By Abby Zwart and Steve Tuit
If your classroom and home are anything like ours are, they’re filled with books. (And books are a family thing in the Tuit house: Once, when a school administrator noted that he was reading during his free time, the youngest of the family responded, “Yes. I’m a Tuit.” His dad is an English teacher. His mom is a middle school counselor who used to work in a children’s bookstore. It was bound to happen.)
However, a curse of being a teacher is that most of the reading we do during the school year is not the books on our shelves but our students’ homework and papers. When we do have time to read, we often give ourselves lists of titles to devour over spring break or summer vacation—and much of it is escapist (who can blame us?). While we may also read for professional development on our own, we rarely have the time to delve deeply into a book and discuss it with our colleagues.
In recognition of that fact, and in an effort to have the adults in our school community model one aspect of our school’s “Portrait of a Graduate” document, the high school where we teach conducted an experiment this past summer that we called Staff Reads. Teachers and staff chose a book to read from a list of titles suggested by the faculty and selected by an administrator. We read the provided books during the summer, and then we gathered over lunch to discuss them on one of our pre-service days in August.
Because we could choose the texts that interested us, we could discuss them with our colleagues, and each book genuinely connected to our work with students, we witnessed near perfect participation. Having the discussion over food and at the beginning of the year, when we are eager to hear from our colleagues, led to lively conversations and varied contributions. The open-ended, peer-led format allowed us to both appreciate and share the value we saw in the books and also to make personal connections to them and to pose questions that extended or challenged them. It was, in most cases, exactly the kind of conversation you want your students to have about a text. It was the best kind of professional development. (See the “Staff Reads” article for a sense of what was discussed.)
That spirit of rich, meaningful discussion around a text is what we hope for this iteration of the CEJ, the annual book review issue. We hope that the resources offered will enrich your teaching and spark some discussions of your own. Make some space to read for your professional development and for your own pleasure.
My favorite professional text is A Writer Teaches Writing by Donald Murray, the book that spawned the writing workshop model popularized by Lucy Calkins and Nancy Atwell. (Thanks, Mark Hiskes.) When I’m reading for pleasure, I’ll often take something by Wendell Berry from the top shelf of my living room bookcase, but I’ve also read The Lord of the Rings at least a dozen times and have been seen on the beach with old Stephen King novels.
I began my teaching career in charter schools where classroom management and procedures were heavily emphasized. I was twice given the book Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov in those buildings, and I still turn to it when I’m feeling uninspired or disorganized in the classroom. I love how practical it is and how you can open to almost any page for a quick tip. My favorite high-brow pleasure reading is anything from the National Book Award list, most recently Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and when I’m in the mood to be cozy and comforted, I pick up Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain again.