Review by Stephen Lockyer

Primary teacher

11 Jul 2021, 5:00


The boy question by Mark Roberts

By Mark Roberts






30 Jun 2021

Don’t be put off by the title, writes Stephen Lockyer. This book is a goldmine of wisdom and practical adice for teachers of all students

Very smooth, Mr Roberts. You were at the “difficult second album stage of publishing. You’d had the fandom and adoration of that brilliant first album, Boys Dont Try. Then there had been the famous split, with PositiveTeacha going solo and possibly even living in a sprawling LA mansion. We can imagine the conversation with your manager.

“Keep ‘Boys’ in the title, Mark. It’s what the fans want.”

The pain of your talent, your experience, your cumulating knowledge. “But I want more. I want to write about the whole learning journey.”

Sadly, you realised that you are in a Britney-style relationship with the gender lens. It’s a pity in some ways because some people will be put off reading this book, and they would be absolute fools to. If the first book was an introduction to your style, then this second one is you really flying. Yes, the title has ‘boys’, and yes, boys and males do feature on almost every page. But so do solid, grounded tips and guidance for being a bloody good teacher.

I’d be more angry about it, were it not for Mark’s chapter on anger resolution. He tackles a topic which until now I have never seen anyone mention, let alone write about: teacher anger. Dissecting it, explaining it, and reasoning with this genuine beast which only rears its head in outraged Daily Mail headlines and mouth-foaming Twitter threads, furious that fury should even exist. Because we are all teaching angels sent from heaven, right?  

Spun-gold wisdom is casually acknowledged with little more than an aside

In my experience at primary, males have tended to stomp or storm out of class at pressure points, with the females remaining and giving it all the verbal; this chapter clearly explains just how this battery can get under your skin in a way that other things really don’t.

Given as I am to highlighting key sections and phrases with a hideous day-glo highlighter, this book was like a neon plasterer’s radio by the end. You won’t be able to stop yourself doing the same, so if you’re a book purist you should avoid it.

Roberts would ideally collate these scattered gems together and form them into a… oh, he has. Throughout the book are tables and graphics, some of which are sheer, spun-gold wisdom. And they are casually acknowledged with little more than an aside or two in the main text. Transport any of these to a sparse classroom at ResearchEd, and you’d have an audience furiously taking notes and Insta-worthy eduselfies with the slides. (And quite possibly the author, too.)

Like the males in some of Mark’s classes, I’ve been distracted from my objective, so to the nitty-gritty: nine chapters, one-third on motivation, one-third on instilling high expectations, and the final third on literacy. Contractually, Mark has to mention boys in each of them, but ignore it in the main; the advice is perfect for all children and young people.  

Each chapter has the reference points at the end, and it will make you want to read further – although the few papers I did look up left me glad Roberts had done such an awful lot of the grunt work for me. While I don’t ever advocate accepting filleted research at face value (sorry, Dweck!), Roberts has laid his book on strong foundations. A harried teacher can confidently pick it up and quickly work with it.

So then, teachers at all-girl schools, staff at leafy primaries and urban secondaries, pick up this book, along with your favourite highlighters and a few hours of your time. It will be time well spent, and you will become teacher-rich as a result if you implement just some of what Roberts has shared. He comes across as a no-frills, thorough teacher. We loved other teachers better at school, but we learned the most from these.

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