Sunday, June 03, 2007


Why ‘How Not To Teach’? I couldn’t find any books written by primary teachers about the realities of life in the average, ordinary urban school, so I decided to write it myself. In the front of bookshops there were piles of the ‘Village School’ series by ‘Miss Read’ (that gave me the idea for the nom de plume) but really they are just a kind of comfort read. They play on that nostalgia for some kind of lost utopia exemplified by John Major when he managed to misquote George Orwell by eulogising about the myth of, ‘warm beer, cricket grounds and old maids cycling to communion’. It would be interesting to re-visit Miss Read’s school, if it still exists, it’s probably been closed down the children bussed to a distant town and the playing fields sold for expensive housing that few of the locals can afford.

Contemporary books tend to either the list variety, ‘101 ways to …’ or the ‘Getting the Buggers To…’ true enough it’s a catchy title, but it’s a fairly bleak appraisal on how to communicate with children.

Getting your book published is of course only the start of the assault course, after that there’s the task of getting your book reviewed and selling the darned thing. The TES reviewed the book online and I can’t complain about Gerald Haigh’s piece, although I felt he over-emphasised the humorous aspects of the book.

After months of promises the National Union of Teachers finally carried a review in their magazine ‘Teacher’ (they too have been struck by the ‘dumbing down’ blight because the new editor seems to work on the premise that teachers have the attention span of a gnat, therefore no article is over 500 words). I should have kept it to quote the review in full but I just threw it away in disgust. The reviewer concluded that the book depressed her and made her want to leave teaching! My first reaction was to think of Oliver James conclusion in his book ‘Affluenza’ that depression is a perfectly logical reaction to a sick society. Then I had to question whether the reviewer had actually read the book or just skimmed through it.

I didn’t try to write a piece of ‘misery lit’, the book does question the general background with SATs, Ofsted and ‘strategies’ but there’s also material about my school, humour and lastly examples of where I’ve walked the walk and talked the talk – the TES Newsday, the film we made and the trip to Ireland. If in doubt view the book outline.

Apart from viewing the sales on Amazon it’s hard to track the sales. As for that other monster monopolist Waterstone’s, they don’t seem interested in stocking the book, it’s currently in 16 branches. I suppose that shouldn’t be a surprise because Robert Topping who ran their Manchester store for 16 years was unceremoniously sacked in 2000, he actually wanted to choose the books he stocked, he was under pressure to promote the ‘best seller’ list. There was also the infamous case of blogger, Joe Gordon, who was sacked for dubbing them ‘Bastardstones’.

Going into Waterstone’s branches is pretty depressing, all you see are the massive piles of ‘3 for 2’ offers by those great exponents of the literary form Jeremy Clarkson, Gordon Ramsey and Jeffrey Archer. Talk about ‘dumbing down’! Waterstone’s really have lost the plot, their ‘revamp’ of stores seems to have reduced the number of books by about 50%.

If you do want to buy the book online then please use ‘News from Nowhere’ they’re a cooperative and their shop in Bold Street, Liverpool is an absolute joy for the browser.


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