Tales from new teachers

learning by the book

The problem

Before beginning my training as an English teacher, I was terrified of the reading list, particularly my lack of prior knowledge about anything more meaningful than the titles of books or snippets of information about authors.

When I met my fellow trainees, I was overwhelmed by the subject knowledge they seemed to have and the wealth of extra reading they had completed.

I felt utterly unprepared and inadequate, believing that my course leaders had made a mistake and had assumed my subject knowledge was better than it was - perhaps I had oversold myself during the application and interview processes. I felt like a fraud.

The reading list was colossal. I had met my nemesis and admitted defeat before the course had even started. How was I supposed to rifle through hundreds of thousands of pages, make notes and rehearse quotes all in a matter of weeks?

The options

After my initial panic, I decided to look at the problem systematically. First, I spoke with coordinators from my training school to work out how to prioritise the extensive reading list and break it down into a more manageable plan.

Second, when it came to more general reading, I discovered that buying every book going was not necessary, and that second-hand copies and book-sharing groups were useful for saving money and sharing information.

I realised, too, that I wasn't expected to absorb every word, but rather to use my initiative to navigate books economically, skimming chapters for relevant information. Instead of reading for the sake of it, it is best to know what you are looking for and read around the relevant chapter.

Third, I made use of the library and learned the great time-saving tip of searching for key terms within an e-book.

The result

I was not alone in my blind panic, and quickly realised that those who keep quiet about their scholarship are often the most knowledgeable. Do not be intimidated by people talking about their literary feats: there is every chance that they once felt exactly the same as you.

Finally, make sure you take breaks from school-related reading to enjoy a book for pleasure (without feeling guilty). You are supposed to be instilling a love of reading in students, so avoid killing off your own passion in the process.

The writer is training to be a teacher in East Anglia

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