Tuesday, September 27, 2011

25 Biographies Every Educator Should Read

It’s amazing what you can learn from the lives of fellow educators. One might assume that the experience of teaching is universal, and in some ways, that’s true, but each and every educator leaves their mark in a unique way that we can all learn from. Read these biographies and memoirs for an intimate look into the lives, experiences, and teaching styles of these iconic educators.

  1. Maria Montessori: A Biography

    As the leader of the Montessori education system, Maria Montessori’s story is important for any teacher. Read this book to learn how Montessori brought about a classroom revolution. You’ll see her contributions to child development as well as controversies in her life and work.

  2. Irrepressible Reformer: A Biography of Melvil Dewey

    You may know Melvil Dewey as the designer of the Dewey decimal system, but this book about his life reveals much more, including his involvement in causes such as the metric and spelling reform movements. Although Dewey made great contributions, he was also involved in racism, anti-Semitism, and other controversies that are interesting to read about along with his contributions to librarianship.

  3. Up from Slavery

    Booker T. Washington is well known for making his mark on history, particularly through the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in Alabama, as he helped students help themselves in a new school for African Americans. Read this book to learn about Washington’s fascinating life and rise as a mulatto slave to the president of the Tuskegee Institute and influential political leader.

  4. A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned

    In this book, Jane Thompkins looks back on her life in the classroom, and realizes that she has a lot to unlearn from her time spent there. Read along with Jane and discover what she now knows about throwing out classroom conventions in favor of really connecting with her students, and consider how you might use her knowledge in your own practice.

  5. The Miracle Worker

    We all have a basic grasp of the story of Annie Sullivan, the teacher who helped Helen Keller break through her inability to communicate as a blind, deaf, and mute child. But this biographical play offers an in-depth look into the life and work of this amazing teacher, as she tutored Keller to success despite the Kellers’ resistance, using persistence and love in a way that is inspiring for all educators.

  6. Geronimo’s Kids

    Teachers can learn so much from the children that they teach, and Robert S. Ove is no exception. As a missionary teacher at the Chiricahua Apache settlement in 1940s New Mexico, Ove was thrust into a culture that left a great impact on him as he observed firsthand how the Chiricahua adapted to white ways over time.

  7. Teacher Man: A Memoir

    Frank McCourt is famous for Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis, but his final memoir, Teacher Man, is just as important. This book takes a look at his 30-year career as a teacher in NYC public high schools and his unorthodox approaches in education. Read along and see how McCourt made suicide notes, likability, and even eating sandwiches off of the floor work for him as an educator.

  8. Sunset of the Empire in Malaya

    Most teachers understand education from a very Western perspective, including TK Taylor, the New Zealand author of this memoir. However, Taylor got an education in Malaysian teaching when he joined the Colonial Service tasked with helping rebuild the country after WWII and Japanese occupation. Check out this book, and you’ll see how Taylor adapted his Western curriculum to fit what was needed in local schools, and better understand how education helped Malaysia’s transition to independence.

  9. A Boy I Once Knew: What a Teacher Learned from Her Student

    In the day-to-day work of leading a classroom, it’s easy for teachers to forget that the students they are teaching today will soon become adults. Elizabeth Stone was given an obvious reminder as she learned about the life her former student lived after he left her classroom, through 10 years of diaries given to her upon his death. Read this memoir to see what Stone learned about a student who she touched but for a brief moment in his life, and how he had an impact on hers.

  10. Mary McLeod Bethune

    Much like Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod Bethune was a pioneer in African American education and politics. This book pays tribute to her life, not just in education, but in her role as a stateswoman and leader in society. Follow along as this book shares letters and essays on Bethune’s life, education, and the founding of Bethune-Cookman University.

  11. Teaching Other People’s Children

    As a teacher, you don’t get to pick and choose whose children you’ll be teaching, and the backgrounds they come from. So it is incredibly important that you learn how to understand and interact with children from backgrounds different than your own. Cynthia Ballenger’s memoir takes a look at her years teaching Haitian inner city preschoolers, and how she observed their approaches to literature, finding ways to listen to what they had to say.

  12. Escalante: The Best Teacher in America

    You may know Jaime Escalante’s story from Stand and Deliver. If you don’t, now’s the time to correct that, and if you do, take an even closer look into Escalante’s life and methods with this biographical novel. You’ll see how a Bolivian immigrant was able to thrive as a teacher in an East LA barrio, inspiring students to choose books and challenging classes over dangerous gangs.

  13. School House Diary

    Jerry Roberts taught for nearly 30 years, entering as a four year Army veteran and father. In this autobiography, he shares the everyday experiences of his former classroom, revealing a life’s work that is so much more than education, but expanded to include the roles of surrogate parent and even amateur psychologist. Read on, and you’ll see what it’s really like to live in the classroom.

  14. Kwanzaa and Me

    Vivian Gussin Paley made the study of integrated schools her life’s work, along with teaching kindergarten in Chicago. In this book, she examines the opinions of the public on integrated schools, including parents, adult graduates, teachers, and students of various backgrounds. Read Paley’s book to find out how important it is to learn about how comfortable students, parents, and teachers feel in the classroom environment.

  15. Marva Collins’ Way

    As a successful teacher, Marva Collins did well using her own individual teaching method. Everyone from classroom teachers to homeschoolers has been interested in finding out how she does it, and Collins shares her method in this book. Read her biography and how-to so that you can find out how you can motivate students to do their very best in school.

  16. Crazy Like a Fox: One Principal’s Triumph in the Inner City

    What do you do when you become the principal of a failing school? If you’re Dr. Ben Chavis, you turn it around into a model for excellence. Follow along as Chavis shares his tough, no nonsense approach to educating, debunking the idea that some schools just don’t have a chance at academic excellence.

  17. Music of the Heart

    You may remember the movie Music of the Heart, and this book follows the same story, as Roberta Guaspari turns unfortunate personal events into an opportunity for students in East Harlem. Read Guaspari’s story to see how she turned the tragedy of an unsuccessful marriage into a blessing for students, and herself. Guaspari’s book has a powerful message, sharing the possibility of healing and love through music education not just for students, but for the teacher as well.

  18. The Education of a Schoolmaster

    Education is all about teaching students, but it’s silly to think that the experience doesn’t have a profound impact on educators as well. Read Jose A.G. Ordonez’s memoir to see how teaching at a boarding school is educational for schoolmasters, and how it has an impact on their lives outside of teaching.

  19. The Heart is the Teacher

    Like so many others, Leonard Covello’s story is one of triumph over the odds, turning delinquent students into model citizens through determination and attention. With half a century of teaching under his belt, Covello shares his impact as a teacher, reaching and encouraging not just a few, but thousands of students over the years. This is a great read for teachers who would benefit from understanding the profound potential for impact that lies in educating.

  20. One Day, All Children…

    Wendy Kopp had a dream that all children would be able to receive excellent education, and put her dream in motion with the founding of Teach for America. As an educator, it’s likely you know the story behind this organization that recruits top college graduates for needy school districts, but Kopp’s story shares the development of this important nonprofit organization. Read on to learn about the struggles and triumphs of making a difference for the students who need it most.

  21. The Bee Eater

    Michelle Ree, like so many other educators, arrived in her position as Washington DC public school chancellor to find a broken system, and decided to do something about it. Rhee’s story takes on the problems in our education system, offering new ways to improve schools. Rhee is not without her enemies, as she engaged in union battles, political games, and even closed down schools, making this an interesting, educational story for administrators and teachers alike.

  22. A Journal for Christa

    What was high school teacher Christa McAuliffe like before she died in the Challenger explosion? This journal shares a look into the life of McAuliffe, and how she became the girl next door who went on to be a hero for America. Follow along, and you’ll see how hard work and an admirable life helped her beat out thousands of other applicants to become the Teacher in Space, and consider what McAuliffe could have done had she not died in the tragic Challenger explosion.

  23. The Emergency Teacher

    Emergency teachers are educators thrust into the position of instruction in desperate situations without the years of formal training typically required for teachers. It’s clear that this is a difficult situation for anyone to thrive in, but freelance reporter Christina Asquith somehow made it work. She outlasted 25% of the other emergency teachers who came to the rescue in Philadelphia, managing to become a qualified instructor despite danger, administrative battles, and very little support.

  24. The Discipline of Hope

    As an educator, Herbert Kohl spent his four decades in the classroom drawing inspiration from his students, allowing them to help shape his curricula and educate them in ways that are not only effective, but enjoyable. Educators can benefit from Kohl’s story, as he shows that creativity and faith can go a long way toward successful teaching. Read this book to see how students can help lead a successful teaching career.

  25. Teach with Your Heart: Lessons I Learned from the Freedom Writers

    In Erin Gruwell’s memoir, it’s easy to see how a group of students can be inspirational to a teacher. Gruwell’s time spent with a group of high school students, the Freedom Writers, teaches her that writing can make you a better person. Follow along as Gruwell becomes a teacher that transforms the lives of her students, as well as her own.

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