Teach Like a Pirate – review

Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an EducatorTeach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So much hype surrounds this book, and its been rated highly by many educators whom I respect, so I thought it would be worth a look.

Author Dave Burgess shares a great deal about his teaching practice, and to that end, its a great read. I always love hearing about how other teachers go about their work. He has a great emphasis on creativity and engagement, and provides many great tips that I’m sure many teachers will find useful.

He repeatedly reminds his readers that education needs to be more than about what is on the test, and one of the points of difference between his class and many other classes, is that he provides far better reasons for his students to engage in learning than telling them they need it for the test. Perhaps this is one of the reasons, the book didn’t really resonate with me. Burgess works in the US school system, which is increasingly dominated by high stakes standardised testing. In my system, that’s not the case. We aren’t test driven, and I know of no teachers who use the ‘test’ as a justification for any of the learning their students do.

As an Australian primary school teacher, I found nothing new. We already take a creative, cross curricular approach to our work. Dress up days, theme days, magic, cooking, outdoor lessons, simulation games, role play, are all common and familiar.

I found it troubling that Burgess frequently wrote as if he was the only teacher using these practices, and his aim was to make his class stand out from all the others that students in his school attend. He went so far as to suggest that the rest of the school experience for his students was dry and boring. He wanted his students to know that as soon as they entered his room they would have a different and superior experience to what they would experience in any other classroom. As a school leader I found this problematic. I’d like to see teachers working less in isolation and more in collaboration. We all improve as we draw upon each others strengths and expertise. Setting out to convince our students that our class is a special experience is fine, but setting out to convince our students that our class is a superior experience to the classes of our colleagues is toxic and undermining.

Teach Like a Pirate includes some great tips for people who are having trouble being passionate about their subjects or engaging their students. However, I don’t believe it deserves the bandwagon hype that it has received. This is not a book that every teacher should read, or that will transform their work. It’s a book about one teachers practice with a few good tips, particularly for inexperienced teachers or perhaps those who are feeling jaded and need some inspiration.

Update: After posting this review I had a number of discussions on Twitter that led me to feel the need to expand on this a little more. There is plenty that is good in Teach Like a Pirate, as well as areas that I find problematic. Read more in my next post: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

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