Everything You Need to Know to Survive Teaching
By The Ranting Teacher
Continuum pound;9.99 www.rantingteacher.co.uk
A friend of mine once vowed that the first thing he would do if he became a headteacher would be to acquire a badge saying "Please - no whinging". The W-word is probably the insult most closely associated with teachers, or at least a close second. Popular perception would have us believe that we endlessly whinge about workload, salary, change of any kind, short Christmas holidays, hoodies... you name it.
It is refreshing to come across a book that specialises in ranting rather than whingeing. Written by the anonymous author of the Ranting Teacher website, the print version is "a collection of the nation's 38 favourite teaching rants". It promises to help teachers find solutions to the issues that really bother them: controlling behaviour, wising up to children's excuses, dealing with parents and inspectors, and curing hangovers.
The website from which the book originates is a series of diary entries (the anonymous Ranting Teacher rejects the trendier term "weblog"). This grumpy entry provides a flavour of one pet hate: "Teachers on maternity leave who insist on popping in and bringing their bawling bundle of 'joy'
in with them, which produces eardrum-piercing screams in the only refuge of the whole school, the staffroom."
I expected the tone of the website to be an online version of the cynic who sits through lunchtimes in the staffroom poisoning morale and destroying idealism. In fact, it is characterised by cheery and often very funny insights into the genuine irritations of school life. The experience leaves you feeling a kind of collective humanity in shared sources of outrage: students who don't tell the truth; displays that get ripped; school policies that feel half-baked. For example, to my mind the Ranting Teacher is spot-on in saying that the worst thing about doing cover isn't when work hasn't been set; it's when work has been set and it's a word search. Like me, he (or she) questions whether a word search can ever honestly be deemed to have any educational value.
The printed version is billed as a survival guide. Despite the "ranting" label, it's a compendium of down-to-earth but actually rather upbeat advice: get involved in extracurricular activities, but don't destroy your work-life balance; don't underestimate the creativity of students with special needs; plan activities that make every tutor time productive.
Some advice is rather more unorthodox: stay alert during exam invigilation by seeing if you can give out more paper than anyone else; try preparing your students for Ofsted inspections by telling them to put up their right hand when they know an answer and their left when they don't. The result: an impressive-looking sea of hands responding to every question.
Overall, the website is more successful than the book because it doesn't feel any compulsion to give advice. Online, the author simply relishes the rich absurdities and irritations of school life. That, for me, is the unexpected charm of both ranting resources: they represent a warts-and-all celebration of the frequently surreal places we choose to work in, called schools.
Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI school, Suffolk