So, Emma, does your mum know you used part of her garden fence to build your Roman shield?" ... I'm not saying that the Handbook for Newly Qualified Teachers by Elizabeth Holmes contains every strategy I needed for my eager Year 7 pupils, equipped with a very large but cunningly-disguised piece of larchwood, but it certainly pushes you in the right direction.
Like all NQTs this term, my whirlwind world is full of information. My teaching day is an unending information-sorting exercise: urgent notes in registers, scrawls on staffroom whiteboards, missives in pigeon holes, bulletins to read out, half conversations while galloping along the corridor before I've entered my classroom. But what my world distinctly lacks is a definitive guide on how to handle information and decipher what is important in my never-to-be-repeated induction year.
Holmes deftly manages to merge sensible, old hands' talk with up-to-date essential reading for nervous fledglings. Her book also sees the funny side with several grim-but-true Nigel Paige cartoons scattered through the text.
Her stated aim is to provide "a heavy dose of common sense in an easily accessed way", not to publish an "academic textbook". Indeed, the tone of the handbook is that of a supportive mentor, gently guiding the stressed NQT through the pitfalls of the first year.
There are lots of other survival guides and "how to ..." books, but some I've read seem full of edu-jargon and far too prescriptive. Not this one.
For those NQTs in schools, without a good induction system, who are feeling isolated or uninformed, this book should be on your Christmas list. Luckily for me, I'm in a supportive, highly-structured and caring network of induction, staff and subject mentors, but we are all aware of fellow NQTs who are not so fortunate.
The Handbook is published in a handy paperback size. This is a huge plus - you can stash it in your briefcase along with 60 essays on "The Reformation as a turning point in English history", and whip it out at appropriate moments, though perhaps not when you're covering a noisy Year 9 science class on a wet Friday afternoon.
The Handbook is organised into five key sections: finding jobs in education, joining an institution, working through your induction year, managing the job and frequently asked questions.
Holmes deals sensitively with key areas of concern for NQTs such as: staffroom politics, time management, stress-busting, inspections, classroom management, observations and many more. She is passionate that the profession be seen as "valuable, rewarding and at times exhilarating".
Holmes devises four key strategies for presenting her book: checklists, action features (ideas on managing situations), examples of teachers' experiences, and "about" boxes which contain brief summaries of key information.
She adds, as appendices, such gems as the Qualified Teacher Status standards and induction standards (which some initial teacher trainers have not yet grasped). She has prepared an extensive index, containing diverse items such as: bleeding (how to stop it), breaking bad news, the five-term year and staffroom romance. Further appendices include contact details for local authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, useful addresses like subject associations, and further reading suggestions (something for a weekend in about 2004, I think).
Of particular interest to NQTs is "Working Through Your Induction Year". Nowhere - not even in the copious amount of union information mailed to students throughout the PGCE year - have I seen a better summary and explanation. Many schools have not yet got to grips with the training and development of NQTs. But this handbook sets out clearly and concisely the what, when, where, how and why and gives sound advice on how to get through the first year.
One day, a teacher's survival microchip will be invented. It will be inserted into all NQTs' brains to provide the instant information you need to survive the first few months as a REAL teacher. Until then, buy this book.
Heather Scott completed her PGCE in July after doing an Open University degree in history and politics, and now teaches history at Priesthorpe School, Pudsey, West Yorkshire