The Best Books for Teachers in 2021
Reviewed by Jon Konen, District Superintendent
Good teachers are lifelong learners, always looking for ways to develop new skills and understandings. As a teacher, you may long to read up on new ideas for your classroom, but with the demands on your time this amounts to nothing more than a fantasy. Staying up to date on the best books for teachers is a challenge for any busy professional, so peruse our list to make an informed choice about how to spend your valuable reading time.
The best books for teachers in 2019 range in theme, including inspirational, ideas for professional development, celebrating diversity and classroom management strategies that will help to benefit new and veteran teachers alike. They are available in multiple formats and are perfect whether you prefer audio, digital or classic print. Spend some time looking over these carefully selected titles, decide which books best match your teaching needs and interests, and curl up with one this winter to inspire your teaching.
Inspirational Books for Teachers
What School Could Be by Ted Dintersmith
What It’s About: A travelogue from American classrooms about teachers who help children thrive under difficult circumstances.
Why You Should Read It: Dintersmith provides stirring anecdotes to warm your heart along with reasons to be hopeful that the change we need will come from today’s students and the teachers who lead them. Read this book if you became a teacher to help children thrive; you will feel connected to the thousands of other teachers motivated by this same value.
The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession by Dana Goldstein
What It’s About: The history of public education and women as educators in America.
Why You Should Read It: Goldstein looks at the historic roots of teaching as a women’s profession. Especially compelling is her extensive historical research; she takes the reader on a journey of public education in America from the 1830s to the present day. This book is perfect if you want to learn about how gender disparity in teacher salaries came to be.
Enticing Hard to Reach Readers by Ruth Ayres
What It’s About: Encouraging kids to write in order to heal from traumatic experiences.
Why You Should Read It: Ayers, a professional development coordinator and mother of four, presents easily adaptable techniques for teaching writing. She presents scientific evidence on childhood trauma and brain research, and inspires teachers to be persistent writing coaches with personal anecdotes and practical strategies. This book is great for any teacher who works with children from troubled backgrounds.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
What It’s About: A homeschooled child of survivalist parents remembers her difficult but ultimately triumphant transition to mainstream life.
Why You Should Read It: Westover recounts her journey and helps the reader see mainstream society from the eyes of a child who never stepped foot in a classroom but went on to achieve academic excellence anyway. This is a story about tenacity and grit and is a good choice for anyone looking to confirm their belief in the powers of personal fortitude and education.
I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
What It’s About: Malala Yousafzai, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, tells her personal story of her fight for girls’ education in Pakistan.
Why You Should Read It: If you are looking for a young hero, Malala is your girl. Her memoir is a must-read for anyone passionate about education for girls. This book is a stark reminder that warfare and religious fundamentalism have been detrimental to girls around the world.
Books for Professional Development
What Works in Schools by Robert Marzano
What It’s About: Creative ways to deliver instruction and manage your classroom in the age of high-stakes testing.
Why You Should Read It: This now-classic text is now so fundamental to current pedagogical practices that it is the textbook of choice for many college instructors. Marzano covers topics such as reading and writing instruction, critical thinking skills, school effectiveness, assessment, cognition and standards implementation. This book is an essential item on the bookshelf of every teacher.
Lead Like a Pirate by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf
What It’s About: In this sequel to bestseller Teach Like a Pirate, Burgess and Houf apply the PIRATE technique to school leadership.
Why You Should Read It: Whether you are a current or aspiring school administrator, read this book if you need inspiration, motivation and ideas for sustaining a culture of excellence in your school. Burgess and Houf write with a contagious (and hilarious) zeal for strong leadership and dynamic schools.
Disruptive Thinking: Why How We Read Matters
What It’s About: Useful reading strategies to help students deepen reading comprehension and engage with their reading material.
Why You Should Read It: Kylee Beers and Robert Probst, authors of bestseller Notice and Note, want students of all ages to be responsive and responsible readers. Their user-friendly book includes features such as turn-and-talk discussion points. This book is perfect for any teacher who wants to empower their students as readers and writers and is a good pick for a PD book club.
Cultivating Mindfulness in the Classroom by Jeanie Iberlin
What It’s About: The research behind mindfulness-based practices with children and a step-by-step process for teachers to establish their own classroom mindfulness program.
Why You Should Read It: Read this book to foster a more compassionate classroom culture and help kids understand the benefits of mindfulness. Iberlin’s tips work well with any grade level and won’t just help the students–they contribute to teachers’ well being too. Mindfulness skills can have a lifelong positive impact, so read this book to make your classroom a more peaceful and mindful space.
The Big Test by Nicholas Lemann
What It’s About: A history of the rise of high-stakes testing in American public education.
Why You Should Read It: When Lemann published this book twenty years ago, the notion that kids from working class families tended to score much lower on the SAT was groundbreaking. Yet, the SAT remains the gatekeeper to higher education despite its flaws. This book tells not just the history of standardized testing since 1933, but leads the reader to question the effectiveness of our national testing system.
Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920 by Larry Cuban
What It’s About: A history of technology including radio, film and television.
Why You Should Read It: This book was published in 1986 but serves as a bookend for all the classroom technology developed since and the ways teachers and students use it. One persistent challenge is ensuring equal access to educational technology and giving all students the best competitive edge in today’s global economy.
Books About Diversity in Education
For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood: Reality Pedagogy and Urban Education by Christopher Emdin
What It’s About: How to implement “Reality Pedagogy” and other culturally responsive practices in your classroom.
Why You Should Read It: Chris Emdin explores the inherent inequality of public education in America and how this affects students of color. After this scathing critique, Emdin offers hope for change through his Seven Cs of Reality Pedagogy in 2016. This book is ideal for anyone looking to learn real ways to bridge a cultural divide between teachers and students of different backgrounds.
Pushout by Monique Morris
What It’s About: The criminalization of black girls in schools and how to increase cultural sensitivity at school.
Why You Should Read It: Morris, selected as a TEDWomen 2018 Speaker, provides powerful evidence of inequality discipline and behavior control. The result is a compelling mix of social science research, personal vignettes, interviews and statistics to help teachers understand what cultural sensitivity in discipline looks like and why it is needed.
Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds: Culturally Responsive and Socially Just Practices in U.S. Classrooms by Sonia Nieto
What It’s About: The importance of celebrating diversity in your classroom.
Why You Should Read It: If you are driven by issues of social justice and student advocacy, this book is for you. Sonia Nieto cuts through the academic jargon to remind teachers how important their role is in helping students of all backgrounds feel the power of community. First published in 2013, Nieto remains fresh and relevant in her content and suggestions.
The Rise and Fall of an Urban School System by Jeffrey Mirel
What It’s About: This book describes the rise and fall of the public school system in Detroit, and draws parallels between what happened in Detroit with what’s happening education in urban areas across America.
Why You Should Read It: Mirel presents a meticulous history of the city and its education administration. When this book was published in 1983, we had no way to know Detroit would become the first American city to declare bankruptcy. In hindsight, we see that Mirel had excellent forecasting abilities. This book is a staple for anyone interested in avoiding mistakes in urban education.
Best Books for Elementary Teachers
Troublemakers: Lessons in Freedom from Young Children at School by Carla Shalaby
What It’s About: Rethinking the label “troublemaker” to describe young children with disruptive behaviors.
Why You Should Read It: This book provides a twenty-first century look at critical pedagogy and encourages teachers to value their students’ experiences and contributions. Shalaby gives readers four case studies of “troublemakers” to show how each child is unique and equally valuable. Perfect for new elementary teachers looking for ways to apply the concept of differentiated instruction.
The Curious Classroom by Harvey Daniels
What It’s About: Ways to incorporate student-led inquiry in the elementary classroom.
Why You Should Read It: Daniels shares practical models and inspirational examples of inquiry-based learning from teachers across the country. This book has visual appeal too, complete with full page photographs of student inquiry in action. A companion study guide is available, making this book perfect for a PD study group.
Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Bob Probst
What It’s About: Behavioral strategies for growing reading skills in K-4 students.
Why You Should Read It: Beers and Probst provide ways to help your students be engaged and accomplished readers. They provide helpful strategies for teaching reading, such as pointing out “signposts” in the text which prompt students to pause and analyze. The companion Notice and Literature Log provides graphic organizers to help guide students into being careful readers.
The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller
What It’s About: Helping children learn to love reading.
Why You Should Read It: Since its publication in 2009, Donalyn Miller’s inspirational book has helped countless teachers and their students get in touch with their “inner reader.” Miller is a strong advocate of student choice in reading material and draws from substantial evidence to show that when kids have some choice, they will naturally develop a love of reading.
Conscious Discipline – Building Resilient Classrooms
What It’s About: Psychologist and child development expert Dr. Becky Bailey examines what compassionate discipline in the PreK classroom should look like.
Why You Should Read It: Updated in 2015, this book retains the core principles which has made it a favorite among teachers of young children and incorporates recent research on social-emotional learning. This book provides real-world tactics for maintaining a resilient classroom.
Best Books for New Teachers
The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher by Harry K. Wong and Rosemary T. Wong
What It’s About: Strategies for classroom management from day one.
Why You Should Read It: This indispensable book has been used in teacher training programs for years because it is so good. Wong emphasizes the importance of classroom procedures with clear expectations and consistent consequences. Even if you have been teaching for twenty years, it’s good to get a refresher on how kids crave routine. By investing time developing consistent in classroom procedures, teachers actually have more time and space for instruction.
Working with Parents by Ruby K. Payne
What It’s About: The importance of positive relationships with parents and guardians.
Why You Should Read It: Ruby Paine, known for her work in teaching students from poverty, provides ways to build rapport with families. Since 2005 this book has provided good techniques for developing positive relationships with parents. These skills remain important in today’s political climate and as our awareness of culturally responsive practices have grown.
Why Didn’t I Learn this in College? by Paula Rutherford
What It’s About: Sound practices to bridge the gap between theory learned in college and practice in the K-12 classroom.
Why You Should Read It: This book is ideal for a brand-new teacher looking for ways to plan his or her classroom or a veteran teacher looking to add structure. Since 2009 it too has become a staple of college classrooms and teachers’ bookshelves across the country. Includes a helpful collection of classroom-ready templates and tools.
The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Smarter and Faster by Michael Watkins
What It’s About: How you can avoid common pitfalls and maximize opportunities in the first three months of a new job.
Why You Should Read It: While written for a broad audience, first-year teachers can definitely benefit from the general principles behind Watkins’ advice. The main ideas here-that careful planning and attention to detail in the first ninety days of any new gig will make or break your experience and impact-have kept Watkins’ books on bestseller lists since 2003.
Your First Year: How to Survive and Thrive as a New Teacher
What It’s About: A series of common challenges for first-year teachers and how to avoid them.
Why You Should Read It: The Whitakers provide engaging stories from their own experiences along with practical advice, including the importance of consistent classroom procedures and rules. Since its publication in 2016, it has been clear that this one is a keeper.
Self-guided inquiry is the best professional development. This list of the best books for teachers in 2019 invites you to build your reading list with these inspirational stories, ideas for professional development, diversity in education and books for new teachers. Follow your reading and teaching interests and choose a book that reignites your passion for teaching.