Product reviews for How To Teach

Humphrey Jones Posted by on teaching blog
It feels appropriate to be writing a quick review of Phil Beadle`s How to Teach on World Teachers` Day. One month into the school year, the new teachers to whom it is directed may already be feeling besieged and panicky, and old lags like this reviewer may have found that that giddy post-summer-holidays-everything-is-going-to-be-different-this-year feeling has dismally trickled away. The very title of Humphrey`s blog suggests that one of the key things that teachers have to combat is stress of different kinds: well, no better way to do this at the start of October than to treat yourself to Beadle`s book.

First of all, behind the bland dull title (surely not the author`s own), this is a several-laughs-a-page read. It`s also hilariously cynical, brutally honest and helpfully practical about the profession. The chapter headings are also dull - `Management of Students`, `Methods and Organisation` and the like. But then you start reading. If you`re a new teacher, you`re delighted to hear a voice that isn`t ridden with educational jargon or management-speak. If you`ve been in the classroom for some years, you chuckle and nod, knowing that he`s so often simply right. In fact, you`ll nod so much your head might fall off. The book has been written for the British market, and bears the scars of his deep frustration with a system which has messed those teachers around for decades, but Irish teachers shouldn`t be complacent. Our inspection system might still be relatively benign, but things can change, and current economic and public pressures see Irish teachers under increasing externally-imposed pressure.

In no particular order, here are some things I noticed, and nodded at:

-The fact that all pupils have `special needs` (and teachers too).

-Do not at any point say to a child `And you know I mean it.` If you say this, they will know you don`t.`

-The difficulty in dealing with `a generation of children who are used to negotiating with their parents and who find this a profitable way of doing business. They will attempt to negotiate with you. Don`t.`

-At the start of detention, `it is of utter import that you stay, at all points, the consummate Nazi`.

-`All emotion is viral` - and how this has profound implications for classroom practice (including, apparently, meerkats). `An excited teacher makes for an excited class.`

-`Praise has got to be judicious. And most of all it`s got to be descriptive.`
-If you don`t know your stuff, you deserve to get a `summary spanking` from your pupils.

-His advice to challenge homophobia ferociously : `educate them.`

-`Kids` desire to subvert rules on presentation is a strange, self-defeating dance.`

-The vital importance of this: `there really is no excuse for setting expectations other than the highest they can possibly be. Many teachers do not ever get anywhere near understanding the truth of this over the space of a whole career.`

-Linked to this, the importance of extended writing for almost all subjects : `if you do not give them the opportunity to improve their written communication you will be selling them very short indeed.`

-On interactive whiteboards: `one of the things the IWB`s ubiquity and tyranny has done is to promote double-boring, front-of-class teaching.`

-Differentiation is a `duplicitous gimmick` and differentiating by learning style is `an utter crock of methane`.

-`A kid`s language is very, very important to them ... it is what they are. You must respect it, explicitly.`

-On marking: `Make no mistake: this is the most important thing you do as a teacher.` (and, unfortunately for English teachers, we have the heaviest burden of all subjects). Read his story in Chapter 5 about Cerise, and the tragedy (yes, really) of her unmarked book.

-`And finally..`: a page at the end on how to remain human, and deal with the inevitable stress - `If you find you are in a situation where the demands on you are so intense that you feel yourself losing who you are, stop.`
What drives this book is Phil Beadle`s passion about children and about teaching. He gives short shrift to anything that gets in the way of this. I enjoyed it too much to slow down and take any more notes. Just read it, and make the most of the great privilege we have as we do this great job. Phil Beadle has a wonderful website and is also on Twitter. See `How to Teach` on Amazon.
Guest | 11/03/2011 00:00
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