Review - Books - The only way is up
The Trainee Teachers' Survival Guide
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, Hazel Bennett uses all of her 30-plus years' experience to provide calm and sensible advice.
Whether it is 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.
The scope of the book extends to applying for your first job, with excellent structural guidance on application letters, suggested answers to a series of 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.
The Essential Guide to Teaching
The Essential Guide to Teaching tries to be a catch-all to all people and, in my view, suffers as a result.
Teaching is a complex business: schools are multifaceted 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 simply everything into 300 pages is a big ask and it is varyingly successful. Adding to the problem is the decision to try to 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 are brushing up your knowledge before applying for a promotion.
How to Get the Perfect Promotion
Teachers frequently distrust research advice that comes from outside the educational field, possibly in the largely mistaken belief that schools are somehow inherently different from other organisations.
But if you are looking for advancement, I strongly advise you to put your prejudices aside and read How to Get the Perfect Promotion. John Lees is a career coach, and this book is based on research into how people get promoted.
First up is the need for self-awareness and the suggestion that you "audit" your present role, followed by an insistence you take control of your own career.
Obvious, maybe, but what follows is a very readable and largely jargon-free look at the factors that we can control when it comes to our careers, with some revealing checklists and exercises thrown in.
Distributed School Leadership
Assuming that the ultimate promotion - to headship - is your aim, you will need to do some serious reading and thinking about what kind of head you want to be. We read a lot in the press about superhero heads who turn around difficult schools but, as Alma Harris points out in Distributed School Leadership, there just aren't enough of them to go round.
Very few teachers actually want to become heads when "the current context of school leadership is ... one of over-load, complexity and frustration". So is distributed school leadership a solution or simply yet another educational fad?
Harris depicts an education system in leadership crisis and offers pretty convincing case-study evidence that changing leadership structures can have a beneficial effect on an institution's success.
As a respected and cautious academic, she does not suggest that this is a panacea for all ills, but endorses the view that a "traditional view of leadership based on assumptions of people's powerlessness, their lack of personal vision and inability to master the forces of change" is doomed in the 21st century.
As we scrabble for alternatives to an outmoded way of operating, this book is essential reading for its clarity and insight into what distributed leadership might actually look like in practice.
All reviews by Martin Spice.