Book of the week

26th May 2000 at 01:00
THE TEACHER'S SURVIVAL GUIDE. By Angela Thody, Barbara Gray and Derek Bowden. Continuum pound;8.99.

This book couldn't have come at a better time. My at-a-glance stress guide - the pile of unread newspapers in my lounge - is at an all-time high.

Will this book help me make a dent in it? It is aimed at a wide teaching audience, from those starting out to heads of department and professional development tutors. Written by a team of professors and senior lecturers specialising in educational leadership and research, the guide includes chapters on managing difficult situations, a teacher's professional role, creating a positive learning environment, and career management (and, inevitably, alternative career management).

Though neither a particularly light nor concise read, The Teacher's Survival Guide contains important topics for reflection and a wide range of tips, frequently highlighted in boxes. Many may be common sense, but experience shows that we need to hear some of them repeated. "Treat all support staff at least as well as, if not better than, other colleagues" for example, or "Keep hydrated; drink at least seven 8oz glasses of fluid a day." (The book quotes evidence that teachers have a high incidence of voice disorders, accounting for up 20 per cent of patients attending specialist clinics. Voices need to be hydrated to function, and a whole chapter is devoted to voice management.) The chapter called Your Professional Role contains a welcome section on assertiveness, which can contribute to self-esteem. The book asks how we receive compliments, pointing out that: "It was nothing, that's what I'm paid for" is self-defeating. An assertive answer would be: "Thank you, I worked hard on that." The same chapter also gives examples of possible conflicts resulting from one of the four basic positions we can adopt - we are both winnersI lose, you don'tyou lose, I don'twe are both losers. The important thing, the book implies, is that we always have a choice.

Most teachers will be keen to turn to the chapters Creating a Positive Learning Environment and Managing Difficult Situations in the hope of finding the definitive answer to poor pupil behaviour. There is no definitive answer, of course, especially at a time when an increasing number of parents tell us they can't cope with their own children.

These chapters include helpful summaries of the behaviourist and cognitive approaches to learning, with the "behaviourist approach" teacher knowing what is needed to increasethe desired behaviour, and the "cognitive approach" teacher seeing the classroom from the pupil's point of view, with misbehaviour seen as a symptom of the problem rather than the problem itself. Just as we have digested this, the authors put us on the spot, asking: "Which approach drives your philosophy and style as a teacher?" One of The Teacher's Survival Guide's strengths is to pose questions that make us reflect more deeply on issues to which we cannot give a second thought in the school day.

The chapter Time Management reminds those of us with young children that they are "premier league time thieves", which makes the rest of its sound advice all the more urgent. There are sections on paperwork, marking and - another bane of many teachers - meetings, with suggestions for making these more efficient.

The following chapter, Stress Management, reminds us that, in the late 19th century, we would have had classes of 50 to 60 along with annual inspections. This perhaps explains why the authors' own surveyed sample of teachers appears to have fewer symptoms of distress and anxiety than the media led them to expect.

My first reactions to the suggestions that schools today should bring in on-site masseurs are "when?" and "how?" That of course is the point. Unless we make time for serious stress-busting, we allow it to build up.

The final two chapters, Career Management and Alternative Career Management, provide quick reference for when we are considering moving on. One of the most obvious tips here - "Never send the same CV or supporting letter for different promotion applications" - still bears repeating, as schools continue to receive many applications in which candidates make no attempt to show how their abilities match the requirements of the advertised post.

A book with so bold a title could have contained more on our ultimate role - teaching. Mike Hughes, head of the Lakers school, Gloucestershire, stresses the importance of two questions teachers should ask at the end of each lesson - "What have my pupils learned?" and "How do I know?" Only when we know where our pupils are and where they need to be next, can we focus on the best way of getting there.

As for my pile of newspapers, no it hasn't gone down, but I don't mind as The Teacher's Survival Guide has made me confront some important questions. And I don't just mean how to get my first in-school massage.

Tony Elston. Tony Elston is head of languages at Stretford high school, Manchester


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