Get it right from the start

12th May 2006 at 01:00
Survival isn't everything for Sara Bubb, who welcomes the PGCE student's Bill Bryson

The Trainee Teacher's Survival Guide

By Hazel Bennett

Continuum pound;9.99

Inside Guide to Training as a Teacher

By Jon Barbuti

Continuum 12.99

Want to know what training to be a teacher is really about? Or perhaps you have students who do. These two books will help in different ways. Hazel Bennett uses her many years of experience as a teacher to offer advice in a straightforward way, but new boy Jon Barbuti draws on wit and the freshness that comes from a professional writer just going through his PGCE.

The Trainee Teacher's Survival Guide covers just about everything someone contemplating or undertaking a PGCE course could want to know, albeit with a light touch. It travels from getting on to a course to getting through training and, finally, getting a job. The sections on reflective practice, parents' evenings and balancing teaching with a family are particularly useful. There is not only a list of frequently asked interview questions but some great ideas for answers. These are separated into primary and secondary, which is helpful because each sector has a different ethos.

Bennett gives concrete answers to questions such as "If a parent telephones and demands dictatorially to see you immediately school is over, what would you do?" (though in this case there is a secondary bias in the suggestion that you should convey that you're not going to be pushed around. Primary teachers might want to go for a more concerned and understanding approach).

It's also handy to have some idea as to how you're going to answer the inevitable, "What made you choose this school?". Don't say how near it is to home, Bennett advises, but score points through having noticed some of the school's strengths - even schools in the most difficult of circumstances have them.

The trouble is that things change quickly in education, so the 30 pages that explain how to meet the standards for qualified teacher status will be out of date when the new standards come into force in September 2007, and many training courses will have been adjusted before then.

Jon Barbuti's book is a great read in the Bill Bryson mould. He gave up a career as a sports commentator in the national press to do a primary PGCE at Manchester Metropolitan University but kept a foot in the journalism camp writing weekly columns for the Manchester Evening News about his experiences as a trainee teacher. It's these that form the basis of the book, so all 45 sharply written chapters are column length, which is good news for people with only small windows of time.

Mr Carbooty, as he's known by some children, doesn't aim to inform explicitly; Mr Barboobie (as he's known by others) entertains, but in doing so gives lots of insight into what it's like to do a PGCE. Covering issues as diverse as planning, staff meetings, Inset days, behaviour management, essay writing, interviews and coping with rejection, he'll go down well with new teachers and be a tonic for the not so new. Much of his humour will be more appreciated by experienced teachers than newcomers, who could be shocked, confused or take too literally his amusing quips, many of them refreshingly irreverent. He waxes lyrical about the magical power of house points, which "are given out like Bibles at a Gideon giveaway at the start of the week, merely to act as the ballast to be offloaded later in the week". But he berates the "horrible randomness whereby five house points can be given for jumping off a bench in PE and yet only one for having spent 17 hours on Encarta over the weekend researching the natural habitat of the lesser spotted Toucan".

Barbuti's personality oozes from the page. He'd be a hoot in the staffroom and down the pub but I'm not sure I'd like to be the headteacher of someone with such strong opinions and wit. Even PowerPoint gets the treatment:

"Boring notes put up on a screen, talked through at great length and then handed out in mini-slide-show format on A4I people the world over now get bored by the same facts three times over." He rants about planning and in particular about the challenge of finding things for teaching assistants to do. Tongue firmly in cheek, he suggests that schools might be better off without TAs watching the every move of trainees, who should be allowed "to show Finding Nemo on a Friday afternoon when they have nothing else planned".

But like the late, wonderful Ted Wragg, Barbuti balances humour with clarity and principles. He takes some swipes at PGCE essay-writing but comes out in favour of the essay as "a chance to really focus on a key topic and, from the wider reading, pick up a wealth of knowledge that you wouldn't otherwise have". Yet his workload priorities are clear: "Write a poor essay and at worst you have let yourself down; plan a poor lesson, or series of lessons, and you let 30 children down and potentially hamper their progress".

This book has stacks of passion. Long may it last.

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