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Five books to reinvigorate a love of teaching

When the joy of teaching has been buried under workload pressures, read one of these great books, says Stephanie Keenan

Woman reading in bed

When the joy of teaching has been buried under workload pressures, read one of these great books, says Stephanie Keenan

If you are a teacher, you must love learning. I can’t see how you can invigorate a new generation without having an innate curiosity about the world. 

This is why so many teachers tend to spend their evenings, weekends and holidays excitedly tweeting about ideas for lessons, methods they have tried and books they have read. 

The passion and drive that unites teachers in a love of learning can, however, be dulled, if not steamrollered, by relentless workload pressures and, in some schools, a high-scrutiny, data-driven, low-trust culture.  

Teacher workload

The advice I gave to a recent colleague in a state of stress was to take the pressure off, relax and enjoy your subject and enjoy the lesson. As Tom Sherrington’s much-quoted tweet runs: “If there was no Ofsted, no league tables, no SLT, just you and your class, what would you choose to do to make it GREAT? Do that anyway…"  

In a nutshell, if you are not enjoying your job or your subject, how do you expect your students to?

So to reignite your passion for teaching, my first piece of advice would be: read whatever makes you happy. We are so conscientious in term-time that many of us probably rarely get the time to read for pleasure. So whether it’s Dan Brown over Doug Lemov or Fifty Shades of Grey over Make it Stick, be my guest. Devour a page-turner like a dirty burger; don’t even be guilty about the pleasure. 

Equally, if you’re fascinated by the history of recorder-playing, the intricacies of crochet or American Civil War weaponry,  pursue your passion.  

Something to love

I have spent many a happy hour diverted by Victorian etiquette manuals, parlour games and penny dreadfuls. If it happens to coincide with your teaching, great: the unique, quirky, interesting human being is the teacher we all remember over the content-delivery robot.   

And yet, for me, a love of teaching goes hand in hand with a love of my subject, specifically English literature. The first principle is always to get back to the source of why you love your subject: re-read an old favourite to see how it (and you) have weathered the years. Reading Anna Karenina at 18 and 38 proved vastly different reading experiences.

Equally, what makes me love teaching is being better at it. One of the great things about our job is that there is always something to try, improve or learn. When it comes to recommending books, these may not reinvigorate your love of teaching but they could make you a better teacher, which could, in turn, get you your mojo back. 

1. Secondary Curriculum and Assessment Design by Summer Turner

A coherent vision for the curriculum can be lost in the rush to meet the new exam specs: stop and take time out with this excellent guide. Mary Myatt’s new one, The Curriculum: gallimaufry to coherence, is next on my reading list.

2. Making Every Lesson Count by Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby

Now a series with subject-specific versions: thoroughly readable and translatable to classroom practice.   

3. Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel T Willingham

Already a classic: helps teachers to understand how students learn. 

4. Making Good Progress? by Daisy Christodoulou

An accessible and timely read analysing Assessment for Learning.

5. Bringing Words to Life: robust vocabulary instruction by Isabel L. Beck, Margaret G. McKeown, Linda Kucan 

As a great believer that all teachers are teachers of language, literacy, vocabulary, English, whatever you like to call it, I think this is essential reading for teachers of any subject. Closing the Vocabulary Gap by Alex Quigley is next on my list in this area, and I hear the inestimable Lindsay Skinner has a book in progress on sentences, so I am waiting somewhat breathlessly for that. 

Stephanie Keenan is curriculum leader for English and literacy at Ruislip High School in London. She blogs at mskeenanlearns.wordpress.com and tweets @stephanootis

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