Crown House Publishing
10 Sep 2021
Amber Smith finds a potentially transformative book, but possibly not for the teacher audience its marketing suggests
Becoming a Teacher is about a side of teaching that’s often neglected by education books: ethics. It covers morals and responsibilities, but more than that, it’s a deep dive into the ins and outs of how teaching changes lives – teachers’ as well as pupils’. It raises misconceptions about what teaching is and addresses what is expected of those in the profession.
And for all the seriousness of the topic, Alan Newland writes about it with a genuinely friendly, likeable tone. He illustrates his dissection of the power a teacher has to change and improve young people’s lives – and the corresponding risks – with charming anecdotes. For example, I particularly enjoyed his tale of losing multiple children on the London Underground, and another about a young boy who tried to buy him a thank-you bottle of whiskey on a school trip.
But if you’re looking for something immediately pragmatic, then you’ll have to skip to the concluding chapter, which explores “Becoming a teacher of character”. It’s a love letter to the profession, with some really helpful tips for teaching and, just as importantly, modelling what it is to be a good person.
This book is quite unlike the many texts that I have spent the last year and a half being directed to read as an early-career teacher. There are no clear, workable instructions for how to be a better teacher. It does not have bitesize, shareable content or dual-coded classroom choreography.
But while Becoming a Teacher does not build skills, it does build an understanding of the moral weight and noble character of the career. That makes it both terrifying and empowering in equal measures, and in a sector struggling with retaining its early-career workforce, the latter is surely useful. If you’re an ECT struggling under a heavy workload and despairing in the wake of that year 9 class, an empowering love letter to teaching might be exactly what you need.
Likewise, a potential PGCE applicant would benefit from Newland’s reassuring narration. But underneath that, his representation of the profession is somewhat daunting. If you read this and still want to sign up, then you are in the right place.
A more unlikely readership, but one who would greatly benefit from it, are those relatives of mine, and the tabloid journalists they read, who say things like “but you clock off at 3pm, it can’t be that hard”. I’m much better prepared to stand my ground in future interactions of this nature thanks to Newland.
I would not, however, recommend this book to a trainee. While Newland is a warm and likeable writer, he is definitely not direct. This is a long read and lengthy deliberations on whether teaching can or should be labelled a profession are quite divorced from the induction experience.
Having recently completed my own SCITT year, I can confidently say that I would not have had the time to read Becoming a Teacher. In fact, I did not have time to read much at all. A book such as this is a luxury rather than a necessity, and I am in no doubt that a book full of clear, observable, simple instructions to be a better teacher should beat it to the top of the reading pile every time.
That’s not a criticism of the book, but its marketing appears to target student teachers and that seems to me to be a glaring problem. Becoming a Teacher is a challenging yet worthwhile read. But timing is key, and thrusting this on to trainees could prove counter-productive.
Having said that, for an ECT or an experienced teacher struggling to find their purpose under the weight of a heavy workload, it could be transformative.
Few education books hold the same power and relevance for primary teachers as for their secondary colleagues, or for art teachers as for their maths counterparts. Becoming a Teacher is one of them.
So, if you’re already in the job and you find yourself needing a motivational top up, buy this book.