The end is nigh! We can feel summer creeping into the classroom. The staring out the window increases with the temperature. Fidgets and outbursts, shenanigans and energy. And the students are ready for summer too.
But as Gilbert Highet points out in his book The Art of Teaching, we teachers are blessed with time specifically set aside for professional development. The summer doesn’t just give us an opportunity to relax and recreate, but also to stock the treasure-house from which we’ll pull during the academic year. We’ve already hosted a conference on discerning the Teaching Vocation here at The Heights and sign up here for our Conference on the Art of Teaching if you haven’t already.
In the meantime, how can we use our time outside of our classrooms and offices to improve as teachers?
I polled our faculty for the best books on teaching and offer a list here of the practical, philosophical, fiction, and close with a grab-bag.
Practical Summer Reads for Teachers
by Doug Lemov
Several teachers recommended this and so it tops the list. Full of practical advice and perspective, one does not need to implement or agree with everything, but taking in his perspective, particularly for fledgling teachers, will help you set a standard for yourself and your students in the fall. I don’t link to the book because there was disagreement about which version to buy: 1.0, 2.0, or 3.0. If you need practical help, it’s a perspective that you’ll be helped by as long as you pick up what you need and ignore what you don’t.
by Swen Nater and Ronald Gallimore
This book is practical, but rooted in principles to find solid practices. As one teacher put it, “Although I don’t always agree with the ‘teacher as coach’ view of teaching, there is much to be said for it in certain subjects and at certain levels; e.g., the “building” levels of subjects, especially languages and math. Wooden was an English teacher when he started coaching, and used many of his teaching principles in coaching. There are no ‘tricks’ in this book, but some very challenging fundamentals.”
by Peter C. Brown et al.
Whatever we teach, we also teach professionalism, pride in our work, and study habits. This book helps teachers see how they can structure their classes and tests to target these outcomes. Helping our students learn to hone their minds in Latin, Math, or Theology also encourages them to use these tools across all disciplines for every learning challenge they meet for the rest of their lives.
A Few Philosophical Summer Books for Teachers
De Amicitia and De Officiis
by M. Tullius Cicero
The first on this list is essay-length, and should be re-read often. Cicero sets it up as a dialogue between the men he admired most in a past generation, talking to the generation before that. This perspective helps us realize how we bring our own teachers into the classroom with us, and how we’re ultimately calling our students up to friendship: friendship with each other, friendship with the authors we bring into our classroom, friendship with us, friendship with Truth, and ultimately friendship with God.
The De Officiis consists of three short books of moral philosophy, building on Aristotle’s presentation in the Ethics and challenging us, particularly as practical Americans, to see the harmony of the good and the convenient (or expedient) are never at odds. A bold work that challenges us to find and harmonize the goods whether we lead a classroom, a school board, or a country.
by Gerard Wegemer
Though an expensive book, we put it on the list for those with a library’s budget who can add it to the library and then strongly recommend it to their faculty. Our faculty who know the Renaissance well, point out that this provides a deep dive on what we inherit from the past when we study the Arts of Liberty.
by James Boswell
A tome, to be sure, but one that a faculty member called “a window, or even a balcony, into a mind fully alive.” Perhaps giving yourself several summers would be necessary to grow with this book. After all, it covers a lifetime, so no pressure to finish it quickly.
by A.G. Sertillanges OP
This is also a small book worth re-reading every few years. The insights of a Dominican priest who understands the limitations of those not in the clerical life, this book lays out practical ways to refresh our sources and set our schedules. This book may help a teacher who feels on auto-pilot and no longer dives deeper into the subject he professes daily in front of his students. The connection between love, devotion, and habit is a strong one in this book.
Some Recommended Fiction for Teachers This Summer
Many faculty here respect Atticus’ gentle strength as teacher and father.
“An epic tale of a young teacher who shows up at a British public school after surviving the Great War, the rookie of rookies, and which then sweeps forward over the decades to his grey seniority as a wizened and wise headmaster. Also a superb BBC series of the same name. I read it shortly after coming to The Heights in ’98, and just writing this nudges me towards a re-read this coming summer.”
Honorable Mentions and Subject Specific
History: Forgotten and Remembered by Andrew J. Zwerneman
A short book helping us see beyond the Marxist and materialist influences brought to bear on the study of history in the last 75 years. Refreshing and practical, it is obviously written from decades of teaching experience and deep reading.
Sofia Cavalletti’s The Religious Potential of the Child
As its recommender said, “Colleague of Maria Montessorri, author of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, Cavalletti provides great insight into the being with whom you’re dealing when you teach—the child—a nature and a conscience.
Josef Pieper’s Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart
If you will teach English Grammar or Language Arts, or if you are interested in a grammar that was written before logic was divorced from grammar texts.
John Henry Newman – The Idea of a University
Although we do not teach in a University setting, we prepare many of our students for one. Furthermore, the ends of education always define their means even when more further removed from those ends. So, in examining with St. John Henry Newman those ends, we will return to the classroom with greater clarity in our purpose there, whom we serve, and how best we can serve them.
Deschooling Society – by Ivan Illich
No book on teaching would be complete without a critique of schools. We all ought to be aware of our weaknesses as well as our strengths. The link between society and school is stronger than we think, and we as teachers should understand that relationship more deeply.