Goldmine for the rookies

18th March 2011 at 00:00

The Trainee Teachers' Survival Guide

By Hazel Bennett

continuum pound;14.99

The Essential Guide to Teaching

By Susan Davies

Pearson pound;12.99

Reading The Trainee Teachers' Survival Guide is like having an extremely experienced, knowledgeable and wise mentor who knows the ropes and is more than happy to pass their experience on to you. In other words, the kind of mentor you rarely get in real life.

From the nicely pitched opening paragraphs on "why be a teacher", neither too starry-eyed nor too off-putting, to the exhaustive and rather terrifying advice on how to fulfil the Professional Standards for Qualified Teacher Status in England, Hazel Bennett uses all of her 30-plus years' experience to provide sane, sensible and calm advice.

Whether it's reassuring words about mock-up lessons in college ("some students find this a nightmare at first") or blunt advice about your manner on teaching practice ("if you take pride in your honest, forthright manner of speaking, curb your style for a few weeks"), the voice that comes through this book is of someone who knows schools and knows teachers - which is exactly what you want if you are a trainee.

It covers applying for your first job, with excellent guidance on application letters, suggested answers to common interview questions and wise counselling against taking the first job that comes along, especially if you are asked at interview how you would deal with disruptive pupils.

After that, it's sound advice on the importance of preserving your resources and a detailed explanation of how good organisation can help you beat stress.

There is much here that would also help an experienced teacher, and it's a goldmine for trainees. I wish I'd read it 30 years ago.

The Essential Guide to Teaching tries to be a catch-all to all people and, in my view, rather suffers as a result. Teaching is a complex business, schools are multi-faceted organisations and every one of the six sections in Susan Davies's book is the subject of a considerable quantity of literature in its own right.

Shoe-horning everything into 300 pages is a big ask and it is varyingly successful. Adding to the problem is the decision to try and make the content apply to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is a laudably inclusive aim but as the systems have their differences, there is a tendency to write frustratingly generically. Thus there is barely a mention of Ofsted in the section on school inspections and it does not appear at all in the index. Given its dominance over the professional lives of most practising teachers in England, this seems distinctly odd.

The book's tone is much more academic than The Trainee Teachers' Survival Guide and there is a definite textbook feel about the sections at the end of each chapter asking for reflection and setting short exercises. References to the research literature abound and the two-and-a-half-page glossary of abbreviations tells its own story.

But its weakness is also its strength in offering an intelligent and readable overview of a massive amount of material that could be a first port of call when needs must - perhaps if you're brushing up your knowledge before applying for a promotion.

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