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10 Titles Starring Teachers

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • January 06, 2023

For many teachers and their students, the holiday break has ended and it's time to get back into the classroom. Many of us feel the struggle this time of year to find inspiration and get motivated, so we thought it would be a good time to pay tribute to educators of all kinds with ten books, a mix of novels and memoir, where teachers play the starring roles.

Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman

First-time teacher Sylvia enters NYC's Calvin Coolidge High eager to shape young minds. Instead she encounters poor conditions, stifling bureaucracy, and disinterested students. An instant bestseller when published in 1964, this novel remains as poignant, devastating, laugh-out-loud funny, and relevant as ever.

The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill

Ten-year-old Fred doesn't have much faith that the new teacher in her one-room schoolhouse in remote Alaska will last. They never do. But Miss Agnes is different. For the first time, Fred and her classmates embark on a year they'll never forget in this uplifting middle-grade novel.

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

This compassionate novel centers on two young Black men in a small 1940s Cajun town: Jefferson sits on death row for a crime he didn't commit. Grant has reluctantly returned to teach at the plantation school. When Grant's aunt convinces him to visit Jefferson in prison, the two men forge a powerful bond.

Somebody Else's Kids by Torey L. Hayden

Special-education teacher Hayden has written many moving memoirs about her work with hard-to-reach children. Here, her class consists of an autistic boy, a girl damaged by parental violence, a pregnant 12 year old, and a boy who saw his father and brother killed. Somehow, they form a cohesive unit.

Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum

Seventh-grade teacher Beatrice Hempel, is new—new to teaching, newly engaged, and newly bereft of her father. This collection of linked stories traces her path as she makes her way through the transformative wonderland of middle school and the extraordinary business of growing up.

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

In this middle-grade novel, it's the start of the school year and seven kids find themselves thrown together in the same fifth grade class. They don't have much in common and they've never gotten along. Not until a certain new teacher arrives and helps them to find strength inside themselves—and in each other.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, she took great risks to help her students experience literature.

Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town—riding five hundred miles on her pony, alone, to get to her job. Based on her grandmother's extraordinary life, this novel by the author of The Glass Castle feels like Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults.

To Sir With Love by E. R. Braithwaite

This biographical novel inspired the classic Sydney Poitier film. With opportunities for Black men limited in post-World War II London, a Royal Air Force pilot and Cambridge-educated engineer takes a job teaching a class of angry, unmotivated, white teenagers who feel abandoned by the system.

These stories give us a glimpse of the sacrifices educators make to improve the lives of their students. Who are your favorite literary teachers?

If you happen to be an educator, our ThriftBooks 4 Teachers™ Program offers support—discounts, deals, and more—to educators, including homeschoolers and childcare workers. Learn more about how it works.

Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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