Narratives from the Classroom: an introduction to teaching
Edited by Paul Chamness Miller
Sage Publications pound;25
This book does exactly what the title proclaims: it provides a collection of narratives from experienced teachers, each telling the story of their classroom experience. It begins with a pep talk by William Ayres, a professor of education in Wisconsin. While we might expect to be reminded of the Teacher Training Agency's national standards for teachers or US equivalent, Professor Ayres quotes poet Walt Whitman: "Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labour to others," and so on. It's good to start with ideals, and teaching is the perfect career for anyone who wishes to despise riches. Professor Ayres's point is that we have to know our values from the outset and not allow teaching to undermine them.
Then the stories begin. JoAnn Phillion's chapter reminds us what narratives are and why we need them. Kin T Chee gives us his rather exhaustive account of 12 years in the classroom, the decisions he made and schools he worked at. Wayne Au describes "tracking": grouping students according to ability.
Magdalena Mo Ching Mok writes interestingly about assessment for learning.
All of which made me recall George Bernard Shaw's famous comment that Britain and America are separated by a common language. The same goes for many aspects of schooling. While we might read this book to gain insights into another culture, it's not a book of practical guidance, and certainly not the kind of text I craved when setting out as a teacher. However, since then I have dutifully given alms to all those who asked (my family), so at least Walt Whitman would be proud of me.
zGeoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds