Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess

I read Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess because it was recommended by several people, but I must admit, I had to force myself to finish it. As I read the introduction, I was thinking that the author certainly was passionate and enthusiastic but he wasn’t saying anything new. As I read on, I became more and more annoyed.

toy pirates looking at a globe

flickr photo by pasukaru76 shared under a Creative Commons (CC0) license

That’s not to say that there are no good ideas in this book. The word “pirate” in the title is actually an acronym for the elements of Burgess’ teaching style: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm. This seems promising, but it soon becomes clear that he equates teaching with entertainment. Most of the book describes how he presents content in creative ways. I will agree that there’s a show biz side to teaching and acting lessons could help some teachers, but I don’t believe that good teaching is only about presenting information in entertaining ways. Throughout the book Burgess refers to teachers as “presenters” and students as “audience.” In fact, the word “present” (and its other forms) appears 94 times in the book. His approach is so  teacher-centric it makes me cringe. In the Advanced Tactics chapter he actually says, “Nothing is more powerful than a master teacher standing before a class of students orchestrating the learning experience.” I know many effective (and powerful) educators who design learning opportunities where they quietly inspire and coach students without ever standing in front of them in an attempt to orchestrate their learning.

I also had a hard time with Burgess’ arrogant and condescending tone. He says one of his primary goals is to create a buzz on campus about him and his classes. In the chapter titled “Transformation” he says, “I am always shooting to have the most talked about class on campus and the conference session with the most buzz. That goal isn’t about ego, it’s about effectiveness.” This sounds a lot like ego to me. When he describes how he conducts his classes in the first three days of school, he talks about playing music as students enter because, “It is an audible reminder that they are entering a different world… my world.”

He does offer some interesting ideas that he calls “hooks” as ways to present content more creatively and to make the presentation more memorable. These lists may be a useful resource for teachers who are looking for fresh ideas, but most of them seem to have been chosen for their entertainment value more than for their pedagogical effectiveness. He ends the book with some thoughts that I can agree with, including the fact that not everything you try will work 100% of the time, but that shouldn’t keep you from taking a risk and trying something new.

So, if you have read this book and love it (as many people seem to) I challenge you to use the comments to help me understand its appeal. Do you think a teacher must be entertaining to be effective? Is attention the same as engagement? I’d really like to hear from anyone who was inspired by this book to change their practice. Did it make a difference? How do you know?

My next professional book on my summer reading list is Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. I’ve also been reading some fiction and I plan to add a separate page to this blog with my thoughts about the novels I’ve read. Watch for it in the navigation bar at the top of this page.

About Barbara Greenstone

Reader, Writer, Educator
This entry was posted in Pedagogy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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