Last week of the Summer holidays. Time to start thinking about going back to school, and getting ready for the inexorable onslaught of lessons, marking and meetings. It’s easy to say at this distance, but I feel more confident stepping into the classroom – more so, given a terrific GCSE performance by my Year 11s – and I’m really looking forward to the new school year. That’s probably a feeling that will last a week, maybe two at most, before my mind starts turning over the eternal question: ‘why on earth did I become a teacher?’
Well I did it because, in the words of Omar Akbar’s excellent unofficial guide, ‘teachers matter.’ Which is not to say that the job isn’t hard – but it’s those difficulties and challenges that make the job so rewarding. Teaching is also perhaps at its most demanding when you first start: when training, and in that first NQT year, you are still working out what kind of teacher you want to be, and how you are going to react to the enormous range of situations that you will inevitably face.
Certainly those initial years would have been a little easier with a copy of Akbar’s book to guide me. As the author himself says, this is not a book on pedagogy, or lesson planning. Rather, Omar focuses on those areas which aren’t given as much attention as they should – but which are nevertheless a key part of a teacher’s job. So Akbar writes with humour and directness about lesson observations, and how to get the most out of them; ensuring you maintain a healthy work-life balance (something I know I need to work on, but which is steadily improving the more experienced I become); and building effective relationships with parents and colleagues, both teachers and non-teaching staff.
What I particularly liked about Akbar’s book is how solidly practical it is. It’s written in a very accessible way, as conversational as if the author were right beside you, giving you all the benefits of his acquired wisdom.Throughout the book there are key nuggets of advice, and ideas to try to make your life in (and out of) the classroom much easier. When much educational debate (especially on Twitter, and especially over the holidays) seems divorced from the realities of the classroom, and frustratingly focused on theory, Omar Akbar’s book is a refreshing blast of common-sense – one suitable for new and experienced teachers alike.