The Health Teacher’s Guide to Summer Reading

What's on your summer reading list? 

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Summer is finally here! Hopefully you’ve got all sorts of plans laid out, like hanging out with friends and family, taking long and relaxing breaks, and maybe doing something completely unheard of: reading a book just for fun.

If you’re anything like me, you use summer as a time to get caught up on some of the work-related books that you’ve been meaning to read. Here are some that have had a great influence on my teaching practice and my understanding of today’s teenagers.

1. Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence by Laurence Steinberg (2014)

New information and research on the teenage brain is coming at a rapid pace, and it’s so important that we stay on top of the latest. In his book, Dr. Steinberg states that American teens are miserable because our approach to raising them is a mix of “misunderstanding, uncertainty, and contradiction.”

He presents the latest in brain research and explains how we can use what we now know about adolescence to help us better understand teenagers and guide them along the decision-making process.

It’s an interesting read filled with facts, personal stories, examples, and suggestions for better educating our kids. I highly recommend taking the time to read this book, as it can be used to help justify the need for more comprehensive health education.

2. For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health by Al Vernacchio (2014)

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Al Vernacchio, who teaches 12th graders in Philadelphia, has gotten a lot of attention over the last few years for his positive approach to sex ed.

His class was featured in The New York Times article, "Teaching Good Sex" in November of 2011. Since then, he’s given a TED talk and written several articles about how we need to shift the focus of sexuality education onto values, relationships, and decision-making.

This is his first book, and while it’s aimed at parents, anyone who teaches sex ed has much to learn from Mr. Vernacchio and the work he’s been doing with his students.

3. The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids by Madeline Levine (2008)

This book had such an impact on me that I shared it with our principal and counselors. At a school with a high-pressure environment, there was so much in here that I could connect to my students.

In this book, psychologist Madeline Levine shares personal accounts of her patients and discusses what she calls the “toxic brew” of parents being absent and present at the same time.

She discusses the idea of parents being there at baseball games but not at the dinner table, and with so many parents now absorbed in their screens, the isolation she speaks of can happen even when everyone’s in the same room.

4. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (2007) by Carol Dweck

This was our summer reading at school a few years ago, and I really enjoyed it. It was a quick read, and I was able to use much of what I learned in it for myself, and also for teaching kids about goal-setting.

5. Eleanor & Park (2013) by Rainbow Rowell, and Other Young Adult Novels

Bianca Alexis

This touching tale of first love between an unlikely pair is beautifully written and wildly popular with teenage girls. Sometimes we can forget what it’s like to be a teenager, and so much of the teenage experience has changed over the last twenty years. I find that reading contemporary YA fiction helps me get an idea of what’s happening with teens today, while increasing empathy for my students.

We’re in an amazing time right now for young adult fiction, so these books are popular, relevant, and realistic. We’re not talking about the Twilight series here.

More recommended YA reads:

- Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. I haven’t read this one yet, but it came highly recommended by a former student of mine.  It’s supposed to be excellent, but in the spirit of summer vacation, I might just skip ahead and go watch the movie instead.

-Anything by John Green - The Fault in Our StarsPaper TownsAn Abundance of Katherines… They don’t call him “the teenage whisperer” for nothing.

Looks like my summer reading list (and yours) just got a little bit longer!