And this is one of those moments I should keep my big mouth shut.

Please: do not misunderstand this — in no way do I have any issues with @McEnglish101, Shellie McHenry. I enjoy her tweets and insights. This is truly about some issues I have with Teach Like a Pirate and other teacher PD books of this genre. They tend to be written by men, and tend to focus on the entertainment factor of teaching. (Think Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire by Rafe Esquith and The Essential 55 by Ron Clark.)

Well, some of us teachers have other ideas, and we’re tired of not being the “cool” teacher. When I came across this tweet, and am not sure why it hit a nerve. Maybe I am just wondering if education needs to be dressed up like spirit week in order to get students engaged?

We live in a post-American Idol culture. Everything can be game-ified, electrified, personified, and chicken-fried. I read Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a Pirate, and thought it was okay overall, but some things didn’t sit quite right. It was too…something.

Perhaps it’s this:

Lord of the Flies is an important work of literature. I’m not in the current mood or frame of mind to see it treated like a Gilligan’s Island trope. Maybe tomorrow I will be. But not today.

Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, and NBC shared a story that 66% of millennials do not know what “Auschwitz” is. 


Schoen Consulting, commissioned by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, conducted more than 1,350 interviews and found that 11 percent of U.S. adults and more than one-fifth of millennials either haven’t heard of, or are not sure if they have heard of, the Holocaust.

I promised myself and my colleagues I would put together a UBD unit on the Holocaust and what it means to keep history in mind, and why reading literature matters. I’ll work on it over the summer, and share as requested. But I do not want to teach it “like a pirate.” I want to teach it with historical context, significance, and respect.

Does everything, however, have to port such gravitas and depth?

And…I also want to have my students engaged, too, of course. And keep my humor (even though that may be a lost cause: there might be an underlying bias of why male teachers are “allowed to be funny while female teachers are not.)

Let’s examine what engagement actually means: For many outside observers and evaluators, engagement means leaning in, over-talking, collaborating, and working in a group to complete some task, design, or project. And it can mean that. It can also mean someone in deep contemplation, processing, taking time to consider and reflect until the moment of truth, choosing their audience and timing. Some people simply do not relish the spectacle. My friend John Spencer and I agree: empowerment > engagement.

I’m thinking back about 14 years when I was getting my certificate/Masters and worked at Starbucks part-time. There was a customer named Dave, older gentlemen, Santa Claush-ish, and wonderful. He’s the first one who told me about Talk Like a Pirate Day and every year of teaching since I celebrate September 19 with my own oversized Jolly Roger. It’s been a great icebreaker that starts the beginning of the year. However, I don’t think I would then show Captain Phillips or use it as a launching point to discuss Somalia’s poverty or rather or not it is a failed state.

Maybe it’s what Doug Robertson said in a tweet, that what students love and like don’t necessarily have to be co-opted in order to make school fun.

Okay, that’s enough seriousness for one morning. Thank you for your patience with me while I unsnarled my thoughts.

Anyway, if you want to read it for yourself, here’s the link:

Teach Like a PIRATE: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator

Note: He mentions Tony Robbins in his book many times, and Tony’s had some trouble lately.