15th January 1999 at 00:00
If you have been teaching for any length of time, you undoubtedly have staff and class photographs going back several years. You may even have some of those scary images that come back to haunt all who considered themselves at the cutting edge of fashion in 1972.

How do you feel as you look at these reminders of the past? Do you compare your present attitudes and values with how you were then? To do this properly, according to Canadian academics Claudia Mitchell and Sandra Weber, is not just a bit of nostalgic fun, but can be a genuine and worth-while contribution to personal development.

In their absorbing book Re-inventing Ourselves as Teachers - Beyond Nostalgia (Falmer pound;15.95pbk, pound;45hbk), they explain how teachers can use all manner of devices - memory, discussions with old schoolfriends - as ways of promoting the kind of professional and personal reflection for which most teachers now have too little time.

A book such as this goes well with the fashionable notion of the "reflective practitioner". So, too, does David Tuohy's The Inner World of Teaching (Falmer pound;15.95pbk, pound;45hbk) in which he sets out to help teachers examine their own assumptions. The chapter "School Culture and Problem Solving", for example, has this passage, which ought to make most teachers stir uneasily in their seats: "I may proclaim a perspective on teaching which seeks to do something for students, to help them develop their talents and to succeed in life...However, I also have need of acceptance and control which I do not experience on an explicit, conscious level ...If there is a mismatch between my expecta-tions and their response, I put it down to a lack of maturityIon their part. I congratulate myself on my ambition for them, and choose to suffer as a martyr in their cause."

The biggest mismatch between expectation and response comes when a pupil stops coming to school. So many pupils are making this decision now, or are having it made for them by governors and heads, that what was once a worrying problem is now a crisis.

Jeni Vernon and Ruth Sinclair look at this from the point of view of social services depart-ments in Maintaining Children in School (National Children's Bureau pound;6.95 for NCB members, pound;9.95 non-members; order on 0171 843 6029). The title refers to the fact that a truanting or excluded child is at risk, either at the hands of others or because he or she is considerably more likely to commit criminal acts. (Of the children who appear before the courts 65 per cent are either excluded from school or simply not attending.) The book describes a number of projects in which social services departments work with schools to maintain the attendance of pupils who are at risk of exclusion or truancy.

At the root of school failure, lies our incom-plete understanding of how children learn. A great deal of work has been done on learning in recent years, and Learning Relationships in the Classroom, edited by Dorothy Faulkner, Karen Littleton and Martin Woodhead (Routledge pound;13.99), adds considerably to the body of understanding. It seems a shame that at Government level the approach, instead of promoting research into how children learn, is to lean heavily on the teaching process in the hope that learning will thereby improve.

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