Brad Olsen approaches the art and science of teaching from his personal experience as both teacher and student.

Olsen, an associate professor of education at UC Santa Cruz, is editor of a new six-volume set of books on the craft of teaching called The Teacher's Toolkit (Paradigm Publishers).

The set presents the most successful teacher practices based on research, experience, and wisdom at a time when "education is more complicated than it has ever been," Olsen said. "To teach well in this day and age is hard work."

Olsen wrote the first book in the series, Teaching for Success: Developing Your Teacher Identity in Today's Classroom, co-wrote the sixth, and commissioned the others.

A second volume is Teaching English Learners: Fostering Language and the Democratic Experience, by Kip Téllez, chair of the education department at UC Santa Cruz.

The books, which are also sold individually, are meant for teachers, teacher educators, professors, and students. They are largely based on what Olsen would have liked to have known as he started his teaching career.

The authors seek to inspire educators toward the joys of teaching, encouraging the view that teaching is not only a technical act but a moral-political one as well. They aim to take current research and theory and make it accessible in a conversational, practice-oriented style without diluting the scholarly content.

A good profession

After graduating from Bowdoin College, Olsen was looking for a profession in which he could try to make the world a better place, tap into the idealistic energy of youth, and get paid to talk about literature and writing. Teaching seemed to fit the bill.

A rural school in Maine took a chance on him, hiring him through an emergency credential program that no longer exists. Two years later he enrolled in a formal education program at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.

He later taught in Boston and Bogota, Colombia, and served as principal for a neighborhood start-up school in East Palo Alto, a position he remembers as "quite challenging."

The experiences prompted him to ask: "How can the teaching and learning aspects of a single school be so deeply affected by larger social and historical educational forces?" The question led to doctoral work in education at UC Berkeley.

"I wanted to become a bridge between teachers and teaching on the one side and school policy and education reform on the other," he said.

Research

Olsen's research focuses primarily on teachers, teaching, and teacher education. "Everyone talks about what's wrong with schools, maybe we should think about the complicated nature of teaching.

"I think we need to reconfigure teacher education and careers in teaching so they better support teachers succeeding in today's schools," Olsen said. "And we must ensure that our books about teaching are worth reading. Too many are either overly abstract or diluted to the point of obviousness," he said. So he aimed instead for something in between, which is where the idea of a toolkit for teachers emerged.

"The Teacher's Toolkit is for prospective, beginning, and experienced educators who know that teaching is a fundamentally important profession and who want to think more deeply and richly about their work," Olsen said.

"If this world is going to improve and grow, it will be because of our teachers. These six books are intended to light a path toward teachers' own continuing professional development."

Contents of the Toolkit

The Teacher's Toolkit includes the following volumes:

  • Teaching for Success: Developing Your Teacher Identity in Today's Classroom, by Brad Olsen

  • Teaching English Learners: Fostering Language and the Democratic Experience, by Kip Téllez

  • Teaching Without Bells: What We Can Learn from Powerful Practice in Small Schools, by Joey Feldman

  • Leading from the Inside Out: Expanded Roles for Teachers in Equitable Schools, by W. Norton Grubb and Lynda Tredway

  • Teaching Toward Democracy: Educators as Agents of Change, by William Ayers, Kevin Kumashiro, Erica Meiners, Therese Quinn, and David Stovall

  • Making a Difference: Developing Meaningful Careers in Education, by Karen Hunter Quartz, Brad Olsen, Lauren Anderson, and Kimberly Barraza Lyons