Off the Shelf

24th February 1995 at 00:00
Suppose a young man came to you for a job interview, and as he crossed his legs you perceived him to be wearing gaudy socks bearing the words "Happy Birthday". Would you laugh? Or pretend not to notice?

I bet you would never think to look down at the application form and check his date of birth, but this is exactly what the astute manager did in the case described by David Greenwood in The Job Hunter's Handbook (Kogan Page #163;7.99). This enabled him to make a snap recruitment decision based not on the suitability and tastefulness of the socks but on the fact that the young man had been wearing them for three days. Written by a personnel officer with long experience of recruitment, this will be a useful book to lend or give to senior pupils; it could also help job-seeking student teachers.

I am unsure whether wearing unsuitable clothes is these days a disciplinary issue for teachers. It certainly used to be. I think of three friends who were hauled before the head for their dress. One was wearing a 1970s tie several years before the decade actually started. Another took his jacket off one hot day in the summer of 1963. And yet another - head of girls' PE - was found guilty of teaching CSE English literature in a tracksuit. However, there is no mention of sartorial naughtiness in the otherwise exhaustive How to Handle Staff Misconduct by C Edward Lawrence and Myra K Vachon (Sage Publications #163;24.50).

This is an American book, but nevertheless the general principles of fairness and clarity which inform it are familiar enough, and used alongside manuals of local advice it could be very helpful indeed. For one thing it is very hot on being absolutely precise about everything. All the sample documents and letters are very well written and admirably to the point. If someone were to accuse a teacher of assault, for example, then it would surely focus the accuser's mind were you to present him with a labelled outline of the human body, inviting him to circle the assaulted part and then sign it. Suitable diagrams are provided - front and back outlines, with more than 40 bits labelled.

A London publisher recently suggested to me that education books from the States are often much more useful than UK readers think they will be, and the Misconduct book is probably a good example. All the same, I feel that some are bogged down by the kind of linguistic disability that was common here in the sixties and seventies. Take Developing School-based Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Programs by Steve Sussman, Clyde W Dent, Dee Burton, Alan W Stacy and Brian R Flay (Sage, hardback #163;37.50, paper #163;18.95) This is a scholarly look at the research into tobacco-use prevention, and an examination of the Project Towards No Tobacco Use (TNT).Admittedly, the fact that you cannot, in the States, just use the word "smoking" - because Americans chew tobacco as well, God bless them - does not help the narrative to flow. All the same, these authors do revel with indecent enthusiasm in the technical language of statistical research, with the result that they write sentences like this - "Given adequate randomization of experimental units (ie statistical pretest equivalence) posttest-only designs yield treatment effect information identical to that of pretest-posttest designs". It all has the effect of hindering communication rather than helping it, which is a pity because hiding in this work is a lot of information on an important topic.

Yet another Sage book will ring quite a few contemporary bells over here.High Stakes Performance Assessment, edited by Thomas R Guskey (Hardback #163;30.50, paperback #163;13.95) describes the events surrounding the passing in 1990 of the Kentucky Reform Act (KERA) which sets out a set of performance-based assessments. Schools that did well would get more money. Failing schools would be subject to "severe sanctions". One of these, apparently, is the appointment to the school of a "Kentucky Distinguished Educator" who has the power to put the skids under everyone from the principal down. It sounds like, and probably is, a living nightmare, and to confirm the impression, here is a typical Kentuckian reading goal: "During Super Silent Reading the student involves self intensely with print."

Finally, to restore sanity, and remind ourselves, and the good citizens of Kentucky, what a genuine Distinguished Educator looks like, let me draw attention to Archie Smith's Uphill All the Way, (Camomile Press, St Austell #163;5.95) a very personal history telling the story of secondary education in St Austell during the years from 1932, when Archie started as a pupil, to 1981 when he retired as head of Poltair School, quoting from the Aeneid, "Success nourished them; they seemed to be able, and so they were able". It is a heart-warming tale, one of so many which could be told, of a teacher's lifelong commitment to high standards and to the wellbeing of his pupils. I liked particularly his description of the postwar secondary modern days. Heroic deeds, long forgotten, were done then, and lessons were learned which we will all have to learn again if the current flirtation with selection continues.

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