Five Great Reads to Expand My Teaching Identity

During my recent transition from ten years of educational experiences abroad to home, I struggled to decide how to ground my next steps. Unwilling to hand over the cash or the time for another graduate degree, I found myself making weekly trips to the public library. One year later, I still feel like I am not a part of anyone’s club, location, nor ideology. I roam library shelves, picking up books and putting them back. Read. Read like a writer. That advice always tops the list of every writer’s workshop. In fact, I gave that advice myself more often than not, and continue to do so for my students ages 3-53, as they develop literacy skills. However, as a teacher, this advice frustrates me as it relates to professional development. There is a mismatch between literature available, diversity of writers and expectations related to voice.

When I searched my local library database for examples: “books about teachers” or “for teachers” that I could read within and beyond, it was a disappointment. My first revelation was how often teacher and parent are combined together as one audience. My second quandary grew from the instructional texts, the 300-500 page books that are both inspiring and overwhelming at the same time, both justifications for and shaming of one’s practice. They are the books with lists upon lists of activities. Dizzying. There are no shortage of those today, either in the library or in school systems who have purchased boxed curriculum sets that remove all authorship from teaching. My third discovery was a throwback to my preservice teacher years. It settled on my shoulders once again as I paged through the academic books. These are an overwhelming, less common in the public library, but always guardians of university book shelves. Their primary characteristic for me is the dizzying effect they have on me as they explore of the multiplicity of moving parts within and around the institution of education. And the teacher? He or she is lost in the stacks.

It was after I relearned writing terminology, and searched “teacher memoir” that I discovered section 370, and was only mildly comforted. I read anthologies that showcased the variety of teachers. However, too often it seemed that these teacher stories were only instructional text in disguise, again listing activity upon activity from first day to last, one year to the next. Most academic studies I remember from graduate school claim that “we” teachers are too much alike. These books did not help me to really “know” the teachers in the (his)stories, what they are like and mostly if they were struggling like me. When I read, I wanted to know them as people, not their choices, not their “Day 1” or thematic units. I read books with “life lessons” and silly vignettes which I do not find all together helpful nor with a constructive tone for an educator audience struggling in the teacher battles of yesterday, today and tomorrow. I was saddened once again by academic teacher histories, especially the lack of diversity beyond certain commonalities. If I was to continue reading, I wanted to avoid to a large degree the following three categories I defined in section 370: 1) disconnect with students, curriculum and/or the educational institution, 2) challenges/advice from/for teachers (most often during the first year teaching), and 3) stereotype, caricature or vignette anthologies.

Too frustrated to continue reading section 370, I decided to return to the general nonfiction display in search of my own genre characteristics I consider essential to the expansion of teacher identity. My top five recommendations are listed below.

1. Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In. (2013).Alfred A. Knopf:New York.

  • BECAUSE EVERY TEACHER, NOT JUST THE ASSIGNED OR RECOGNIZED, IS A LEADER.PROFESSIONAL WOMEN’S LITERATURE IS REACHING BEST SELLER HEIGHTS.WHY SHOULD IT REMAIN CONFINED TO CORPORATE AMERICA?

2. Bacal, Jessica.(2014). Mistakes I Made at Work: 25 Influential Women Reflect on What They Got Out of Getting it Wrong. Plume: New York.

  • BECAUSE EVERY WOMAN, PROFESSIONAL, AND THUS TEACHER MAKES MISTAKES AND THEY NEED TO RECOGNIZE THESE AS A PART OF THEIR PROFESSIONAL LEARNING PROCESS NOT AS A LIST OF FAILURES OR INHERENT INADEQUACIES.

3. Fischer, Edward F. (2014). The Good Life: Aspiration, Dignity and the Anthropology of Wellbeing. Stanford:Stanford University Press.

  • BECAUSE TEACHERS ARE NOT THE ONLY DETERMINING FACTOR OF SUCCESS OR FAILURE.EVERY INDIVIDUAL IS CONFUSED WITH THE DIVIDE BETWEEN THEIR OWN EXPRESSED WORDS, EFFORT AND RESULTING EFFECTS.A SECOND OR THIRD PARTY’S CONFUSION OR ABILITY TO MANAGE INDIVIDUAL AGENCY IS EVEN MORE NEBULOUS.

4. Gladwell, Malcolm.(2013). David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. New York: Back Bay Books.

  • BECAUSE TEACHERS ARE NOT THE ONLY RESOURCE AVAILABLE TO NAVIGATE THE CHASM BETWEEN WANT AND NEED.EVERY INDIVIDUAL IS STYMIED BY THE RELATIVITY OF “WANT” AND “NEED” AND RESULTING LIFE PRIORITIES.A SECOND OR THIRD PARTY’S CONFUSION OR ABILITY TO MANAGE INDIVIDUAL CHOICE IS EVEN LESS DEFINED.

5. Warner, Marina.(2014). Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • BECAUSE WOMEN NOR TEACHERS ARE TWO DIMENSIONAL CARICATURES REDUCIBLE TO “GOOD” AND “BAD”.MOREOVER, SCHOOL IS NO CASTLE, THE WORLD IS NO FAIRY TALE KINGDOM AND ALTHOUGH PERIL IS UNAVOIDABLE, THERE IS MORE THAN ONE PATH THROUGH THE FOREST.

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