Professional Books that Made Me a Better English Teacher

When I first started teaching, I had a) a degree in English Literature and b) a few education classes under my belt.  Even though I came to the classroom through an alternative certification program, my experience doesn’t seem to be wildly different from most traditionally certified secondary teachers.

This is not true of all educator preparation programs, but in general, one deficit in these programs is a lack of training in content-specific pedagogy.

By that I mean that secondary teachers generally train for the classroom by taking courses in their content and then courses in education. Separately.  I have taken undergraduate and graduate courses in English and Linguistics.  I have taken courses in education.  However, to complete my training for teacher certification, I was not required to take any courses in English education.  These kinds of courses just weren’t offered in my program.  Education departments don’t generally have the faculty numbers to offer content-specific courses; English departments often have courses for education majors.

Thankfully, I did have two really strong courses in reading strategies for the secondary classroom.  These courses were not content-area or grade level specific, but their information has been the most useful of all the education courses I have ever taken.

All of that to say that when I became a high school English teacher, I had to figure out what in the world I was doing.  I knew English, but I didn’t know how to teach English. Specifically, I didn’t know how to teach kids who struggled with reading and writing.

So, I did what I always do when faced with a problem: I looked for books to read.

At the time, we lived close to the university where my husband and I both attended graduate school. I visited the library regularly, scouring the shelves for resources.

The following list of books represents the books that have most influenced the way I teach.  These are the books that have changed my pedagogy, my go-to books when I need an idea, and books I recommend to new English teachers.

General Help for the High School English Classroom

Time for Meaning: Crafting Literate Lives in Middle and High School by Randy Bomer

The English Teacher’s Companion by Jim Burke

Books on the Teaching of Writing

Reviving the Essay: How to Teach Structure without Formula by Gretchen Bernabei

A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You by Ralph Fletcher

Breathing In, Breathing Out: Keeping a Writer’s Notebook by Ralph Fletcher

The Art of Teaching Writing by Lucy McCormick Calkins

Crafting Authentic Voice by Tom Romano

Is It Done Yet? Teaching Adolescents the Art of Revision by Barry Gilmore

The Revision Toolbox: Teaching Techniques that Work by Georgia Heard

The Curious Researcher by Bruce Ballenger

Books on the Teaching of Reading

Tools for Thought by Jim Burke

When Kids Can’t Read: What Teachers Can Do by Kylene Beers

I Read It, But I Don’t Get It: Comprehension Strategies for Adolescent Readers by Chris Tovani

What are the books that have helped you as an English teacher? What are the first books you recommend to new teachers?

Professional books

1 Comment

  1. So many of my favorites on this list!! I was in the same boat when I started teaching. I had a subject area PhD and no education courses at all! But thanks to Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle and LouAnne Johnson’s Teaching Outside the Box, I began to figure out what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be in the classroom. Books that sustain my teaching and that I love to press into the hands of my English Education students (in addition to Atwell and Johnson): Richard Kent’s Room 109, Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them and Book Love, Donalyn Miller’s Book Whisperer, Robert Probst’s Response and Analysis, Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide, Don Murray’s A Writer Teaches Writing.


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