Looking for some inspiration, motivation, or simply a nudge to boost your ‘teaching morale’? The list below features some great teacher memoirs written by educators and teachers like you and me. They recount inspiring stories and document teachers noble struggle towards building a better future for our kids and students.
As a teacher, you will find yourself relating to several of these stories, sharing similar concerns and relishing joint triumphs. Join Conroy as he shares his teaching experience working in a remote island in South Carolina exposing the systemic inequalities in the American education system, a theme that is also predominantly present in Theodore’s memoir, The Red Pencil.
As for Tompkins, classroom teaching experience, as explained in her memoir a Life in School, has heightened her sense of herself as a person with a heart and spirit, a realization that drove her to connect to her student at deeper levels.
In his memoir, Losing My Faculties, Brendan Halpin chose to highlight the sombre aspects of teaching and talk about the often silent suffering involved in teaching. Along similar lines, Frank McCourt, in his memoir Teacher Man, documents both the pleasant and unpleasant surprises in his teaching journey and shares amazing stories of his students.
In Diary of a Teacher’s First Year, Esmé take the reader on a journey into her classroom outlining in enlightening details the triumphs and trials that marked her teaching experience. As for Erin Gruwell in the Freedom Writers Diary, teaching is a form of activism against social injustices such as intolerance, racism, and misconceptions.
I believe that every teacher has a story worth sharing with the world, and who knows, may be it is your story that is next!
The Water Is Wide: A Memoir, by Pat Conroy (2010)
“In this poignant memoir, which Newsweek called “an experience of joy,” the New York Times–bestselling author of The Prince of Tides plumbs his experiences as a young teacher on an isolated South Carolina island to reveal the shocking inequalities of the American education system.”
The Red Pencil: Convictions from Experience in Education, by Theodore R. Sizer
“This engaging and important book is a critique of American education wrapped in a memoir. Drawing on his fifty years as teacher, principal, researcher, professor, and dean, Theodore R. Sizer identifies three crucial areas in which policy discussion about public education has been dangerously silent. He argues that we must break that silence and rethink how to educate our youth.”
A Life In School: What The Teacher Learned, by Jane Tompkins (1996)
“Here one of our leading literary scholars looks back on her own life in the classroom, and discovers how much of what she learned there needs to be unlearned. Jane Tompkins’ memoir shows how her education shaped her in the mold of a high achiever who could read five languages but had little knowledge of herself. As she slowly awakens to the needs of her body, heart, and spirit, she discards the conventions of classroom teaching and learns what her students’ lives are like”
Losing My Faculties: A Teacher’s Story, by Brendan Halpin (2015)
In his first nine years as a teacher, Brendan Halpin goes from wide-eyed idealist to cynical, heartbroken idealist. Unique among teaching memoirs, Losing My Faculties is not the story of a heroic teacher who transforms the lives of his hardbitten students; rather, it’s the inspirational and often unpretty truth about people who choose to get up ridiculously early day after day and year after year to go stand in front of teenagers.
Tisha: The Wonderful True Love Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaskan Wilderness, by Robert Specht and Anne Purdy
“Anne Hobbs was only nineteen in 1927 when she came to harsh and beautiful Alaska. Running a ramshackle schoolhouse would expose her to more than just the elements. After she allowed Native American children into her class and fell in love with a half-Inuit man, she would learn the meanings of prejudice and perseverance, irrational hatred and unconditional love. “People get as mean as the weather,” she discovered, but they were also capable of great good.”
Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students, by Gregory Michie
“Since it was first published in 1999, Holler has become essential reading for new and seasoned teachers alike and an inspiring read for many others. Weaving back and forth between Michie’s awakening as a teacher and the first-person stories of his students, this highly acclaimed book paints an intimate and compassionate portrait of teaching and learning in urban America”.
Teacher Man: A Memoir, by Frank McCourt
“Teacher Man is also an urgent tribute to teachers everywhere. In bold and spirited prose featuring his irreverent wit and compelling honesty, McCourt records the trials, triumphs and surprises he faced in the classroom. Teacher Man shows McCourt developing his unparalleled ability to tell a great story as, five days a week, five periods per day, he worked to gain the attention and respect of unruly, hormonally charged or indifferent adolescents.”
Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year, by Esmé Raji Codell
“A must-read for parents, new teachers, and classroom veterans, Educating Esmé is the exuberant diary of Esmé Raji Codell’s first year teaching in a Chicago public school…Her diary opens a window into a real-life classroom from a teacher’s perspective. While battling bureaucrats, gang members, abusive parents, and her own insecurities, this gifted young woman reveals what it takes to be an exceptional teacher.”
Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56, by Rafe Esquith
“This bestseller gives any teacher or parent all the techniques, exercises, and innovations that have made its author an educational icon, from personal codes of behavior to tips on tackling literature and algebra. The result is a powerful book for anyone concerned about the future of our children.”
32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny: Life Lessons from Teaching, by Phillip Done
“This collection of tightly written, connected essays is an “unexpected pleasure…an absolute joy” (Tucson Citizen) and a testament to the kids who uplift us—and the teachers we will never forget. With just the right mix of humor and wisdom, Done reveals the enduring promise of elementary school as a powerful antidote to the cynicism of our times.”
Reading with Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing, by Michelle Kuo
“Recently graduated from Harvard University, Michelle Kuo arrived in the rural town of Helena, Arkansas, as a Teach for America volunteer, bursting with optimism and drive. But she soon encountered the jarring realities of life in one of the poorest counties in America, still disabled by the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow. In this stirring memoir, Kuo, the child of Taiwanese immigrants, shares the story of her complicated but rewarding mentorship of one student, Patrick Browning, and his remarkable literary and personal awakening”
Close Encounters of the Third-Grade Kind: Thoughts on Teacherhood, by Phillip Done
“A twenty-year veteran of the classroom, elementary school teacher Phillip Done takes readers through a lively and hilarious year in the classroom. Starting with the relative calm before the storm of buying school supplies and posting class lists, he shares the distinct personalities of grades K-4, what he learned from two professional trick or treating 8-year-old boys, the art of learning cursive and letter-writing, how kindergartners try to trap leprechauns, and what every child should experience before he or she grows up.”
The Freedom Writers Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them, by The Freedom Writers
“In 1994, an idealistic first-year teacher in Long Beach, California, named Erin Gruwell confronted a room of “unteachable, at-risk” students. She had intercepted a note with an ugly racial caricature and angrily declared that this was precisely the sort of thing that led to the Holocaust. She was met by uncomprehending looks—none of her students had heard of one of the defining moments of the twentieth century. So she rebooted her entire curriculum, using treasured books such as Anne Frank’s diary as her guide to combat intolerance and misunderstanding. Her students began recording their thoughts and feelings in their own diaries, eventually dubbing themselves the “Freedom Writers.””
Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge: An Irreverent View of What It Really Means To Be a Teacher Today, by Robert Wilder
“Wilder was twenty-six when he found his true calling. Leaving a lucrative advertising career in New York, he got a job as an assistant first-grade teacher at a Santa Fe alternative school—and never looked back. Now he brings his unique perspective—as a teacher, parent, and former student—to a series of laugh-out-loud essays that show teaching at its most absurd…and most rewarding. With brutal candor he chronicles his own lively adventures in modern education, from navigating cutthroat kindergarten sign-ups to subbing for a class experiment gone wrong–and dares to tell about it.”
Confessions of a Bad Teacher: The Shocking Truth from the Front Lines of American Public Education, by John Owens
“When John Owens left a lucrative job to teach English at a public school in New York City’s South Bronx, he thought he could do some good. Faced with a flood of struggling students, Owens devised ingenious ways to engage every last one. But as his students began to thrive under his tutelage, Owens found himself increasingly mired in a broken educational system, driven by broken statistics, finances, and administrations undermining their own support system―the teachers.”
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