Just one book…

The other day I was asked if I might be able to recommend one book, just one book, to be presented as a gift to some student teachers completing their final round of student teaching as they wrap up their degree and prepare for a career in education.  I had an instant reaction and replied, Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (2015).  Not an education methods, philosophy book at all.  However, it is a book I believe everyone could benefit from if they allow themselves to be the father, the central character in this tale, as he shares some thoughts about what it is to be a knight for his children prior to the next day’s battle where he’s certain he will die.  The development of personal character being the primary purpose from my point of view.  I’ve been an unpaid (and likely unknown to Ethan Hawke) personal promoter of this book for the past 18 months.  Must read material from my point of view but, the one book for a new teacher…maybe not.

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Returning to the question, one book, the best book for a new teacher, I found myself thinking about my library.  I have a lot of books, print and Kindle format.  After 32 years in education, coaching over 60 teams (mostly football), a Masters and a Doctorate in Education Leadership, there is a lot to choose from.  I believe deeply in trying to meet the needs of all students.  They come to our classes and schools in all shapes and sizes.  The exceptionally average, the high flyer, the kid where the school is her one refuge from an absolutely crappy life, the kid who at first glance one might think will never learn a thing…all kids.   To pick one book for the 2017 graduate I have to hope it’s a trigger book, one that lights a desire to get the second, third and so because there really isn’t one book that’s going to answer all the questions, provide all that a new teacher (or old) will need.  I think this is telling me I need to share more about the books I’ve read, books I’ve started, books others have told me you must read that have impacted me as I try to be the best teacher and leader I can be.  These books have impacted how I work with my fellow teachers, and how I work with anyone I have an opportunity to learn from and teach.

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Robert Marzano (2017) has written several editions of books that speak to the art of teaching while exploring the science that supports that art.  I’m a believer that if you don’t sense, feel, breathe and develop a personal passion for teaching, the art part of the work, you’re never going to be the best you can be for your students.  In the absence of the art, that passion for teaching, education is just a job.  If it’s just a job you will fall short of your potential to really maximize the learning experience for all your students.  If you fail to continue to learn, you cannot be the best teacher you can be.

I believe in a different twist on the saying, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”. For me, it’s, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him thirsty”.  A thirsty horse will drink wherever there’s water.  To that end, I’d hope that reading this first book would help build the thirst that would lead to book after book to fully develop the art and science of teaching, assessment strategies, instructional strategies, literacy, numeracy, working with challenging students.  Do you think there’s a book for students about surviving challenging teachers?  You have to believe you can make a difference in the life of all your students, and your peers.  For me, in order to be your best you have to believe you can work miracles, and then learn how.

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            My first book for the new teacher (with lots more to follow) is Dave Burgess’ work, Teach Like a Pirate (Burgess, 2012).  Here’s one paragraph from Dave’s section on passion for you to ponder:

My professional passion sounds like this: I’m passionate about creating lifelong learners. I’m passionate about increasing the self-esteem and self-confidence of my students. I’m passionate about having students leave my class with a larger vision of what is possible for their lives. I enjoy helping students who are apathetic about school get excited about coming to school, even if it is just because of my class. I love developing the creative and innovative spirit of my students. I am passionate about not letting them fall victim to the horrific educational trends that would have us turn children into test-taking automatons who are able to spit out facts and trivia but are unable to speak about anything of significance or meaning. I want to model and inspire a spirit of entrepreneurship and drive for constant self-improvement in all areas of life. I am also passionate about developing engaging presentations for my material. (Kindle location 174-181)

I like the way Dave Burgess thinks, it reminds me of why I loved teaching the poetry and story of Dead Poet’s in English, or took students out to a farmer’s field and measured out the distance of the battlefield at Passchendaele in Social Studies.

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It’s probably why I so loved Richard Mulligan’s character, Herbert Gower, in the 1984 movie “Teachers” which was released during my last year in and my last student teaching round.  Yes, ancient history.

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We can all stand to teach a little like a Pirate, I wonder, restricted to just one book, what you’d want that new graduate in education to read?  Perhaps it’s a title I’ll be sharing in some of the posts to come.


Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a pirate: Increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Hawke, E. (2015). Rules for a knight: The last letter of Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Marzano, R. J. (2017). The new art and science of teaching. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Dave’s website: http://daveburgess.com/


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