Unfamiliar portrait

11th February 2000 at 00:00
ISSUES IN ENGLISH TEACHING. Edited by Jon Davison and John Moss. Routledge pound;15.99.

As one student teacher quoted in this book says, "I need time to sit down and reflect". Now there's a word for every English teacher's personal glossary: "reflect". That's what this book is designed for, according to its introduction.The editors believe that for teaching to remain properly a vocation and a profession, teachers must be invited to be part of a creative and critical dialogue about subject teaching, and should be encouraged to reflect, criticise, problem-solve and innovate.

This series is intended to provide teachers with a stimulus for democratic involvement in the development of subject teaching. How bizarre, then, that none of the 18 contributors is a practising English teacher, part of a continuing trend whereby classroom practice and national policy are dissected, pontificated upon, and argued about by academics.

I found it a depressing, joyless book. If you're going to teach, you can't do better than teach English. It remains a subject full of satisfactions and fun. Students enjoy the stories, the talk, the writing, the mix f formality and lightheartedness which characterise many of the best English lessons I've seen.

Yet none of that comes through here. It's a stodgy canter through issues we're supposed to be thinking about: empowerment of pupils, linguistic parochialism, critical theory, social class. It is a text, in other words, for and from the groves of teacher training institutions. The range of contributors gives it some variety of style and I especially enjoyed the vivid account of gender differences in Caroline Daley's chapter.

But while the book has useful insights into the new emphasis on literacy, plus interesting chapters on oracy and drama, I doubt that it will help shape your practice. It won't inspire you to want to teach better. And I'm not sure it'll make you feel you're involved in some worthy democratic process of reflection.

That, for me, is the depressing part - that the world of English teaching portrayed here and the one familiar from my own daily experience should be so sharply different. Perhaps someone should write a book about that.

Geoff Barton is a deputy headteacher and teaches English in Suffolk


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