Must-Read Books About Extraordinary Teachers and Their Journeys

Helen Keller with Anne Sullivan BookRags

In honor of National Teacher Appreciation Day on May 8, we share inspiring narratives about extraordinary teachers, acknowledging their remarkable experiences as educators and celebrating their tireless dedication to students.

The Miracle Worker

The Miracle Worker

The Miracle Worker, by William Gibson, is based both on Helen Keller’s autobiography and the letters written by Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan. An extraordinary educator, Sullivan was able to connect with her young deaf and blind student in incredible ways. Sullivan taught Keller to better communicate despite Keller’s overwhelming disabilities, showing her the meaning of language by signing into her hand. This work took patience and a unique sensibility that others in Keller’s life lacked. The result was an incredible breakthrough that led to an enduring bond between teacher and student. Sullivan and Keller became lifelong companions and friends who would both find much success in literary and academic fields.

Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society is a fictional story about a group of high school boys at a wealthy private school and the English teacher, John Keating, who changes their lives. Keating challenges both the school’s conservative curriculum and his students’ expectations by exposing them to classic works of literature, showing them how literature applies to their own lives. He encourages them to be free thinkers and focus on their creative instincts rather than the regimented and traditional methods of studying. Part of their unconventional education involves the discovery of a secret club known as the Dead Poets Society that Keating established when he was a young student at the school. Inspired by their teacher, the boys revive the club’s traditions and meet in a cave, where their journeys of self-discovery lead to unintended consequences.

The Freedom Writers

The Freedom Writers Diary

The Freedom Writers Diary is a non-fiction book about a group of at-risk students who are taught how to journal by a first-year English teacher, Erin Gruwell. Inviting her class to draw inspiration from such books as Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Gruwell helps her students write about their own tumultuous lives. The Freedom Writers Diary is told from different perspectives. The students’ entries are anonymous and are often conveyed in dramatic and emotional tones. As the students progress from freshmen to seniors, their writing styles mature and develop, demonstrating the way that their education has prepared them for college acceptance.

Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuesdays with Morrie is a true story about the lasting bond between a student, Mitch Albom, and his revered college professor, Morrie Schwartz. After college, Albom abandons his dream of becoming a professional musician and eventually works as a sports columnist instead. Years later, Schwartz, who is dying, reconnects with his former student who feels like a failure. Reuniting after 16 years, they decide to meet every Tuesday to share life experiences and memories. Over the course of several weeks both men reflect on life’s lessons and the natural occurrence of death as part of life. The professor’s final instruction to his student has a profound effect on both men.

To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher

To Teach

Bill Ayers’s book, To Teach, is a nonfiction book about education reform drawn from the author’s personal experiences. Ayers is known for his prominence as a political leader in Chicago and his support of President Barack Obama’s political career. His groundbreaking arguments about the flaws of the public school system have gained popularity over the years. He insisted that school systems are too bureaucratic and rigid, thus hindering the creativity and personal development of students. Believing that standardized tests risked de-humanizing students, he touted the importance of teachers instructing interactively and holistically, while respecting the individuality of each and every student.

Educating Esme: Diary of a Teacher’s First Year

Educating Esme

Educating Esme, by Esme Raji Codell, is drawn from journal entries written during Codell’s first year teaching at-risk students at an urban school. Codell delves into her day-to-day observations and emotions as she attempts to help troublesome teenagers and navigate the expectations of dysfunctional parents and colleagues alike. Codell describes the difficulty of maintaining her optimism as she tries to reason with both administrators and students. Her enthusiasm is unshakable as she devises new and creative ways to battle the bureaucrats and motivate the children to learn.

Push

Push

Push, by Sapphire, is a novel about a 16-year-old girl, Precious, struggling to overcome insurmountable odds with the help of her rigorous teacher, Ms. Rain, at a special school for abused girls. Ms. Rain supports Precious’ journey of self-discovery by helping her face the consequences of her parents’ sexual abuse and encouraging her to cultivate a positive self-image.  With the help of her new support network, Precious begins to make major changes in her life and commits to following a different path. Under her teacher’s guidance she empowers herself to pursue an education and take better care of her son, refusing to follow in her mother’s tragic footsteps.

Literary Soulmates Who Influenced Each Other Through the Ages

Jack London and Charmian Kittredge - Litarary Soulmates

Many romantics believe love conquers all, but can love also create legends? Possibly, especially if passionate partners also share a passion for the writing life. Here are 10 inspiring couples who wrote extraordinary books as literary soulmates while romancing each other—shaping not only their partners’ hearts but the most influential literary works of all time.

Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss

Jonathan Foer and Nicole Krauss

Authors Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss married in 2004 and were together for ten years. During the early years of this celebrated New York couple’s relationship, reviewers noted the similarities in the story lines of their second novels—Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Krauss’ The History of Love. Although the couple denies comparisons, both books do nostalgically address World War II and a child’s loss of his father. Krauss reflected on their relationship and parallels of their lives as literary soulmates: “First, it has to do with why we love each other, long before we ever get to the fact that we’re writers or write about similar things. I think we come from such a similar place. His grandmother survived the Holocaust. I think we intuited a lot of the same things in the silences of our childhood.”

Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt

Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt BookRags

Paul Auster, author of The New York Trilogy married another acclaimed novelist, Siri Hustvedt, author of The Blazing World, in 1982, after they met at a poetry reading the previous year. Both penned these and other important novels during their marriage. Among them was Auster’s Leviathan, in which he used the narrator, Iris, from Hustvedt’s earlier novel, The Blindfold. Reflecting on meeting his wife the first time, Auster playfully said, “Siri likes to say it was love at first sight, but it wasn’t for me. For me, it took about, oh, I don’t know, 10 minutes.”

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne BookRags

Novelists John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion married in 1964 after a long courtship starting in the late 1950s. They wrote and travelled together throughout their relationship, constantly collaborating as literary soulmates. They edited one another’s best work, including Dunne’s highly acclaimed, The Studio and Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem. In Didion’s autobiography, The Year of Magical Thinking, after Dunne’s death, she recalls her life with the famous author and the heartache involved in losing him and their only child. “We imagined we knew everything the other thought,” she writes, “even when we did not necessarily want to know…”

Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky

Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky BookRags

The first meeting between beat poet Allen Ginsberg and his lifetime love, Peter Orlovsky, in 1954, is a story of life imitating art. Ginsberg was in an old Victorian apartment in San Francisco when his host, the artist, showed him a nearly life-size painting, Nude with Onions. Ginsberg was immediately struck by the beauty of the boy in the painting. The model and young Adonis, Orlovsky, happened to be in the next room. He became not only Ginsberg’s life partner, but also the muse of his poetry; Ginsberg would publish the work that would define his generation—Howl and Other Poems—just two years after they moved in together

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas

Gertrude Stein Alice B Toklas BookRags

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by Modernist writer Gertrude Stein announces the impossibility of its own existence; clearly one cannot write another’s “autobiography,” and yet this nonsensical task is exactly what Stein sets out to do. The novel playfully and arrogantly features the character of Gertrude Stein as one of the three “geniuses” whom Alice has met. At the same time, The Autobiography is absolutely affectionate in the way it pays tribute to the lovers’ lives among Parisian artists in the 1930s. The two frequently hosted other Modernist writers and painters, including Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and many, many others.

Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir

Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir BookRags

Renowned French philosopher and existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre wrote No Exit and many other literary works while in a life-long open relationship with Simone de Beauvoir, beginning in 1929. De Beauvoir is the accomplished author and feminist most famously known for her book, The Second Sex as well as The Ethics of Ambiguity. Although they never married, the writers were in a committed relationship for over 50 years. Beauvoir wrote of her companion as her soulmate, “We were two of a kind, and our relationship would endure as long as we did: but it could not make up entirely for the fleeting riches to be had from encounters with different people.” Still, they read and edited the other’s work with the same respect and love they had for each other.

Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West

Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville West BookRags

In 1928, Virginia Woolf famously based her novel Orlando on her lover (and fellow writer) Vita Sackville-West, whose son declared the work “the longest and most charming love letter in literature.” Less well known as a writer, Sackville-West curiously wrote a match-sized book for the Queen Mary’s dollhouse several years before the publication of Woolf’s novel; the tiny artifact has only recently been published as a life-sized book. The story was one of 200 “volumes” housed in the dolls’ house and featured a “sprite,” a mischievous time traveler, who donned the fashions of various historical epochs. In Woolf’s novel, Orlando likewise moves fluidly through time, shifting easily between genders and among costumes. So while literary history believes Sackville-West to be the basis for Woolf’s novel, Orlando likely has a source in the dollhouse book.

Jack London and Charmian Kittredge

Jack London with Charmian Kitteridge, BookRags

Jack London was a prolific writer, penning numerous classics, including White Fang, that were based on his real-life adventures as a seafarer and gold prospector in Alaska during the late 1800s and early 1900s. His mistress turned wife, Charmian Kittredge, was his typist and editor. She helped London meet his deadlines by organizing his work after his morning ritual of typing 1,000 words per day. We know much about London from her daily diary entries. Kittredge was not only his inspiration but constant companion on sailing adventures across the Pacific Ocean. She also accompanied him on his travels by train on lecture and book tours throughout the United States, in the early 1900s. They had a true passion for each other. London enjoyed her spirit for adventure and lust for life that matched his own. In a love letter to her, he proclaimed those sentiments: “But You, You, who are so much more, who know life and have looked it squarely in the face, who are open-eyed and worldly wise, and mature in thought and knowledge.” In another letter he expressed, “Dear, sweet Love, you are mine, I am yours.”

Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barret Browning

Elizabeth Barret Browning and-Robert Browning BookRags

Victorian poets Robert Browning, author of My Last Duchess, and Elizabeth Barret Browning were married in secret, in 1846. Their dedication to each other and their craft were shared in countless letters and noted by close friends. They produced significant work during their passionate relationship as literary soulmates that included Barret Browning’s Aurora Leigh and Sonnet XXIX. Her most famous Sonnet 43, in Sonnets from the Portuguese, was written for her husband with the famous opening verse, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”

Peter Abelard and Heloise d’Argenteuil

Abelard and Heloise BookRags

Peter Abelard was a medieval scholar from the eleventh and twelfth centuries who wrote numerous works on philosophy and theology. The love affair between him and his student Heloise d’Argenteuil—an intelligent writer, scholar and feminist—had serious consequences for them both. Although they were married in secret and had a son together, they were ultimately forced apart by Heloise’s uncle who had Abelard castrated for not fulfilling his marital obligations to his niece. After the couple separated, she became a nun and he a monk in separate monasteries. They continued their love affair through correspondence—in The Letters of Abelard and Heloise—expressing their deep feelings for each other and regrets. Despite her dedication to the church, Heloise could not deny her longing for Abelard as expressed in one of her letters: “In my case, the pleasures of lovers which we shared have been too sweet—they cannot displease me, and can scarcely shift from my memory. Wherever I turn they are always there before my eyes, bringing with them awakened longings and fantasies which will not even let me sleep.”