Saturday, October 14, 2006

Let's Dream of Freedom

Well here it is… my book has arrived in the post, after all the waiting it’s a bit like seeing your new born for the first time. My mum (bless her) has been sending the cards advertising the book to my old schools, family, friends, acquaintances, people passing in the street and even if it’s savaged by the reviews I know my mum still thinks it’s fantastic – you can always depend on your mum.

The ‘Ranting Teacher’ author of ‘Everything You Need to Know to Survive Teaching’ wasn’t impressed with my attack on survival guides and complained that, “it's hardly sensible to be negative about somebody whose book is also published by your publisher” (Continuum). I’ve got to disagree, a writer’s loyalty is to the truth, their truth. The ‘Ranting Teacher’s’ book may be one of the better written ‘survival guides’ but in my opinion if you start from the premise that teachers’ main problems are hormonally charged pupils and feckless parents then don’t write books, find a new career.

After my comments the ‘Ranting Teacher’ advises me that he “would have plugged your book on [his] successful website and given you the publicity you so obviously crave...!” but not now. Am I bovvered? No, my website is bigger than his website!

The ‘survival guides’ for primary schools (some of them published by Continuum) are of the 101 tips variety, here’s some extracts-

Tip 59 – bring in resealable margarine tubs to store classroom resources!

Tip 64 - use a cornflake packet and measure up 5 cm from the base and cut at a 45-degree angle, this will make a handy storage unit for all that planning!

Tip 78 – plastic coffee jars are really handy for storing stationary, I’ve had hours of fun labelling them!

Yes, teachers may be leaving in droves – between 1989 and 1993, 32,500 left compared to 85,100 from 1999 to 2004 (there are now 281,200 qualified teachers who no longer teach) but as long as the margarine tubs, cornflake packets and coffee jars are utilised for full effect who cares?

Of course I exaggerate for effect but I’m sure there are some cynical secondary teachers who will have had their opinion confirmed that primary teachers are just slightly more intelligent Boy Scout and Girl Guide leaders (no letters please). The ‘survival guides’ remind me of the toe curlingly awful programme ‘Perfect Housewives’ presented by Anthea Turner on that graveyard channel BBC 3 (even the combined talents of Gervais and Merchant couldn’t emulate it) it’s a kind of Stepford Wives meets a wanabee Martha Stewart. Anthea advises bemused housewives how to store food in Tupperware dishes and where to place the ironing. By the end of it you’re shrieking, ‘GET A LIFE!’

When I find obsessively tidy classrooms it does worry me, I’ll give an example, one day after a particularly fraught wet-play the Lego was scattered it every corner, crevice and storage unit, after a Basil Fawlty inspired rage (I think it was the time of the month) I banned Lego. A few weeks later Adam approached me, ‘Sir, what’s the point of having Lego, we never use it?’ I stared back at him in wonder at the stone cold logic, what was the point? I instantly made him Lego monitor and things improved slightly but I had to live with the odd bit of Lego on the floor.

The other type of teaching books are those behaviour guides, ‘Getting the Buggers To…’ (published by Continuum again and I think I’ve just scuppered my chances of getting a second book published, but who wants to be the teacher’s pet?). In many of these books aimed at secondary schools little account is made for the selection policy that fills some schools with middle class children from supportive home backgrounds (they should erect a sign ‘No Problem Families Here’). On the other side of the apartheid wall are schools crammed with pupils with low self-esteem, bad diets, poorly motivated, from families who do not value education. You can always spot them, the headteacher lives in his bunker and senior managers, who moonlight as nightclub bouncers, patrol the corridors. In every classroom is a giant sign, ‘Coats Off, Gum Out, No Shouting, Three Strikes and You’re Out’. Welcome to the education boot camp.

I’ve decided that discretion is the better part of valour and I’m not going to tell my headteacher about my ‘close friend’s’ book. It’s not easy in this culture being a whistle blower. Recently Eileen Hunter the NUT rep at a Birmingham school spoke out against workload and was sacked, even the somnambulant NUT leadership was stirred into action (bang goes the review in the union journal but what the hell) and they sent a stiff letter to ‘The Times’.

‘How Not To Teach’ is an attempt to break through the silence, it’s not a ‘survival guide’ or behavioural manual the logic is – close the bloody concentration camp what the hell are they doing to our children?

Survival guides? If a prisoner just thinks of a tidy cell, more humane treatment from the warders and better food from the canteen then they truly are in chains, let’s dream of freedom.


Wendell, I love your site and your fire for what teaching can and should be. Where can I get your book? I am looking forward to the read. Keep the dialogue going-I look forward to the conversations!
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