Samuel Elliott's ASBO Teacher takes us on a whirlwind tour of the modern British education system that is hair-raising, eye-opening, and hugely entertaining.
I laughed and nearly cried in places as he revealed, through a wealth of astonishing anecdotes and first-hand experiences, the extent of the challenge facing teachers nowadays - a predicament that went far beyond what I had suspected in my wildest imaginings.
I only remain hopeful for the future of our young people because there are innovative thinkers like Elliott. Once a disruptive pupil himself, he is now a highly articulate and emotionally intelligent teacher whose ability to relate makes him - yes, I am going to invoke that old cliché - inspirational.
While his book must be essential reading for those in the education sector, Elliott is a very funny writer, which makes his account a rip-roaring read for those taking a glimpse into his world from the outside. I enjoyed it immensely. I found myself laughing out loud at his stories about attempting to deal with near-impossible situations. I haven't been so amused by a young professional's plight since It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet.
His rapier wit and irrepressible sense of humour lifts what might have been a depressing account of what goes on in our schools into a soaring narrative, and at times deeply affecting. Ultimately, Elliott is a man on a mission. He wants to reform the way we teach our most difficult kids.
I found his arguments deeply compelling, especially the idea that mollycoddling rebellious youngsters only makes them respect you less. He is surely onto something when he says teachers would be better off learning a bit about what is happening on the streets outside their classroom before attempting to reach the kids inside the classroom with gooey compassion that rings hollow to them. I found fascinating the theory that bad behaviour varies in type by area, and that a teacher would benefit from finding out what concerns and motivates the kids in their manor.
Likewise, I also found persuasive the idea that if you are going down this road, you better get it right, as there can be nothing more counterproductive than a teacher trying to reach a kid with -˜Nando's themed homework'.
Instead, Elliott fleshes out an approach based on really understanding the psychology behind the behaviours that are a barrier to learning. It makes total sense to me that without a way of overcoming or cutting through these barriers to learning there will be no learning, so one might as well not bother. And once you've worked out the way the pupils' minds work, and earned the right to be heard, not letting them walk all over you had better be your next objective.
I only hope his innovative ideas are heeded by those with the power to change the status quo, whereby teachers seem to be caught between patronising and placating their worst charges, and performing like a children's entertainer for the rest. As Elliott says, the biggest burden on teachers currently is that they are expected to behave like CBBC presenters.
For his part, Elliott is to be congratulated for making up his mind to follow the best research, and, -˜without boring pupils into a coma', to let the subject he is teaching speak for itself - no frills, no gimmicks. Perhaps it is simply the honesty of that approach that works. One imagines that Elliott teaches with a sense of authenticity that even the most difficult teenager eventually warms to. And, of course, he comes from where they come from. The ultimate lesson of this scholarly but hugely readable book may be Elliott's insistence that we should challenge kids to raise their game, as he did himself.
For those embarking on a career in the inner-city classroom this book is surely an invaluable resource, an essential guide, and a compendium of -˜everything you need to learn about teaching that the establishment may never teach you'. I hope many new teachers educate and entertain themselves by reading it.