contemplates life’s more sober realities, Wittgenstein Jr. presents a class of Cambridge philosophy students who can’t stop taking the piss out of their new professor. The students — with one notable exception — are wealthy and bored. The professor, whom they nickname “Wittgenstein Jr.” — a nod toward one of the 20th century’s greatest philosophers–is disillusioned to have arrived at one of England’s greatest universities only to find that it is selling itself as career prep. As the students grow in consciousness due to their teacher’s pedagogy, they discover he is on the brink of giving up his life’s work. Can they save him?
Several decades before the Alaska territory became a state, a nineteen-year old newly qualified teacher arrives in the tiny village of Chicken. It is 1927, and Anne Hobbs is a modern woman from Oregon. She settles into the village where white settlers live separately from Natives, and Hobbs causes a stir when she allows the young Native children into her classroom. Things become tense, however, when Anne becomes involved with Fred Purdy, a mixed-race man. Anne defies the townspeople. Her fascinating memoir is the story of a brave teacher who taught the village’s children despite recurring problems with their parents.
The Freedom Writers Diary
The Freedom Writers
One day, when young teacher Erin Grunwald was teaching her class in Long Beach, California, she intercepted a racist note being passed between students. She told the students that those types of stereotypes had led to the Holocaust. She was shocked to realize that none of her students knew what she was talking about. Grunwald seized on the opportunity and started a journey with her students to learn about intolerance and racism. The results gained national attention. Grunwald’s students, who called themselves the “Freedom Writers,” had been written off as unreachable. Their success stories make for inspiring reading.
Elliott joins the wave of Westerners who flocked to Prague in the early 1990s, eager to explore the city that had been under Soviet control for decades. He goes there to teach English, which is in high demand, but soon finds himself in absurd situations that are by turns comic or alarming. For example, one of the first things that happens is that someone steals his shoes. When he finds them again–turned into a piece of art with a price tag of $6000.00–it begins to dawn on him that he isn’t in southern Indiana anymore.
Dear Committee Members
Jason Fitger is the professor of creative writing who never knows when to quit when he’s behind. His major talent is writing letters that draw blood. They are the casus belli at the college where he teaches as he uses everything from student recommendations to letters to the Dean to provoke angry responses. When he gets into trouble for exposing too many secrets from a recent romantic relationship, readers be warned: howls of laughter from reading this book may earn you strange looks on the subway or from your roommates as the war of words resemble the best clown slap-fights.
Most of us can remember at least one “special” teacher who made a mark on our lives in ways that changed us, perhaps even showing us a possible future if we pursued our passions. For me, it was my sophomore English teacher, a young woman who came on as a long-term substitute when our regular teacher left before Thanksgiving for an extended maternity leave. During those months from November to June, Ms. G– gave voice to ideas I was afraid to say out loud. She immersed us in various expressions of the English language, and I took much pleasure in reading those plays, novels, poems, and essays and the discussions they sparked. I realized that I wasn’t just a bibliophile. I was a logophile–my passion was for words themselves–and that I would need to pursue a career in which language was the focus.
Other people have credited teachers with being the first ones to recognize that they were smart, or that they needed help with certain subjects because of a learning disability, or the ones to discover their talents. We ask a lot of teachers. Not only do we expect them to educate children, but we also expect them to be on the front lines of change, to monitor children’s behavior, or detect when there is a serious problem in the home, or when a child is not getting adequate nutrition, even to supplement school supplies for those who don’t have enough money to cover their own. And we ask that even as national studies consistently show that teachers are underpaid. And while it is true that many teachers love their work and feel “called” to teach, that doesn’t mean that as a society we should take advantage of their passions in order not to pay them what they are worth.
In these books, teachers past and present write about their experiences; novelists imagine the quirky personalities that populate a classroom; and social scientists explain what is happening in educational structures. Readers will find stories of teachers who inspire their students to do great things, and teachers who themselves dared great things by teaching in far-flung, isolated locations that took them away from their families. They all help to elucidate what Aristotle (who was a student of Plato and the teacher of Alexander the Great) said about the teacher: “Teachers, who educate children, deserve more honor than parents, who merely gave them birth; for the latter provided mere life, while the former ensured a good life.”
Featured image: @yodhi via Twenty20