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May 8, 2013 Teacher Appreciation by the Book By Alycia Zimmerman
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and you probably know a teacher (or many) who deserve a ticker-tape parade — including you! From your nearly-conjoined grade level partner to your next-classroom neighbor who always shares her stapler, from your ready-to-listen mentors to the pre-service teachers under your watch and to your own child’s teacher who puts up with your teacher-mom questions, when we thank our fellow professionals and recognize their efforts, we raise up our profession as a whole.

    Here are some great books for passing along a high-five or a pat on the back to the teachers in your life, during Teacher Appreciation Week or anytime.


    Children’s Books as Grown-up Gifts?

    Teaching is definitely an all-encompassing, challenging profession, but at least it isn’t a thankless job. From hugs and love notes from the little ones to the satisfaction of watching older students pound fists as they untangle long division, teaching has plenty of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to keep us going. We all have rough days, though. Days when we need an extra bit of cheerleading and inspiration, as well as a timely “thank you” — and Teacher Appreciation Week is a great wake-up reminder if (royal) we haven’t been so timely in saying thank you all along.

    My dear colleague Lindsay often surprises me with a breakfast doughnut in a bag hanging from my classroom door, and I love her for it. But few things nourish our teacher’s soul quite like a good children’s book. I’ll admit, most of the books on the list below get me teary-eyed in the best of ways. These are the books that remind me with a child’s eye why we are in this profession, who I want to “grow up” to be as a teacher, and that teaching is still magical, even with its standards-oriented, scientific über-professionalization.


    Award-Winning (Fictitious) Teachers in Books Worth Savoring and Sharing

    Three by Polacco

    Nobody writes realistic odes to life-changing teachers like Patricia Polacco. Her all-time classic, Thank You, Mr. Falker, is Polacco's biographical panegyric to the teacher who recognized that she wasn’t “stupid,” she was dyslexic. Mr. Falker recruited help to get Polacco the services she needed in the days before IEP’s, and he resurrected her self-esteem.

    Another good choice, particularly for teachers working with students with special learning needs, is Junkyard Wonders. The truly inspiring Mrs. Peterson exemplifies high expectations and a deep appreciation for students’ individual differences and gifts. I love the illustrations in this book that capture the freewheeling, creative, collaboratively-chaotic tone of this class.

    In too many books, school administrators are painted as the “bad guys.” Mr. Lincoln’s Way breaks the mold, portraying an exceptionally understanding and wise principal who goes out of his way to connect with a troubled child. This book not only humanizes principals, but also shows how Mr. Lincoln is a quiet hero. This is a great book to share with a principal who is tired of being the “bogeyman” and needs a lift.

    Thank You, Mr. Falker Junkyard Wonders Mr. Lincoln's Way

    The Horrible Harry Series by Suzy Kline

    We’ve all taught darling rapscallions whose creative antics are designed to push us over the edge. Harry’s teacher, Ms. Mackle, is a relatable role model of a patient teacher who knows when to rein Harry in, but also respects his foibles. While the books are fairly simple, Ms. Mackle has always seemed particularly “real” to me. As a former elementary teacher herself, Kline is well suited to creating a warm and understanding teacher who still doesn’t read like a saint.

    Matilda by Roald Dahl

    While reading this classic that speaks to the child in all of us, we cheer for Miss Honey who goes the distance to nourish and preserve Matilda’s gifts. Fantasy aside, this book speaks straight to the heart of teachers who provide the stability, structure, and caring that may be lacking from their students’ home lives.

    The Magic School Bus Series by Joanna Cole

    Ms. Frizzle is who I turn to when my creative energy is smothered by standardized testing and paperwork. Her effervescent model for kid-centered experiential learning is, well, magical, and her fashion sense is impeccable as well. (If I could get my hands on her fashion designer, I would seriously wear all of her dresses to work. And don’t get me started on her shoes!) While there sadly aren’t funds for magic school buses at my school, I still use every chance to take my students out into the world to explore, take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!

    Horrible Harry in Room 2B Matilda by Roald Dahl Ms. Frizzle

    Frindle by Andrew Clements

    I’ve already blogged about my love for Frindle, and Andrew Clements’ unconventionally gifted protagonists in general. Beyond inspiring students to love words, Frindle also celebrates tough-love educators like teacher extraordinaire Mrs. Granger. Yes, Mrs. Granger is strict, verging on ornery, but we never doubt her deep love for education, her sky-high expectations for her students, or her total mastery of her craft. While the sweet, maternal Miss Honey from Matilda presents one model for a caring teacher, it’s tough-as-nails Mrs. Granger who really makes me sit up in my seat to try my very best.  

    The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill

    Set in an Inuit Alaskan village, this warm-hearted chapter book is based on a true story about Miss Agnes Sutterfield who awakens a village’s children to the many joys of education. Both humbly nostalgic and exotically foreign, this book is perfect for teachers who are crossing cultural divides, striking out someplace new, or who need to be celebrated for their gumption.

    The World According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney

    Although the focus of this chapter book is the hamster narrator, Humphrey, the portrayal of the teachers is more nuanced than most. Cranky Mrs. Brisbane protests taking on a class pet and is somewhat the villain of the story — until we learn that she is struggling with her husband’s depression over a crippling accident, and is venting her frustration on Humphrey rather than on her students. I appreciate that this children’s book acknowledges that we teachers have outside lives that are not always perfect. The book also subtly has us question pretty, exuberant substitute teacher Ms. Mac’s judgment in bringing a pet into a classroom that she soon leaves.

    Frindle The Year of Miss Agnes The World According to Humphrey


    Make Your Own “Appreciation Book”

    I stink at saving paperwork — my filing cabinet is generally the trash can — and the sheer volume of adoring cards, notes, and pictures I receive from my students is awesome, but also overwhelming. A dirty little secret is that I used to toss most of those fabulous missives after savoring them for awhile. But as my first years of teaching are fading into the sepia tones of memory, I’ve realized I miss those bits of nostalgia. So now I photograph all of the cuteness, and at the end of the year I order a digital photo album that scrapbooks the memories from the school year, including the origami presents, hand-drawn portraits, poetry, and more. On my darkest days, it’s nice having these books on my shelf.

    How do you express your gratitude to the teachers in your life — and celebrate your teaching self? What are your favorite books that feature rockin' teachers? On behalf of everyone who’s ever been a student (yep, that’s EVERYBODY), thank you for everything YOU do!

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