Review by Tony Parkin

22 Nov 2015, 19:00

Teacher Toolkit: Helping you survive your first five years

Many book reviews are ill-disguised attacks on the author. Others don’t even bother to try and disguise their attacks. A good review dispassionately critiques a work, sorting wheat from chaff, strengths from weaknesses, informative text from garbled word-jumbles, and leaves the reader enlightened of a book’s true worth.

But I don’t “do” dispassionate, and the title of this book is TE@CHERTOOLKIT, a play on the blog and Twitter username of Ross Morrison McGill. It is VERY LARGE, AND ALL IN CAPS. The ball and man are combined into a single opus; can’t kick one without kicking the other.

@TEACHERTOOLKIT is the most followed teacher on Twitter in the UK. We know this because McGill tells us on his blogs and his Twitter bio. And it’s right there as the first fact on the book-flap introduction. Along with his inclusion on Debrett’s 500 List 2015 as one of the most influential people in his field in Britain. And right before it tells us he is a deputy headteacher, blogger, tweeter, father, husband and Vitruvian Teacher.

Vitruvian teacher? Ah, that explains the cover illustration: a version of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, in which a youthful and casually dressed teacher clutches a smartphone, a stopwatch reading 5:00, a lesson plan and pens.

Next, a page bearing but two large words… TE@CHERTOOLKIT. Turn again, to reveal another, this time bearing more: TE@CHER TOOLKIT, ROSS MORRISON McGILL, and in much smaller type, “Helping you survive your first five years”. Ah yes, come to think of it, that was also on the cover, in tiny print at the bottom. So maybe that is what it’s about? The next page . . . a dedication . . . turn again, and we are introducing the Vitruvian Teacher, with a repeat of the cover illustration.

It was at this point that I began to wonder whether the original book was to be “The Vitruvian Teacher” by Ross Morrison McGill, but the publisher’s PR department took over and we instead got TE@CHERTOOLKIT?

By now I was ready to kick ball and man not only into touch but clear out of the ground.

Then I got into the meat of the book. Though meat is not the right word; this book is more like one of those receptions where trays float past with a rich assortment of canapes, rather than sitting down to a roast and two veg. Short, informative chunks of text based on a thought or experience McGill has had when teaching. Distilled blog posts, short tips, bits of advice, McGill’s opinions on what works for him, what he thinks may help to turn a novice teacher into someone resilient, aspirational, collaborative and innovative. Though he is also quick to point out there are no silver bullets, and it’s different for everyone.

This rich array of strategies can really help any new teacher get to grips with the job. And so damnably attractively presented. Top quality canapes, in fact. Some folk undoubtedly won’t like literary canapes — I would humbly suggest they might like to dine elsewhere.

If you follow @TEACHERTOOLKIT on Twitter, then all the ideas you might know and expect are included. His five-minute lesson plan, five-minute marking plan, the classroom toolkit and how to run assemblies.

When McGill talks of resilience, those of us who have followed him know that he has needed that resilience, and that the tips here are based on first hand-encounters. He isn’t pontificating about what all teachers should do, just what has worked for him or colleagues. In fact, he goes out of his way to stress “there is no single way to become a great teacher”. It is all about him, but laid out for your benefit.

He also credits many of his blogging and Twitter contacts, with a number of their thoughts usefully sprinkled throughout, and all clearly acknowledged.

Under “Who is this book for?”, McGill says it is aimed at “those currently in teacher training, those new to the classroom, and to those working towards or approaching that elusive fifth year of teaching”. If you know someone in those categories Ross Morrison McGill may just have solved a Christmas present problem. But only if they like canapés.


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