Advice to satisfy any curmudgeon

25th October 1996 at 01:00
BEGINNING TEACHING IN THE SECONDARY SCHOOL By Joan Dean Open University Press Pounds 40 and Pounds 12.99.

Let me tell you what once upon a time passed for the mentoring of young teachers. In September 1963 I was standing outside my classroom in a secondary modern school when the teacher next door, a crusted veteran, walked past rubbing his hands with delight having spent 40 minutes terrifying his history class. "I love teaching!" he exclaimed.

At the time I was having what was usually known as "disciplinary trouble" and his rather smirking attitude did me no good at all. That, though, was the full extent of his support for me. So strongly did I feel about it that in the fullness of time - in 1972 to be exact - I wrote a book for new teachers called Beginning Teaching, and had tea with Edward Short, Harold Wilson's education minister.

I do not begrudge Joan Dean her part use of my title. Her book has fewer jokes than mine had, but a lot more information. I am sure that she would never have considered having her book illustrated with Larry cartoons, as mine was, and I am forced to the conclusion that teaching is a more serious business than it was then.

Dr Dean starts at the beginning, with lists of what the new teacher needs to know about the school and the teaching job within it. From there she goes on into lesson preparation and classroom management. There is a particularly good and important chapter on "Teaching and Learning Strategies" which emphasises the need for open-mindedness by the teacher and a continuing realisation that pupils bring a range of attitudes and experiences to their work. "We use the word 'learn' for several different activities. Sometimes we are asking students to acquire knowledge, perhaps involving memorising something; sometimes we are concerned with their understanding of a concept; sometimes we are talking about learning a skill. Students need to know how to tackle all three when required. "

Throughout the book there are short boxed case studies and checklists. "Simon was in his first year as a teacher of geography. One of his year eight classes posted particular problems for him . . ."

Interestingly, there is no chapter called "Discipline", which is the thing that new teachers worry most about. The chapter on "Class Management," however, covers the relevant ground very effectively indeed. It really is difficult to teach "classroom control" - this phrase is used - in the pages of a book, but Joan Dean's advice, backed up with reference to research, would have satisfied even my curmudgeonly colleague of 30 three years ago.

In common with good books of all kinds, this one has things to say to a wider audience. Thus, although it addresses itself to newly qualified teachers, it will be useful both for student teachers and those with some experience.

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