Need to Read: Teachers recommend books that made life changing impacts

By Sabine Martin

No matter how big or small, popular or obscure, books can be inspiring. They can impact someone’s life in a drastic way or in a small way. Books create new ideas and can teach life lessons for the future. Charles William Eliot, Harvard University’s president more than 100 years ago, explained how books are always something to go back to. “Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors and the most patient of teachers.”

Several teachers of Cedar Falls Schools explained which books changed their lives and helped them become who they are today.

P.E. teacher Corey Peters
Holmes Junior High:
The Bible

You have to go way back in time to when I was 12. I had lots of anger issues.  I was in trouble frequently in elementary school. I was the only kid in my grade not selected for the School Patrol (helping kids cross the street). Even more than that I was mad at the fact that my biological father didn’t want much to do with my brother and I. I didn’t think much of church because I thought people looked down on me because we didn’t have as nice of clothes. That summer I had a chance to visit my father in Oregon. He bought me a ticket to spend six weeks with him. I was beyond excited, but when I arrived I quickly found out that he lived in a drug house where they made and sold drugs and had parties every night. I was devastated.

I came home, and I was as broke as a person could be. I picked up a Bible and said out loud that I was going to read only one verse every night. It was a King James Bible, so it was difficult for a kid like me to understand, but I said that I wanted to see if I believed in God or not.  I wanted to find out who He was for myself and not who everyone else said He was.

I was very judgmental of people, and I had a bad temper.  Now I would think people would think that those characteristics don’t describe me at all. In fact, they are very far away from who I am.  I went from a kid who’s parents told their children not to hang around to a kid who other parents called me to see if their child could hang around me.  It is because He changed me through reading His Word.

Economics teacher Kevin Kuker
Holmes Junior High:
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger

Reading this book opened my eyes to the real world that was awaiting for me following high school.

Science teacher James Duff
Holmes Junior High:
“The Stranger” by Albert Camus. 

[Note: The Stranger is a French novel about the philosophy of the absurd and existentialism, and Meursault is the main character who is indifferent to all things, including his mother’s death. If you read the book, you will understand Mr. Duff’s comments.]

I abhor Camus. How dare he write my life before I was even born. I reject him. I reject Meursault! I am not him! I cried. and I sang to my mother when we buried her. I said “goodbye Mama.”

Besides … I love a bright beach with hot sunshine. When the sand blisters my feet and the glinting sun off the waves drives a spike into my forehead, I slip into the cool shade.

Math teacher Susan Green
Holmes Junior High:
The Bible 

The Bible gives a person direction in life and also courage and strength when things are not going well.  The Bible also states: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” – Matthew 7:12  That is a good philosophy for all to have. I’m definitely not perfect, but living that way is something that I strive for.

Art teacher Chad Wolf
Peet Junior High:
“The Unknown Craftsman, A Japanese Insight into Beauty“ by Soetsu Yanagi

The book changed my life because it gave me a completely different perspective on what beauty is, what it can be and how it might be perceived differently. Since I’m both an artist and a teacher, it helped to shape my philosophy of art and teaching students about art.

Social studies teacher Sarah  Carlson
Peet Junior High:
“A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn

I have always loved history for the cultural aspect and being able to see through someone else’s eyes. I love that history gives me insight into how people think and act. This book tells history from the view of average Americans without sugar coating reality in the lives they lived. It told me the stories that textbooks leave out, that aren’t a picturesque view. It tells the views of people whose voices are often unheard like Native Americans, the poor, immigrants and women. The quote on the back of the book by Howard Zinn states, “There is an underside to every age about which history does not often speak. Because history is written from the records left by the privileged.

This book charges up the humanitarian in me. It made me want to fight for the underdog and ensure in my classroom I do my best to represent voices of all walks of life throughout different eras we study. As a teacher, I want students to leave my classroom knowing that their voice means something and shouldn’t be hidden. A book like Zinn’s helps create a total understanding that in order to build our country we had to muffle many voices, and my job is to now unleash them and understand how America came to be.

Counselor Susan Langan
High School:
“Perfectly You” by Julia V. Taylor

I have had several books change my life. One of the most recent ones is a kid’s book, and I share it with a lot of younger and older students. I have also bought and given it away for gifts several times. It is called Perfectly You by Julia V. Taylor. The author is a counselor educator at the University of Virginia, and I know her personally.  She has been a speaker at many of our counselor conferences.  I simply adore her and use all of her wonderful resources.  I love Perfectly You because it is so simple and direct and gives young people specific things to do to help themselves.  About 10 years ago, I heard Julia speak for the first time.  She got me fired up to continue the work to help advocate for all students but especially girls and young women.  This book is a reminder to me that we still have a long way to go, but we can get it done.

Through a wonderful story and colorful illustrations, Perfectly You will teach young readers (and listeners) to accept themselves, treat one another with compassion and embrace their uniqueness. It provides children with the message that character comes from within while focusing on the importance of self-acceptance, tolerance and leading an overall healthy lifestyle.

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