A girl's guide to good teaching

18th September 1998 at 01:00
Astrid Ritchie, whose column is often to the right of mine (you know what I mean) must have given a lot of people, myself included, a good laugh with her recent piece quoting the Good Wife's Guide from a 1955 edition of Housekeeping Monthly. Its traditional sage advice reminded me of a book that used to hide in my room at my previous school, called Science For Girls.

I do not know which of my predecessors left it there. All I recall is that it echoed Harry Enfield's Mr Cholmondley-Warner in tone and ethos, devoting pages to the science of laundry, cooking and child care. Before I left, I did the only thing possible. I wrapped the book up and put it in the pigeon hole of the female friend and colleague that would be most outraged by it. Tee hee!

I expected to get a chuckle out of a book I picked up at a school fete recently. Printed in 1946, it was called Teach Yourself How To Teach. All I had to do was sidle up to a fellow teacher, show them the title and ask innocently, "Who do you think I should give this to?", to provoke mirthful snorts, knowing looks and general thigh slapping. Well, maybe not thigh slapping.

Anticipating more fun when I actually read it, I was surprised to find the author L Wilkes MA (Education) had some pretty sensible things to say. Not only that, he was a woman. Take the sub-headings of chapter one: "The Learner must be interested"; "The Teacher must be interested"; "Interest is Worthwhileness"; "Interest is infectious".

And check out L Wilkes on "The art of teaching": "There is a science of teaching and certain rules which should not be broken. . . Teaching, however is also an art. A man can be taught the technique of an art, say the rules of perspective in drawing . . . but the great artist brings something more than techniques to his art. He brings himself. In the same way, every great teacher, as an artist, brings his whole personality to his task and through his teaching expresses himself. How to do this no book can teach . . .

"His sincerity, his singleness of purpose, his patience, his cheerfulness, create an atmosphere where his pupils, with confidence and freedom from fear, catch his interest and emulate his effort."

Argue with that, if you can. L Wilkes MA may be a trifle short on warnings that "his patience and cheerfulness will be sorely tested by administration and constant curricular change" but do not criticise her for her constant referral to the teacher as "he". This, we are told in the preface, was "in accordance with common practice" in 1946.

Gregor Steele is not a Lecturer in Education at St Katharine's Training College, Liverpool. L Wilkes MA was.

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