Best Books for New Teachers (Part I)

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One of the hallmarks of any profession, including teaching, is the requirement to stay abreast of the field, to keep up with the "state of the art." But between the press of the classroom--planning, grading, meeting the myriad needs of individual children--and the obligations and needs of the teacher's own personal life, time is a premium for every teacher.

Every minute counts. So teachers need to know which books are best worth their limited time.

It's with this in mind that we offer these book lists--which represent some of the best thinking on motivating students, instructional techniques, and classroom management strategies.

This is Part I, covering How-To Teach books and Teaching and Learning books. 

Teacher How-To Teach Books

In our reading, we've come across some books that offer useful guidance for teachers with tips, inspirational stories, and strategies. These books will be especially helpful for new teachers in suggesting ways to set up and manage their classrooms to maximize learning and minimize distractions. Even experienced teachers can learn from seeing what works in other classrooms:

  • Tools for Teaching by Fred Jones - This book is part of a series of books, videos, and seminars based on observing successful teachers for over 40 years. The book shows teachers how to use classroom management and discipline tools to increase time available for teaching.
  • Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov - Asserting that great teaching can be taught, this bestseller is a very practical book with lots of how-to advice on classroom management. The 2.0 version includes video clips showing real teachers using the techniques.
  • See Me After Class: Advice For Teachers By Teachers by Roxanna Elden - This book provides no-nonsense survival advice for new teachers through stories from teachers of the things that went wrong in their classes. Instead of the Hollywood storyline of the superhero teacher, this book shows struggling teachers how to survive the challenges not covered in teacher prep.
  • Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire by Rafe Esquith - This "cookbook for teaching" shows how Esquith has taught high-poverty, immigrant Los Angeles fifth-grade students algebra, economics, and Shakespeare. The book expands on his mottos "Work hard, Be nice" and "There are no shortcuts" with techniques, exercises, and innovations that other teachers can emulate.

Teaching and Learning Books

Other books go beyond day to day practice to examine the science of teaching and learning. This helps teachers understand the larger context in which they work and the principles that undergird all effective teaching:

  • Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown - This book describes concrete techniques for learning based on cognitive psychology and the science of learning. The book shows why the study skills typically taught--highlighting, re-reading, and review--do not lead to long-term retention and instead shows how retesting, spacing, elaboration, and mixing the practice of more than one skill or topic together can lead to true understanding.
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck - Dweck asserts that successful people have a growth mindset and believe they can expand their abilities through dedication and hard work, while those who believe their abilities are fixed tend to be less successful. Having the right mindset is key to motivating and leading others.
  • Why Knowledge Matters by E.D. Hirsch Jr. - In this book, Hirsch argues that the problems of our education system are due to our lack of a common fact-based curriculum that allows schools to emphasize skills rather than knowledge. Using neuroscience and evidence from France's shift away from a common curriculum, Hirsch calls for a return to knowledge-based schooling that would raise both achievement and equity.
  • Applying the Science of Learning by Richard Mayer - This text covers two of the six fundamental instructional strategies and mentions three more, with a particularly strong presentation of the strategy of pairing graphics with words. Moreover, nothing in Mayer's text contradicts the six strategies, and all of the content in Mayer's text (which includes topics in learning, instruction, and assessment) is genuinely research-based.
  • Why Don't Students Like School? by Daniel T. Willingham - Using cognitive science research, Willingham explains that the brain is not designed for thinking, so students do not like schoolwork that forces them to solve difficult problems. The book shows the science behind students' behavior, such as how people remember what they spend the most time doing. And it refutes many common practices such as making the subject relevant to the students' interests.
  • Other People's Children by Lisa Delpit -- This book on cultural conflict in the classroom addresses the issue of often unconscious biases and stereotypes among our still largely white teaching force. It shows problems with the assumptions made by progressive "child-centered instruction" about minority cultures and calls for better understanding of different worldviews. 
  • How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School by the National Research Council - This book shows how the science of learning and new understandings of the development of mind and body can affect how we see children as learners. The book shows how this knowledge should change designs for learning environments and what we see as effective teaching.

Make sure to look out for Part II in this series, which will cover Literacy and General Education books!