I good friend of mine and classmate from college is considering entering the teaching profession as a second career after he retires from the Air Force in a couple years. He asked me for my recommendations of books to read about teaching and being a teacher, and I thought I’d share my list here so you can chime in with your own suggestions, additions or deletions! My friend is actually considering becoming a kindergarten teacher, but he’s not completely decided on that. Here’s what I emailed him today.

Reading Is Fundamental
Creative Commons License photo credit: Troy Holden

These books are listed in the order I’d recommend you read them, with shorter, practical books first and more philosophical / theoretical stuff later.

The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith
– this is a short, quick read, but SO on target with how we learn and how we should teach as a result. This is one of my favorite books about teaching but also learning more generally.

The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen
– Stephen Krashen is a noted USC researcher but also a very practical communicator. There are tons of books and research papers on literacy “out there,” Krashen has done a masterful job in this book looking at meta-analyses of reading and literacy research specifically and making recommendations for teachers that are very practical.

Working on the Work by Phillip Schlechty
– Schlechty is superb in his focus on “engagement” in the classroom and what that really means. This is practical and very applicable, I’d consider it “must reading” for any teacher.

Reading about John Dewey is a must for anyone in education, I think, but his original writings are pretty demanding/challenging to digest in their original forms. I don’t discourage this, but a text like the following can be great to get into his ideas and have good context/explanation around them. This is a book co-authored by one of my favorite doctoral professors at Texas Tech (Doug Simpson):
John Dewey and the Art of Teaching: Toward Reflective and Imaginative Practice by Simspon, Jackson and Aycock

Classroom Instruction That Works by Marzano, Pickering and Pollock is considered “must reading” by many since it identifies and explains research-supported learning strategies which can be employed in the classroom and for homework assignments.

The following are a bit less practical / more philosophical but none-the-less excellent reads I highly recommend.

Testing is Not Teaching: What Should Count in Education by Donald Graves
– A very short and quick read, this puts the accountability movement and high stakes testing partly in context from the perspective of learning.

Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman
– I like many of Postman’s books, some of which relate to technology specifically, but this is the best one focusing on teaching. Other books of his I really like include Technopoly, Amusing Ourselves to Death, and The End of Education.

John Holt is a favorite author too. He was a former 5th grade elementary teacher, and eventually abandoned his drive to change public schools and focused on home schooling. I have two of his books but have read just one of them: “How Children Fail.” I also have his book, “How Children Learn.”

“Coloring Outside the Lines” by Roger Shank is also a very good book to read, although his focus is more parents educating their children rather than a classroom-focus. Shank has a new book out I have not read called, “Lessons in Learning, e-Learning, and Training: Perspectives and Guidance for the Enlightened Trainer.” Shank is a professed educational revolutionary, and definitely has important things to say to us as educators as well as parents. His website that gives info about all his published books is:

One of the best courses I took in my doctoral program focused on Paulo Freire, who was from Brazil and whose ideas about education and learning have had an impact similar to those of Dewey. Freire’s books are, like Dewey’s, challenging to process and follow, but very good. One I’d suggest starting with is:
Teachers as Cultural Workers.
– Letters to Christina (which doesn’t appear to be available via Amazon now) is also a very accessible read, and I also liked the Pedagogy of Freedom, Freire was a leftist, and he focused on education for the very poor in Brazil as well as other parts of the developing world, so he certainly has a different perspective from the “traditional” school view. Very important ideas, though, about both teaching and learning.

Alfie Kohn is another VERY important author to read and learn from in the field of education. I have not finished his book “The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and ‘Tougher Standards‘” but want to later this spring. (I started it awhile back.)

Jonathan Kozal’s book “The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America” is also definitely worth reading.


What books have I left off of this list you would definitely commend to a 2nd career “teacher to be,” who will most likely (but not definitely) teach elementary age students?

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11 Responses to Book recommendations for teachers to be (pre-service teachers)

  1. Lori says:

    I would also suggest a couple of non-education books that help teachers think of students like customers who choose them for service.

    Teach to Your Strengths – http://www.gallup.com/consulting/education/22747/teach-your-strengths.aspx

    Customer Satisfaction is Worthless; Customer Loyalty is Priceless – http://www.amazon.com/Customer-Satisfaction-Worthless-Loyalty-Priceless/dp/188516730X

  2. Wendy James says:

    How about Mindset by Carol Dweck? It is not specific to teaching, but is a really good way for thinking about what learners need.

  3. I’d definitely recommend The Power of Their Ideas by Deborah Meier as well. It’s a very powerful book from one of progressive education’s best minds (IMHO).

  4. Scott McLeod says:

    The #1 book I would have any classroom teacher read, whether practicing or prospective, is Alfie Kohn’s Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community, http://bit.ly/bTPnij.

  5. Vernon Conaway says:

    Ben – thanks for the recommendation! I just downloaded the book to my Kindle.

    Scott – I will be looking at yours next. Sounds interesting. I have heard many stories (some good, most bad) from teacher friends across the US concerning discipline. Looking forward to the read.

    Thanks again for your inputs!

  6. Sharon Knight says:

    For classroom management I recommend Teaching Children to Care by Ruth Charney http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Children-Care-Classroom-Management/dp/1892989085. It’s a great resource for pre-service teachers.

  7. Franki says:

    Great list–thanks for putting it together. My must-read addition is Choice Words by Peter Johnston. So much about the messages we give to children about who they are as learners.

  8. I love the list, Wes….I’m going to pick up a few too.

    I’d put Summarization in Any Subject by Rick Wormeli on your must read list:


    It’s an incredibly practical book that includes 50 different strategies for teaching kids to summarize content. They run the gamut from traditional webbing activities to fun activities that require students to use their bodies to create visual summaries.

    Any teacher at any grade level could pick it up and have a bunch of new strategies to add to their teaching toolkit.


  9. I would have every educator read Civil Society: The Underpinnings of American Democracy Brian O’Connell; John W. Gardner, fwd (http://www.upne.com/0-87451-924-1.html)

    My reason for recommending this book can not be articulated better than this:

    A guide for what citizen leaders and teachers must do to ensure that our democracy will last another century.

    Edward Gibbon said of the ancient Athenians, “when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free.”

    America is the longest-lived democracy in the history of the world, but there are signs that our own extraordinary system faces a similar peril. A vibrant civil society, characterized by active citizen participation, is essential to a strong democracy, argues Brian O’Connell, and in his new book he offers a citizen’s guide to this concept of civil society — what it is, how it functions, its limitations and potential, and most importantly, what individuals can do to nurture and support it. It is designed to provide practical understanding and foster action among community and national leaders, including mayors, civic leaders, school boards, public administrators, independent sector leaders, scholars, and teachers.

    To me everything in education must be built around the idea of a civil society and our vision for what the future should be. If that is not the case, then why should we educate people in masses. Hence the growing self learner and home school movement.

  10. Ron Berger’s _An Ethic of Excellence_ is the best book on elementary education I’ve read recently. (Heinemann). I’d also recommend Ron Ritchhart’s _Intellectual Character: What it is, Why it Matters, and How to Get It_. (Jossey-Bass)

  11. Holly says:

    Thanks for the awesome suggestions, I love having a great platform to start with already. These can be added to my PLN!

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