My first job out of graduate school was with a nonprofit agency in Philadelphia that provided literacy instruction to adults. In a staff meeting, a colleague recommended that we read Push by Sapphire, a compelling novel about a neglected and abused girl who eventually finds her voice with the help and encouragement of a teacher in her literacy program. Realizing that the character’s profile shared some similarities with the adult students that served, we all separately agreed to read it.
Less than a week later, those of us who read the book found ourselves struck by the horrors of this narrative yet grateful for the victories of the character. In fact, it was all we could talk about - in budget meetings, staff updates, operations meetings, (even a colleague’s office baby shower!). To the relief of the rest of the staff, a colleague finally wisely suggested, “Let’s just meet to talk about the book.” This book club discussion marked the beginning of me becoming a better, more informed teacher and colleague.
It wasn’t just the book. Certainly the book was a part of it - but it was the insightful discussions with my colleagues, the wonderings as well as the I-wish-I-knew’s. Something in us shifted through our collective experience. We had truly become a community of educators but also a community of learners.
And all of this through one really good book.
This is the value of a great teacher book club. There are times when we may want to explore a persistent equity issue but do not necessarily have a repository of resources to hire a speaker, gather a cohort, or take a class. But as someone once told me, “A teacher’s best resource is another teacher.” You have your colleagues. There is likely someone else who too has noticed the marginalization of a certain group or has been unsettled by the seemingly immovable opportunity gap that exists in a school or district.
If your district lacks the will to change these areas, perhaps, like my colleagues and I did so many years ago, you can begin with a book. I recommend the following steps:
Identify the concept or issue that you want to study.
Find a book that addresses that issue. (Contact the staff at TESO for recommendations.)
Talk to an administrator to determine if you can gather support for the bookclub.
Invite colleagues to read and discuss a book with you.
Set a day and time with your book club members.
Read, discuss, repeat.
Remember, perfect is the enemy of good. Don’t stress over the perfect time, day or even number of book club members. Just get started! Share with us your teacher book club experiences.