Off The Shelf

23rd November 1995 at 00:00
When I was a student teacher at Tilton Road Junior in Birmingham, 35 years ago, my class contained a girl whose main purpose in life was to devise ways of expressing her total contempt for my attempts to teach her.

One day, I recall, when I told her to sit down she came instead to the front of the room, produced a couple of tennis balls from about her person (girls used to do that then, remember?) and started to play two-ball with them against the blackboard.

My mortification was complete and, of course, I told nobody what had happened, not even Pete Chambers my young and sympathetic tutor. And to write it down in my Teaching Practice Notebook would have been entirely unthinkable. And yet, as respected teacher trainer David Thomas argues in Teachers' Stories (Open University Press #163;40, #163;13.99) there is a strong argument for encouraging student teachers to tell and write stories and anecdotes. By doing so, they give coherence to their emerging beliefs and attitudes, testing them against the theoretical framework supplied by their professional mentors.

Teachers' Stories is a collection of papers from contributors who consider various ways by which students' personal responses can be valued and integrated into teacher education. It is easy to read - not least because the many quoted stories are interesting and often moving - and will engage teacher trainers in and out of school.

Headteachers, you might think, would tell different sorts of stories, and Heeding Heads, edited by David Hustler, Tim Brighouse and Jean Rudduck (David Fulton #163;14.99 ) offers the chance to find out. The book has been put together in an impressively painstaking way. Eight heads were interviewed. Transcripts of these interviews were seen and discussed by eight of the educational great and good - here called "educational commentators". The heads then commented on the transcripts of this discussion, and finally each of the commentators wrote his or or her own response to the whole exercise. The book records all of this, much of it by verbatim transcription.

The eight heads include Chris Searle, Carlton Duncan and Elaine Foster. Among the commentators are Birmingham's chief education officer Tim Brighouse, Michael Barber of the London Institute of Education, Eric Bolton, formerly senior chief HMI, and Patricia Rowan, editor of The TES.

The book explores most of the issues that concern secondary heads - leadership styles, management methods, curriculum organisation, professional development. Fellow heads will find lots to interest - and often to reassure - them. Much of it is familiar, though, and given the distinguished and highly experienced company which brought the book into being, I somehow expected more. I suspect that the process has not really been fairly captured in the final product.

Colin Ward's Talking Schools (Freedom Press #163;5) sounds as if it ought also to be concerned with what people in schools are saying. In fact,it consists of a committed anarchist talking about himself and his beliefs.(Something, I might say, that committed anarchists are very good at.) A collection of 10 lectures, delivered over some 20 years, it is a thoughtful setting out of what it means to be an anarchist in the late 20th century. It certainly makes a change from reading yet another version of an educational philosophy founded in the politics of left or right.

Such is the intensity of the educational debate these days, it is a relief to be reminded that education and school are by no means synonymous.Home Schooling by Maralee Mayberry, J Gary Knowles, Brian Ray and Stacey Marlow (Corwin Press #163;30.95, #163;14.95) is a description of home schooling in the United States, where perhaps half a million children are educated out of school. In many ways the story of American home education mirrors UK experience - there are the same doubts and questions, and the same wide range of response by administrators, from sympathetic support to outright hostility.

A new series from Kogan Page - Professional Skills for Teachers - shows every sign of responding to a growing belief among publishers that teachers want short books on highly specific problems. Titles to hand are Presentation Skills for Teachers by Jean M Harris, Time Management for Teachers by Ian Nelson, Delegation Skills for Teachers by Jim Knight and Team Building with Teachers by Judith Chivers (all #163;8.99).

Each can be read at a sitting, or on a train journey, and all seem to avoid the usual disadvantage of short books, which is that they do not have the space to tell us anything new. Each will find its audience, but I particularly liked Jean Harris on presentation skills. Many heads and teachers are not very good at doing in-service training sessions, and Jean Harris's two pages on preparing overhead projector transparencies would all by itself make a difference to many of the sessions which colleagues have to endure.

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