Wish I had read Phil Beadle`s funny, intelligent little book before I had children. On the other hand, I`m glad I didn`t read it before I spent a year teaching in comprehensive schools because, if I had, I might have lasted as a teacher.
The style will be familiar to anyone who has read Beadle`s comment pieces in The Guardian. He writes simply and luminously. You can pick up this book, read it in a couple of hours, and come away a better teacher - or a better parent, able to adapt Beadle`s principles to parenting, as well as understanding why good teachers do what they do.
Those who, knowing Phil Beadle is a liberal leftie, seek to find here a teacher who will reinforce liberal views, do not know their man. Beadle knows that politics and our view of what education is for are one thing; the business of surviving in a school and doing something useful there is something
else, and the two should never be confused. He is writing about the second, and is, as he points out, he is one of the few people to do so while still being a serving teacher.
So his prescriptions often sound disconcertingly reactionary. `If you are not in control it`s all to cock, the kids will learn nothing, and what is more, they`ll have a deeply unpleasant experience, as they won`t feel at all safe,` he tells us.
Some of the lessons to be learned from this premise are distinctly politically incorrect, but Beadle does not care, because they work. He advises sitting boys in groups with girls of slightly lower ability, because that way the boys become nurturing and supportive. And there is a very practical, and achingly funny, four-page disquisition on the correct way to handle gum-chewers in the classroom. It`s repulsive stuff, he tells us. `It gets everywhere - into carpets, onto your best teaching trousers, and often into Hermione, the Pre-Raphaelite kid`s, hair.` Forget exams, selection and standards and all the things politicians worry about: the real issue in schools is chewing gum, and Phil is in no doubt where he stands. He advocates zero tolerance.
But how do you make that stick? `If Muhammad won`t go to the waste paper bin, then the bin must go to Muhammad.` Pick up the bin and take it to the gum-chewer`s desk. And after the stuff has been spat out, you have to use a highly technical expression: `All of it.` `To the untrained eye,` says this master of his trade, 11 a deposit of chewing gum has gone in the bin,` but the experienced professional knows the stratagems by which miscreants retain some of it in their mouths.
He`s also very funny about what to do if you are forced to carry out the ultimate threat, and ring the parents. `Hallo, Mrs Thug. Dave`s been doing some fantastic work for me recently, but...`
Ostensibly about classroom control, this book is really about how a teacher can help change lives. That`s why Beadle advises teachers to have the occasional school dinner with the children. `Given that school dinners are generally prepared by people who think cigarettes are a vegetable, a child wolfing it down enthusiastically with snaffling relish will tell you something very important about that child: they are not properly looked after.` As a parent, I realised one thing I`d got wrong as I read about what Beadle calls `praise envy`. If I`d read this book 20 years ago, then on one particular day I wouldn`t have lavishly praised one of my children just because she deserved it, almost forgetting the other one was there.
Phil Beadle loves the job and the children he teaches, and this love shines through every sentence.