Review by Crispin Knill

8 Feb 2015, 19:00

Getting the Buggers to Behave

It’s pretty tough to review Getting the Buggers to Behave. It’s in its fifth edition, has sold a ludicrous number of copies and its name has become an idiom in that heady world of teachspeak.

Sue Cowley probably rehomes orphaned kittens in her spare time and, if I were a betting man, I would put my GCSE in graphic design on a wager that there isn’t a PGCE reading list in the land that doesn’t have this title on it.

And you know what? I can’t blame any of them. This book deserves its acclaim, and it deserves it because it doesn’t try to do anything revolutionary. Perhaps that sounds like a damning criticism but it is really a great compliment. The world of education is so saturated with fashionable dictum that it’s obvious why this is as popular as it is: it empowers teachers to use their own judgment, their own common sense and to build solid relationships with their students.

While reading it I had this strange feeling that something was missing so, in my niggling confusion, I grabbed a couple of other education texts off my shelf (yes. I know) and had a flick through. It became instantly clear that what was missing was the ephemera of quasi-scientific texts; those tables, graphs, charts and photos that litter pages and offer all the comfort of the key stage 3 textbooks that they seem to try their hardest to impersonate.

This nagging feeling meant that in a similar way to her assertion as to how we should treat students, Cowley treats her readers like adults. Within that adulthood is the inherent fuzziness of being a teacher, because being a teacher is complex and doesn’t always work according to a manual, something that Cowley appreciates. She constantly asserts that things aren’t as clear-cut as the homogeneity of the label “teacher”. Teachers are people, aren’t we? In this book’s eyes, it is “every teacher matters”, just as much as every child.

I suspect that many of you have probably already read this book in one or more of its impressions. If you haven’t, then you should – but you should also know that if you haven’t, then you are unlikely to find anything new. It will be like a wonderfully comforting cup of tea rather than an energising cup of coffee. If you’ve been teaching for a while, enjoy teaching, and your students look like they probably enjoy your lessons, then you don’t necessarily need this book to be a better teacher. Despite this, it is genuinely enjoyable, and you should read it merely to affirm your own professional existence.

It’s not often that I read an education book in one shot. I run my fingers along their spines and then pull them out and dip into the gooey centres when and where they are needed. Perhaps necessity pulled me through it, but I found it a wonderfully easy read, and one that kept me company quite amiably on a set of train journeys. I nearly missed my stop twice, to its credit.

My recommendation, then, is for you to buy this, if not for you, for your department. It is the sort of book that should be hanging around in staffrooms and classrooms, in book shelves and desk drawers. It is a book that should be dog-eared and well-worn and other comforting descriptions with dashes in their centres. It will give you plenty of ideas, or it will reaffirm those things you are already doing. Overall, pervasive, enjoyable and empowering: Buy and dog-ear diligently.



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