Feel better about yourself

13th January 2006 at 00:00
Gerald Haigh recommends sources of advice and inspiration for new teachers

Does it help to read books about teaching? It depends what you mean by help. You won't learn how to teach by reading a book, but if it's well written, by someone who knows what good teaching actually feels like, then you'll get flashes of insight that make you look up and say, "Yes! That's me - I'll give that a try."

Take The One Minute Teacher, for example. You might be tempted to think it's about an inept supply teacher, here one minute and gone the next. The book extends to the classroom ideas from the author's well-known One Minute Manager. These are explained at the start as setting one-minute goals, giving one-minute praisings (sic), and using one-minute recoveries, about pausing to think through the consequences of behaving badly.

The ideas are sound. Children like easily-understood, short- term targets, and they respond to instant praise that's specifically directed ("contingent positive reinforcement", as the behavioural psychologist BF Skinner more portentously puts it).

Much classroom advice on clear targets is directly in line with what's in this little book. One-minute recovery is also in line with good classroom practice. The book is brief, too, and easy to read - even though, in true American style, it feels relentlessly better about you than you do about yourself.

Which brings us to Teacher Well-being by Elizabeth Holmes. As an established writer of advice for NQTs (author of The Newly Qualified Teacher's Handbook), Holmes knows how important it is for teachers to arrive in the classroom well fed, well rested, calm and physically fit. She understands, too, the importance of being in control: of knowing when to say No, and how to decide you've done enough work for one evening.

"Each 24-hour period... should provide you with time to work, eat, relax, exercise and sleep. Without a balance between these, your efficiency will suffer," she writes.

There's some simple but good advice: her suggestion about going for a companionable walk every evening, for example; this is a habit that's easy to pick up and comes replete with physical and social benefits. Sooner or later, you'll realise how true of all of this is, and, with this author's help, you may get there before it's too late.

If Elizabeth Holmes's book contains some good practical ideas, then Learning to Learn, in the always useful Teachers' Pocketbooks series, is entirely made up of them. Over the past year I've looked at Trips and Visits, Workload, Inclusion and Bullying in this series. Tom Barwood's book covers familiar ground: mind maps; learning styles; mnemonics; note-making and so on. It's lively, short, well-divided into sections and has useful illustrations. As well as referring to it yourself, you could well use many of the ideas with a tutor group or exam class.

For younger children, what you need is ideas, because the classroom soaks them up. That makes First Hand Experience a magical resource. It came out six months ago - make sure you haven't missed it. Described as "an alphabet of real experiences", it doesn't give up its delights quickly. In the quite long introductory section, the authors, rather dauntingly, take time to tell us what their work is not ("It is not a prescription for a complete curriculum... not a pre-packaged set of lesson plans... does not contain lists of learning objectives..."). In short, it calls for imagination and effort on the part of the teacher, at a time when so many people coming into our profession expect to be told in detail what to do. The key to the success it deserves, then, lies in the determination and leadership of the headteacher, and really that's a lesson that transcends anything in a book.

Rather more prescriptive is Hazel Bennett's The Ultimate Teachers'

Handbook. It's filled with very direct, useful and practical advice about everything from parent interviews, through seeking promotion, to taking assembly and surviving Ofsted. Unlike most books of its type, it recognises that teachers have a home life - which may include their own children - to deal with. There's so much good stuff in the book that it deserves to be made more accessible for quick reference: a fuller index or a more accessible overall design would help.

Two things about it worry me slightly: the rather negative subtitle - are there any teacher training colleges now? - but mainly the air of self-preservation that runs all the way through, from the advice to "Find a large poster to cover the window before you start" - this to stop the head seeing into your classroom - to a chapter on union membership that assumes you're only joining for the benefits and the protection. That's not why I joined a union: but then, I really did go to a teacher training college.


The One Minute Teacher: How to teach others to teach themselves

By Spencer and Constance Johnson HarperCollins pound;6.99

Teacher Well-being: Looking after yourself and your career in the classroom

By Elizabeth Holmes RoutledgeFalmer pound;15.99

Learning to Learn Pocketbook By Tom Barwood

Teachers' Pocketbooks pound;6.99

First Hand Experience: What matters to children

By Diane Rich, Denise Casanova, Annabelle Dixon, Mary Jane Drummond, Andrea Durrant and Cathy Myer Rich Learning Opportunities pound;25


The Ultimate Teachers' Handbook: What they never told you at teacher training college

By Hazel Bennett

Continuum pound;12.99

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