yarn schmidt July 06


10 Podcasts That Teachers — And Readers — Will Love: A Summer Listening List by Kevin Carlson

End of Year lists typically come out around, you know, December.  However, this is the perfect time for an End of School Year list.

I have listened to a LOT of podcasts in the last year since launching the Teacher Learning Sessions and reviewed over 100 of them in our weekly newsletter.  

For this list, I wanted “podcasts for teachers” that are not specifically about teaching or education but are thoughtfully and beautifully produced shows about creativity, writing, reading, music, stories, art, and more.  

I think that listening to them helped me get smarter.  And I hope they will do the same for you.

Here is a summer listening list:  10 of my favorite podcast episodes that came out this school year that I think teachers–and readers–will love.  




The Memory Palace, #80, by Nate DeMaio, “Shore Leave”


Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert, “Pursue Your Passions Like a Mofo”


Nerdette, by Tricia Bobeda and Greta Johnsen, “Judy Blume And Kwame Alexander On The Books That Shape Childhood”


Song Exploder #62, “MGMT: Time to Pretend”  


This American Life #562, “The Problem We All Live With”


Unusually Short Stories.  Written and read by Robert Bruce.


Reply All, Episode 28, “Shipped to Timbuktu”


Ted Talks Audio.  “Wisdom from great writers on every year of life,” by Joshua Prager


The Yarn, by BkPk Media, “E12 + E13 – Gary D. Schmidt Unravelled”


Fugitive Waves, by The Kitchen Sisters.  “Portrait of an Artist as an Answering Machine.”


The details…


The Memory Palace, #80, by Nate DeMaio, “Shore Leave”

The Memory Palace podcast describes itself as, “a storytelling podcast and public radio segment about the past.”  It is a collection of either small stories about big events or big stories about small events.  

This episode, the 10-minute finale to the 2015 season, tells the story of a group of Coast Guard “Subway Sailors” stationed at New York City in 1943.  A night on the town in their dress blues becomes something quite different when a fire starts on a barge.  Their classified wartime duty:  to protect a munitions depot in the harbor that had the explosive power to flatten a 5-mile radius.  

Nate DiMeo’s writing is gorgeous and crafted.  The storytelling tools are narration and music.  I think the show is so simple and so beautiful.   And I’m not alone.  The Memory Palace was named a finalist for a Peabody Award in 2016.

Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert, “Pursue Your Passions Like a Mofo”

Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame and author of many other notable titles) released her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear last fall.  With it, she came out with the Magic Lessons podcast series.   

From the show description:  “MAGIC LESSONS are road maps for the path to creativity, the extra nudge you need when you’re feeling stuck.”  The podcast episodes work in pairs.  So in one episode she talks to somebody facing creative challenges–these are people culled from her social network–and offers her own personal observations, recommendations, and challenges to the guest.  And in the next episode Glibert talks to a famous friend who provides their expert advice and perspective about that challenge.

They’re all good.  The first one I listened to hooked me.  It featured Cheryl Strayed: “Pursue Your Passions Like a Mofo”  



Nerdette, by Tricia Bobeda and Greta Johnsen

Judy Blume And Kwame Alexander On The Books That Shape Childhood

Judy Blume and Kwame Alexander on the same podcast…  Need I say more?  

Judy Blume, who has helped shape the lives of thousands and thousands of children for generations, is wise and kind, and is also a tremendous advocate for book choice for children.  

Newbery Award-winner Kwame Alexander, who is a force of brilliance and wisdom himself, talks about poetry, reluctant readers, and writing the books he wishes he had as a boy.

Tricia Bobeda and Greta Johnsen are wonderful hosts interviewing these amazing authors:  smart, thoughtful, light, interested, and entertaining.


song exploder

Song Exploder #62, by Hrishikesh Hirway, “MGMT: Time to Pretend”  

This particular episode is the quintessential Song Exploder episode.  MGMT’s super-popular “Time to Pretend” is broken down by the band and re-assembled.  Personally, after I’ve heard a song’s deconstruction and reconstruction, when it is played in its entirety at the end of the show, I hear it with more depth and clarity than I had before.

It is interesting to me that the Song Exploder episodes I enjoy the most are ones in which I already know the song.  I think books work the same way, especially for kids.  Knowing a book well, reading it for the pleasure of savoring the story, allows a more thoughtful approach when it comes time to tackle questions about the text and understand it more deeply.

This American Life #562, “The Problem We All Live With”  

The episode gets it name from the Norman Rockwell painting depicting Ruby Bridges–the first black child to attend an all-white elementary school in the south.  It tells a story about a school that inadvertently created a desegregation program.  

Research and empirical evidence supports the assertion that one of the most important, effective ways to reduce the learning performance gap between black and white students is the desegregation of schools.  But as a society, we’re not even talking about it.

This podcast–Part 1 of a 2-part series–came out last summer, but it’s worth revisiting.  It is not easy listening.  It’s especially ugly when the parents from the nearly all-white high-performing school react to the news that kids from the nearly all-black un-accredited school will be bused in.  But it’s important listening, and the reporting from New York Times Magazine Reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones is stunning.

Many of the people who listen to the podcast will hear it through the context of the violence in Ferguson (And in Chicago.  And in Cleveland.  And…and…), and that alone makes it important listening.  But this show brings our country’s on-going problems dealing with race into a school setting, so that makes it even more powerful for you.


Unusually Short Stories.  Written and read by Robert Bruce.

These are unusual podcasts from an unusual person.  And yes, they really are unusually short.  Each episode is a thirty-second story written and read by a talented, creative guy with a magnificent voice.  These would be some pretty wonderful micro-fiction mentor texts.  But I’ll keep it brief:  listen.
reply all

Reply All, Episode 28, “Shipped to Timbuktu”

Reply All “…features stories about how people shape the internet, and the internet shapes people.”  You’ve probably heard of it.  It’s part of Gimlet Media.

This episode is actually not so much about the internet at all, so much as it is an amazing story about humanity, courage, and hope, set in a World War 2 prison camp.  The first time I listened to the episode, by the end of it I had forgotten the internet was involved at all.  And I was sitting in my parked car, having arrived at my destination 10 minutes prior, unable to stop listening.  The second time I listened, I was taking the long way home from that same errand.

Ted Talks Audio.  “Wisdom from great writers on every year of life,” by Joshua Prager

“Books tell us who we’ve been, who we are, who we will be, too,” Prager says in this wonderful discussion about the thinking, motivation, and research behind his upcoming book that explores stages of life through quotations from great writers.  

From the show description: “As different as we humans are from one another, we all age along the same great sequence, and the shared patterns of our lives pass into the pages of the books we love.”

The talk is set to visualizations by graphic designer Milton Glaser as well, if you prefer the video version.


yarn schmidt

The Yarn, by BkPk Media, “E12 + E13 – Gary D. Schmidt Unravelled”

I had not yet read Orbiting Jupiter when I heard this episode of The Yarn from Colby Sharp and Travis Jonker.  But I loved the patient, never rushed, and insightful conversation with Gary Schmidt.  In Episode 12 Schmidt talks about his inspiration for the book, and Episode 13 he takes the listener behind the scenes and shares some of his writing process.  I enjoyed listening back-to-back–I finished the first part and went directly to the second one.  

Soon after listening, because of listening, I read Orbiting Jupiter.  I took in the last 100 pages as slowly as I possibly could to marinade myself in the story.  I wanted my reading experience to fit with what I learned from this episode about Schmidt’s writing experience.  Orbiting Jupiter was one of my favorite YA books of the last year, and hearing the conversation on this episode made me appreciate it even more.

fugitive waves

Fugitive Waves, by The Kitchen Sisters.  “Portrait of an Artist as an Answering Machine.”

Fugitive Waves “…mines the Sisters’ deep archive of stories, lost recordings and shards of sound, along with new tales from remarkable people around the world. Stories from the flip side of history.”  

This episode is about Taylor Negron, “actor, comedian, and telephone message hoarder,” told through the voicemails on his machine.  

The show doesn’t tell the story of Negron’s whole life, nor does it try to.  It shares how people close to him reached out to him.  His story is reflected in his friends’ messages, and it turns out that he had some pretty interesting and funny friends.  

The final message is one he left to himself.  As if suddenly realizing something very important while caught without a pen and paper, something he was afraid he would forget otherwise, he called his own number, waited for the beep, and sang a dreamy lyrical song.  And that message ends the episode, his reminder for later.

Taylor died in January, 2015, and the story was presented in his honor.


What is wonderful about the world of podcasts right now is how many high-quality shows there are.  Whether you are a teacher, reader, writer, thinker–most likely you are all four of these and more if you read the Nerdy Book Club–then these are some episodes that I hope you fit into your summer podcast listening.




Kevin Carlson is the founder of the Teacher Learning Sessions, which produces podcasts like The Book Love Foundation Podcast, Teachers Ask Jen Serravallo, Stories from the Teaching Life with Penny Kittle, and the Re:Teaching podcast.  Visit TeacherLearningSessions.com to learn more, join a summer study session of the Book Love Foundation Podcast, and also subscribe to a newsletter that delivers podcast reviews and much more to your inbox every week.

This fall, the Teacher Learning Sessions is partnering with BkPk Media to produce a brand new podcast.  The details will be announced soon.  (But here’s a hint:  if you’re reading this, you’re going to love listening to that.)