TEACHING: NOTES FROM THE FRONT LINE
If you only read one book about teaching this year, then there’s a compelling case to be made for ensuring it’s this one, especially if you are feeling frustrated, trapped and undervalued. Debra Kidd’s thinking is crystalline, her prose flawless and her honesty, inspiring. Sweeping aside the piles of false dichotomies that so often stifle genuine debate about education, she exposes what’s at the heart of the system and invites teachers everywhere to reclaim their profession – their vocation – in the name of the young people it serves. She describes our current system in terms of an outmoded model that has been endlessly tweaked, adjusted and overloaded with additions in order to keep it going, when what is actually needed is the courage and determination to call a halt and rebuild it in a way that will work for children now, and into the future. It’s a call to arms; a cry for revolution – but with hope and optimism, not anger and resentment. Beautiful.
POCKET PAL – MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES
(Victoria Mason and Emela Milne, Teachers Pocketbooks, £8.99)
Written by a secondary school teacher and a speech and language therapist, both working in mainstream schools, this book identifies the problems faced by young people who, for whatever reason, have not naturally acquired the fundamental spoken and written skills that are essential for them to access the curriculum at school and ultimately lead successful lives in the world beyond it – and then identifies and explains a range of practical strategies that teachers can use to support those youngsters. The ‘pocketbook’ format ensures that all the information is presented with admirable concision and clarity – and of course, that the book is as portable as it is digestible. Research suggests that at least 10% of children in any class you teach are likely to have issues – many undiagnosed – with speech, language and communication; taking this advice on board could help you make a massive difference to a very vulnerable group.
CREATING TOMORROW’S SCHOOLS TODAY
(Richard Gerver, Bloomsbury, £18.99)
The fact that the foreword to this ‘education manifesto’ has been written by Sir Ken Robinson tells you from the start on which side of the traditional/progressive fence the author’s writing desk is situated – but there is no lack of pragmatism here. Richard Gerver has a proven track record as a teacher and school leader (indeed, he won the School Head Teacher of the Year Award at the British National Teaching Awards in 2005), and is more than capable of backing up his theories and claims with solid evidence as well as clear thinking. Although largely focused on primary and the early years, the book has much to offer secondary school educators – Gerver is a skilled storyteller and his vision, described with wit and passion, is expansive, imaginative and ultimately captivating. If you didn’t catch it the first time around, make sure you add this updated edition to your Christmas list – and for an idea of the level of debate he inspires, join in the conversation online (#Edvision).
DON’T CHANGE THE LIGHTBULBS
The internet is great, isn’t it? So many talented, knowledgeable and experienced individuals sharing their thoughts, opinions and ideas; it’s an incredible resource for any educator. At the same time, though, it can be a daunting prospect. The sheer volume of material that’s available is immense – and of course, not all of it will be relevant, or of reasonable quality. Simply browsing to find something worthwhile in the first place can take more time than the average teacher has on her hands, so wouldn’t it be great if someone could do it on our behalf? This ‘compendium of expertise’ offers exactly that service, gathering together some of the brightest and most respected educational thinkers around and presenting their words of wisdom on all aspects of pedagogical theory and practice in one, handy paperback. It’s a kind of tasting menu, in a way – enabling you to find what you like before venturing online for the full banquet – and also an opportunity for a fun game of ‘spot the Teach Secondary contributor’...
THE 100 SOCIETY
(Carla Spradbery, Hodder, £6.99)
Despite the ultra-contemporary teen culture references and no-holds-barred violence and gore, there’s still something rather endearingly old-fashioned about this gripping thriller set in and around an exclusive English boarding school. All the characters you’d expect from a closed-house mystery are there to be picked off one by one by a mysterious stranger styled as the grim reaper: the pretty-but-shallow girl; the bitter and lonely prime suspect; the dangerously different, rebellious scholarship boy with a chip on his shoulder; and the thoroughly decent chap who is the heroine’s best friend but wants more. Have you worked it out yet? It really doesn’t matter that it’s not so much a ‘whodunnit’ as a ‘hedunnit, innit?’ though – the writing is smooth and pacey, the plot holds together well, issues such as sexual attraction and the weight of parental expectations are lightly and senstively touched on, and a focus on both technology and art help to ensure a broad appeal.
Meet the AUTHOR
Debra kidd is looking forward to the revolution…
HAVING LEFT YOUR TEACHING JOB, DO YOU STILL FEEL A PART OF ‘THE FRONT LINE’?
Yes and No. Yes, partly because I still work with children in schools; however, I don’t have the burden of marking or anything like the pressure that other teachers there have and so although I’m still present, I’m not under pressure. But when I made the decision to leave, I was determined to do something that would impact on the day to day lives of teachers – to exert some pressure. The book is one step in this battle. I’m still on the front line, but perhaps in a watch tower!
DO YOU THINK A REVOLUTION IN EDUCATION CAN HAPPEN WHILE EVERYONE IS CONCERNED WITH PITCHING THE ‘TRADITIONALISTS’ AGAINST THE ‘PROGRESSIVES’?
I think that actually, only a few vocal twits – I mean twitterers – are making that noise, with the backing of two right wing think tanks. In reality, most teachers walk the mid line between the two. Some days you need to just tell them stuff. Other days you need another approach; progressive and traditional methods are just tools in the box. But I do get worried that important concepts get confused in this noise. Resilience is not about enduring boredom for example. Nor is relevance about reducing the curriculum down to the narrower experience of the child. But revolution will happen because the system is buckling under the pressure of ever tightening screws. There is only so much pressure any structure or system can take before it comes down. We might need to give it a little push, but it’s falling.
A LOT CHANGED DURING YOUR 22 YEARS IN THE CLASSROOM; DID THAT INCLUDE THE CHILDREN?
I don’t think children per se have changed. But we have changed our expectations of them and the pressure that we put on them and that in turn affects how they behave. We have almost entirely removed responsibility and agency from the child. This is damaging to children – they develop apathetic behaviours because their educational outcomes are not viewed as either their responsibility or even their business. As soon as they begin to believe that they are working for the benefit of the school or their teacher, they either rebel or comply. But they don’t become self managing, ambitious thinkers.
IF YOU HAD THE POWER TO INSTILL JUST ONE THOUGHT, BELIEF, IDEA OR CONVICTION INTO EVERY SINGLE TEACHER IN THE UK RIGHT NOW… WHAT WOULD IT BE?
You are the Monarch of your classroom and most of the time, no-one is looking. Be the teacher you wanted to be and whatever it is you are teaching, make it matter. To you, to them and to the future.