Book review: How to be a Legendary Teacher

Adam Prociv believes that being a great teacher isn't about research – it's about self-realisation and divine guidance

Book review: How to be a Legendary Teacher by Adam Prociv

How to be a Legendary Teacher 

By Adam Prociv
Publisher: Balboa Press
Details: 208pp; £11.95
ISBN 978-1504317207

You have to admire someone who not only has the chutzpah to declare themselves a “legendary teacher” but also believes they have the chops to transform you into one, too. 

Adam Prociv is a teacher from Cairns in Australia with exceptional self-belief, and he’s on a mission to help you become the very best teacher you can be. He has self-published this book to spread the word, and he’s not going to hold back. 

While Prociv is happy to reflect on his learning journey and his mistakes along the way, he’s also quite happy to celebrate his successes. 

Late in his book, he reflects: “This was the point in my teaching journey where I really began to appreciate the amazing impact I’d had on this community…” 

It is hard to imagine a British author writing such a sentence – and more’s the pity. Not many people will celebrate our successes if we don’t do so ourselves.

Making teaching work for you

Being in the company of Prociv for a couple of hundred pages is, at times, a little tiring. He’s got a lot to say on a lot of matters and nothing is going to stop him. 

Whether it’s advice on how to run your class party, the best massage machine on the market or the necessity of earmuffs in the classroom, he has a point of view and he’s ready to share it. If this sounds exhausting, then that’s a shame because, through his book, Prociv finds a thread of ideas that are useful to consider.

The disconnect between what systems ask of teachers and what teachers feel they need to do runs through the book. 

Considering the constant churn of new initiatives, Prociv recalls a colleague advising him to “nod appreciatively, act like you are very interested and then go back to your classroom and make it work for you any way you can”. It’s advice born of weary resignation, which many of us will recognise. 

Male teachers in EYFS

Being a man in early-childhood education can be a mixed blessing. The rarity of men working with the youngest children makes any male who takes on the role an instant celebrity. Yet with that celebrity comes suspicion. 

Prociv describes the wall of fathers at the back of his class on meet-the-teacher day “with their arms folded, giving me the death stare, like I was some kind of paedophile”. He describes how he won them over by emphasising his manliness, his height, his strength and his athleticism. 

It’s a conflict many men who have worked in early years will recognise. As Prociv says, it’s hard to observe a no-touch policy when, the moment you bend to tie a shoelace, little people are climbing on your back. 

Teachers need to find ways to work within school frameworks, figure out how far they are prepared to compromise and, where they can’t compromise, be ready to walk.

Self-realisation and divine guidance

It is disconcerting to read a book about teaching where there are no references to educational literature. There’s no Sweller, no Willingham and no Hirsch. There’s no Freire either, and only one passing reference to Maslow

Instead of buying into educational positioning, Prociv’s viewpoint is informed almost entirely by self-help books – he references Tony Robbins and Dale Carnegie, as well as The Little Book of Hugs and The Joy of Burnout. His most favoured texts are Your Erroneous Zones, by father of motivation Dr Wayne Dyer, and The Bible

Becoming the best teacher you can be is, for Prociv, a journey of self-realisation and divine guidance. 

It would be easy to be sniffy about How to be a Legendary Teacher: it is not well written and could have done with the help of a strict editor. 

It is, however, a useful corrective to a view of the teaching profession dominated by binaries of knowledge versus skills or traditional versus progressive. Readers from the poles of opinion will find things that will make them howl with irritation and then, sometimes only a paragraph later, sentences they agree with entirely. 

'Warm strict' to a fault

Prociv is “warm strict” to a fault, describing himself as a cross between Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket (“I’m tough but I’m fair”) and Hawkeye from M*A*S*H

His minute control over a class party is an eyebrow-raising joy to behold, but he is happy to walk away from a job where he is forbidden to return a pupil’s hug. He is all about play-based learning, but is also happy to instruct and to expect children to listen, remember and learn.

If this book finds an audience in the UK, it will be with teachers who are happy to listen to views on teaching they disagree with, and maybe to let themselves wonder for a while why they disagree with them. 

It might help some of us to remember that the majority of our colleagues are not research-informed but are doing the very best they can, given the constraints upon them. 

I suspect that if, even if for a moment, you too wonder if you might be a “legendary” teacher, Prociv will consider his job to be well done.

Ed Finch is a primary teacher in Oxford, and founder of #BrewEd. He tweets @mrefinch

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