Let them inspire you

9th January 2004 at 00:00
Mike Sullivan recommends books that should motivate trainees to want to face their classes

If you recently started a teacher-training course, you are probably wading through your reading list. While doing this, you need to remind yourself that there is more to life in classrooms than pushing up grades in Sats; that working with children is usually great fun.

Dip into the average recommended reading list and you might believe that authors of books about teaching are humourless zealots given to writing over-long sentences, at their most fluent - or effluent? - in edubabble.

There are exceptions but, like summer snowdrops in Scunthorpe, they can be difficult to find.

To be fair, the writers are hard pressed to cover just some of the dozens of competences listed by the Teacher Training Agency as required to achieve qualified teacher status. Showing skill at disarming a potentially difficult situation with a smile and a joke is not listed as a Teacher Training Agency competence.

There are countless "how to" books, but before ploughing into these it's worth reflecting on just "what and why" we should teach. Have a look at Joseph Featherstone's Dear Josie: Witnessing the Hopes and Failures of Democratic Education (Teachers College Press, pound;16.50).

Start with the final chapter, "Letter to a Young Teacher". This is a powerful essay on what schools should be doing to bring about a better world. If this doesn't provide the motivation to quit your bed and trudge to school on cold, dark wet winter mornings, then nothing will.

Featherstone writes beautifully. The book uses his essays from 1967-2002 drawing mainly on his American experience.

In a 1967 essay, he praises styles of teaching in British primary schools based on discovery and hands- on activities. They were abandoned years ago.

I wonder if Featherstone was deceived, or have we lost something important in our obsession with objective-based learning?

Denis Hayes's A Student Teacher's Guide to Primary School Placement: Learning To Survive and Prosper (RoutledgeFalmer, pound;18.99) is more than just a "how to" book and its scope is even wider than the title suggests. Using a reassuring mix of common-sense advice and case studies, it takes the reader through the basic principles of teaching, key issues of placement, management of teaching and learning and finally job applications, interviews and the first appointment.

This book is not as tightly organised as some of Hayes's other titles, but will still prove invaluable. Advice such as "speak warmly to children whenever possible", is worth tattooing on every teacher's right forearm, with "teachers can discourage children by implying that they can try harder when they have already done their best" tattooed on the left.

Teaching practice placements can be haphazard in exposing student teachers to the range of settings in which teachers work. Improving Primary Schools: Improving Communities, by Tony Cotton with Jasbir Mann, Anna Hassan and Stella Nickolay (Trentham Books, pound;15.99, full review in Friday magazine, September 12), gives an inspiring picture of what can be achieved in multicultural primary schools.

For lighter reading, try any of Gervase Phinn's books about his travels as a schools inspector in Yorkshire (Over Hill and Dale, Head Over Heels in the Dales and The Other Side of the Dale, Penguin, pound;7.99 each). His descriptions of visits to rural schools are frothy and fun, and he filters out the more stressful aspects of school life and reminds us that working with children is one of the best jobs in the world.

Assessment for Learning and Teaching in Primary Schools, by Mary Briggs, Angela Woodfield, Cynthia Martin and Peter Swatton (Learning Matters, pound;15) gives practical examples of assessment in English, maths and science. Denis Hayes's Planning, Teaching and Class Management in Primary Schools: second edition (David Fulton, pound;17, reviewed in TES Friday magazine, September 12) is well laid out for easy reference to TTA standards and gives sharp guidance on how these can be met.

There are many books on maintaining control in the classroom. My favourite is Managing Behaviour in the Primary School, by Jim Docking, now in a third edition revised and updated by Michelle MacGrath (David Fulton, pound;16).

It is rooted in classrooms and emphasises the importance of catching children being good. Plans for Better Behaviour in the Primary School: Management and Intervention, by Sue Roffey and Terry O'Reirdan (David Fulton, pound;14) describes ways to side-step tricky confrontations and still get your own way. A Newly Qualified Teacher's Manual: How to Meet the Induction Standards, by Sara Bubb (David Fulton, pound;16), will help you keep a sense of perspective. Bubb, the patron saint of newly qualified teachers, has included a section on "looking after yourself". If you take her advice, you'll eat bananas rather than chocolate and check your hair regularly for head lice.

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