When math lecturer Howie Hua is working with his students—future elementary school teachers—he often talks about the power of giving yourself grace.
“Is it kind of ridiculous to be asked to get it right on the first try?” he asks. “Whatever it is, you’re going to need patience with your learning. You don’t give up. You don’t say, ‘Well, I fell trying this new skill, so I guess I’m not meant to do gymnastics.’ It’s important to help students embrace that and embrace the learning journey.”
This is also true for educators—especially new teachers. The early years in every teacher’s career are peppered with firsts—from navigating classroom management hurdles to establishing routines and procedures that work for a room filled with students of varying backgrounds and identities. New teachers often feel a strong desire to be flawless, to walk into the classroom and do all things perfectly. But it’s OK to make a misstep, to fall and pick yourself up again, because it’s all part of the process of working toward getting it right. Generations of educators have walked that same path—and many have documented their experiences of exactly what worked and what didn’t.
We asked our community to share the books they would recommend as most important to new teachers—the books that helped guide them, shape their pedagogy, challenge their perspectives, and motivate them. Over 100 titles were suggested—including some that surprised and delighted us, like educator Lily Crull’s comment on Instagram that she reads “at least 5–6 new” young adult books that her students recommend each year. Classics like Harry and Rosemary Wong’s bestseller The First Days of School made an appearance, while some more recently published titles were heavily nominated as well: Bettina Love’s 2023 offering Punished for Dreaming easily made it into our final list.
These 14 titles represent the topics that resonated most deeply with our audience. There’s no need to read all of them in the span of a year—much less before you ever set foot in the classroom. Consult them throughout your teaching journey as you grow into your role.
Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta Hammond
You won’t find a list of tips and tricks within this book. Hammond probes at the very nature of the term culturally responsive teaching: interrogating what it means philosophically, dissecting its nuances, and examining the impact of this work on students’ brains. Designed to prompt self-reflection and action, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain empowers educators in diverse classrooms to begin intentionally bolstering engagement and fostering deeper learning in a way that honors students and their identities.
The First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher by Harry and Rosemary Wong
Almost 30 years after its publication, this teacher-focused how-to manual currently in its fifth edition remains a “must-read,” according to our audience. Though much has changed in the school system since then, the book’s insights on evidence-based practices of high-functioning classrooms and the importance of establishing procedures and routines stand the test of time. Some critics argue that the authors’ approach to classroom management may “stifle spontaneity in classrooms and lead teachers to become overly controlling,” so consider taking the sections that don’t resonate with you with a grain of salt.
Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy by Gholdy Muhammad
Steeped in the historical context of 19th-century Black literary societies, Muhammad’s Cultivating Genius presents a piercing exploration of current literacy practices and pedagogy. The book’s backbone is her equity framework, "Historically Responsive Literacy,” which focuses on four “learning pursuits”: criticality and students’ intellectual, skill, and identity development. These learning pursuits, when taught in tandem, she writes, create the foundation of an ecosystem where students from all backgrounds—especially those that have been historically marginalized—can thrive and achieve academic success. The book’s aim is to foster a smarter, more self-aware, and more discerning next generation of young readers and thinkers.
Grading for Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms by Joe Feldman
Grading isn’t always a topic of discussion in teacher preparation programs, Feldman writes, leaving many new teachers with little insight on how to set up an equitable system for their students. Grading for Equity offers an implementation road map toward ensuring accuracy, preventing bias and subjectivity, and presenting a dynamic picture of academic performance—all plotted by a 20-year veteran teacher, principal, and district administrator. The recently published second edition zooms in on the impacts grading can have on students’ mental health, as well as the role the Covid-19 pandemic played in changing perceptions around traditional grading.
Building Thinking Classrooms in Mathematics, Grades K–12: 14 Teaching Practices for Enhancing Learning by Peter Liljedahl
Can you tell if your students are actually thinking or just taking notes and mimicking what they see? With the help of over 400 K–12 teachers, Liljedahl—a professor of mathematics education—spent more than a decade pinpointing the qualities of a high-functioning math classroom. It all comes down to 14 key variables, including where students work, how groups are formed, the quality of assessments, and the types of tasks used and how they are given to students. As one reviewer put it, this book doesn’t simply identify common problems in math classrooms but provides intentional, actionable takeaways and next steps.
The First Six Weeks of School by Responsive Classroom
The First Six Weeks of School is a blueprint for those crucial initial days in the K–6 school year—it’s like having a seasoned mentor teacher in your back pocket. Alongside sample schedules, each chapter encompasses a week’s worth of time-specific suggestions like how to set up the flow of the day and how to create and maintain high expectations for behavior. From welcoming a new student to setting up a substitute teacher for success, this book shows teachers how to handle each new scenario with ease.
Punished for Dreaming: How School Reform Harms Black Children and How We Heal by Bettina Love
A searing and unflinching examination of over four decades’ worth of prejudice and racism in education reform, as well as its disastrous legacy for generations of Black and Brown children. Love interviewed 25 Black Americans whose lives were forever changed by policies that spanned from Ronald Reagan’s presidency to the Obama administration, and the book seamlessly traces the impact of those policies into the present day. Ultimately, Love asks—and answers—the questions: What price did these people pay? And how can we prevent children from suffering the same fate in the future?
Teach Like a Champion 3.0: 63 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov
The third edition of Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion is an “expanded and up-to-date revision” of his original comprehensive overview of more than 60 teaching techniques that set students up for success. Lemov walks teachers through the right ways to phrase and ask questions, how to check for understanding, the best ways to motivate and encourage active participation, how to ensure that students retain material, and more. Readers particularly enjoy the over 100 accompanying videos found online, which showcase actual teachers implementing Lemov’s strategies in their classrooms.
The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System—and How to Fix It by Natalie Wexler
Education journalist Wexler embarks on a thoughtful and thorough trek through history and research, arriving at an in-depth critique of skills-based literacy curricula. With an eye toward equity, she urges schools to reconsider the ways they teach elementary students of diverse backgrounds to read—and she shares accounts from classrooms where educators are doing just that. Wexler characterizes this book as a criticism not of teachers but of a system that has become strikingly resistant to change.
Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks
In this collection of essays on the intersections between education and politics, race, class, and gender, hooks takes ample inspiration from Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire, whose seminal text also made this list. Rethink the role of the student and teacher, hooks says, by engaging in the deeply vulnerable work of self-reflection and scrutiny. And hooks does this herself, recounting memories of her identity as both student and teacher. One reviewer on Goodreads explains that this isn’t the sort of book you read once and put back on your shelf—instead it reveals itself to you in layers each time you revisit it.
Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It by Kelly Gallagher
“Readicide,” which Kelly Gallagher defines as “the systematic killing of the love of reading,” is the unintentional outcome of many common teaching strategies. If you want your students to read more and actually enjoy doing so, he suggests taking a good hard look at the practices you employ in your classroom. Are you asking students to read challenging texts without instructional support? Is there space in your classroom for recreational reading, or are only academic texts prioritized? Gallagher provides practical ways to make reading enjoyable for students.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire
The educational landscape of today is very unlike the one Freire spoke about back in 1968 when this was originally published, but the need for a critical look at our pedagogical systems remains as salient now as it was then. Perspectives on knowledge, access, education reform, and class are heavily colored by Freire’s experiences with poverty in Brazil, as well as his work with marginalized communities—many of whose members could not read. Freire speaks neither of a “sage on the stage” nor a “guide on the side” model, instead articulating one where teachers view themselves as active participants in learning from their students and view their students as sharers of valuable insights to teach.
Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers by Penny Kittle
Reluctant readers are an unfortunate reality of any English classroom, no matter the age or grade. So what to do when students simply won’t engage with assigned texts, or even pick up a book for fun? Kittle—a seasoned teacher and literacy coach—shares a mixture of inspirational and personal anecdotes balanced with clear and concise strategies to help start students on their personal reading journey. Whether you’re trying to build an engaging classroom library or revamping your instructional efforts to better support struggling readers, Book Love will breathe new life into your practice.
The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker Palmer
As you develop your unique teacher identity—who you are and how that relates to being an educator—Palmer walks the same philosophical path. Reflecting on his own time teaching, Palmer doesn’t focus just on the motivational “heart” side of the work; he also explores ways to safeguard against burnout, demonstrates the importance of fostering connections with students, and explains why “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique alone.” The advice may be, as some reviewers on Goodreads claim, abstract rather than immediately actionable, but it could be a dose of encouragement just when you need it.