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All Teachers Should Strive to be Pirates: A Book Review of Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a Pirate

Updated: Aug 12, 2022

One of the main things that I like to do over the summer is read. I am an English teacher after all so yeah, I love to read (and I don’t get to do enough of it during the school year). So summer time hits, and I want to pull out all the good old classics: The Count of Monte Cristo, Game of Thrones: A Song of Fire and Ice, all things written by Jane Austin, and dare I say it- Harry Potter.

While I love to reread these classic stories, I also take this time to read some novels that I am planning on incorporating in the classroom because, as a high school English teacher- I just never stop working. I read things like Kaffir Boy, I Am Malala, The Arabian Knights, Dreaming in Cuban, The Fault in our Stars, Hiroshima… and any other novel I think could be utilized in some way for students in my 10th grade classes.

But, I also make it a point to read a few inspiring educational novels, to help kindle the fire that I have as an educator. While I remain a passionate teacher, I need a few weeks to step back and revive my goals. This is a great time for reflection, to work on my strengths and weaknesses, and create solid plans and routines to better structure myself and my classroom.

The first book that I devoured this summer was Teach Like a Pirate, written by Dave Burgess. This book was published in 2012, and boy is it a game changer! I feel like I have some pretty innovative ideas, but this teacher has taken my entire concept of innovative teaching to a whole new level. I finally found a real life Mrs. Frizzle- yes I’m talking about the children’s cartoon!

My favorite teacher of all time is (an always will be) Mrs. Frizzle of the Magic School bus- I mean, she was the total package- she used positive reinforcement to handle the complainer of the group, got the students outside of the classroom for engagement, brought in elements of nature for inspiration, gave students hand on kinetic learning, and always supported the lesson through problem based learning. Students where collaborating and fixing the problem the entire class period. – Ok sure, she had a magic bus that could make things easier, but really, we all have the capabilities to be like Mrs. Frizzle- and if you can’t figure out how to be like her- read this book!!

Just like Mrs. Frizzle, Dave Burgess has found the key to turning the classroom into a real life magic school bus where the kids enter new worlds, explore, problem solve, and collaborate. They are learning through full immersion into the lesson. Now, even he cannot teach every lesson like this, but as long as the students know that this epic lesson is coming, they can get on board with the other days that are just as spectacular but less immersive than the Magic School Bus Days.

Reading this book today versus seven years ago was a great thing for me- while Burgess’ ideas are amazing, there are some dated implementation strategies that would have been difficult then (hats off to Burgess who made it work in a less technical world). Today, technology makes his ideas possible even for the overworked and tired teachers.

Dave Burgess is all about total immersion; students enter his classroom and escape from school to his world. He has solid techniques that grab the students attention and never let it go throughout the year. While Burgess’ style is primarily a real life experience, a virtual tour is an easy way to get a similar experience today, that was not possible in 2012. Today, there is a push for digital learning. What better way to engage students than giving them a virtual world to participate in?

Again, Teach Like a Pirate is worth the read! If you need to reconnect with how to implement positive engagement in the classroom, how to deal with less than excited learners in the classroom, then you need to check out this book. The students change a little every year (and this is not me saying “back in the good old days”).

Children’s brain chemistry subtly shifts each year, due to increased technological use. The neural connections in the brain are not what they use to be, because in our time access to ANYTHING is instantaneous, and therefore the brain works faster to make connections and depends less on creativity and imagination. This is not a bad thing, it’s just one of those things that is. For more information check out Psychology Today’s “How Technology is Changing the Way Children Think and Focus”

So, it’s not that students are more immature, irrational, or disrespectful, but they are bored, unmotivated, and disconnected. Try to spice up the classroom and remind students why they loved learning in the first place! I feel like we should all teach like pirates.

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