Thumbnail sketch of The Secret Teacher

It was somewhat disconcerting to discover this book in the 'creative writing' section of Foyles (which, for those not familiar with the name, is a bookshop chain in the UK). This probably has more to do with the section's unfortunate juxtaposition to that labelled 'Education', given the fact that a few months ago I happened upon a book on assessment in the exact same spot. (Hmm, although I don't know.)

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I started reading it today, and because I chanced upon a discussion on Twitter about lesson observations (inspired by an article in TES) I read the chapters on lesson observations, Ofsted and a few others. So, because I haven't read the whole book yet, this is by way of a quick look and initial thoughts.

Like the column of the same name in The Guardian, the author remains anonymous, and although the book is based on real life, it has been fictionalised in the sense that the characters who feature in it are amalgams rather than actual people.

The chapters I've read so far seem to me to be quite accurate: the hapless teacher trying to inspire a class of children who see no reason to be inspired, getting to grips with jargon, and coming across 'rules' that one could not be expected to know about. For example, in one chapter he is told by his head of department that the vice principal has observed (complained?) that his walk is too laid back, and that he needs to look more dynamic and purposeful.

Actually, this is not bad advice for any new teacher, but the way it is conveyed by the vice principal does not come across as supportive: far from it.

The chapter on lesson preparation for an observation by the vice principal highlights very clearly the trap of spending half the night preparing a special lesson with all the bells and whistles imaginable,  and a written lesson plan, and a printer the other side of the school. I've come across schools like this before, where the senior leadership team fail in their duty of care towards staff by insisting on written lesson plans, contrary to what Ofsted expects, and not discouraging the spending of hours and hours on a single lesson, and where the technology, far from supporting teachers, almost actively conspires against them.

The chapter on parents evening is quite humorous, and reminded me of a conversation I had with a mother quite early in my teaching career:

Me: Fred hardly ever does any work, and when he does it is very poor.

Mother: But apart from that is he doing OK?

Me: Erm well, yes.

Mother: (Beaming with pride) Oh good!

The book acts as a useful reminder to new teachers that they are not alone in the trials they may be facing. What I don't like much about the book is the liberally sprinkled expletives, although I suppose they help to paint a very realistic picture.

Much better are the 'rules' found on virtually every page. These are full of sound wisdom and excellent advice, although why they are numbered in such a haphazard fashion is a mystery. 

On the whole I'd recommend this book from what I've read so far. An alternative and complementary view of the hazards of inner-city teaching may be found in the book It's your time you're wasting

The Secret Teacher (Amazon affiliate link)