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Not Quite a Teacher: Target Practice for Beginning Teachers

Book review of ‘Not Quite a Teacher: Target Practice for Beginning Teachers’, by Tom Bennett, Continuum, 2011 , 211 pages., ISBN 978-1-4411-2096-0


Tom Bennett, perhaps better known by those who frequent the TES online forum as ‘the behaviour guru’ has put together this accessible, witty and practical guide for beginning teachers which covers everything from the politics of staffroom mug usage to what to do when the kid in the back row decides to make a flamethrower out of a can of antiperspirant and a cigarette lighter.

The structure of the book and the helpful index allow readers to dip in and out for guidance on particular issues, however it has most impact when read from cover to cover. Bennett takes the reader on a personal journey from the time when the idea of becoming a teacher was but a twinkle in his eye, through the highs and lows of training, the trials and tribulations of job hunting, and right up to the end of his first year as a ‘real’ teacher. As such this book is aimed not just at Newly Qualified Teachers as the title may imply, but would be valuable for those embarking on a teacher-training course (particularly at secondary level) and would also provide a helpful and realistic insight into the profession for those considering a career in teaching.

The style throughout is informal and conversational, but above all encouraging. Bennett uses humorous (if sometimes unnecessary) footnotes to lighten the tone and as promised in the introduction translates every acronym to help the reader negotiate the minefield of educational jargon. Readers will appreciate Bennett’s realistic and candid admission of his own mistakes in the classroom and the use of a dual narrative intersperses these retrospective accounts of his early experiences with commentaries and advice from a more mature Mr Bennett, who reflects back with the benefit of experience and hindsight so that we too can learn from his mistakes.

The book has ten chapters divided into three main sections (appropriately entitled ‘The Starter, The Main and The Plenary’). The first section of the book deals with the practicalities of embarking on a teacher-training course. It explores the various routes available, gives advice on the application process and offers tips for getting the most out of such courses. Bennett addresses head on the key issues and challenges facing teachers today and encourages trainees to pre-empt such concerns and make them a focus from the start.

In the second section Bennett moves onto how to deal with teaching placements. He gives practical advice on the role of tutors and mentors, lesson planning, marking, assessment and of course those much needed behaviour management strategies. However whereas his advice is no doubt valuable, it is the personal anecdotes which provide the most reassurance here. He gives an honest account of his own fears, regrets and challenges and it is encouraging to know that a man who admits to having “made every mistake known to mortal man” has learned from this and has become a successful teacher. Bennett also questions those proverbial nuggets of advice which are duly doled out to all teachers-to-be (such as the classic ‘don’t smile before Christmas’). He then moves on to address the all-important task of finding a job. He outlines the ‘dos and don’ts’ of applications, what to expect when going for an interview and also how to make the best use of any pre-induction period before the school year begins.

The third and final section of the book prepares newly qualified teachers for what to expect in their induction year, and how it will differ from placements. He considers aspects of the job which may not have played a large role during teacher training, such as the responsibilities of a form tutor, how to cope with parents evenings and reports. In this section Bennett also takes the opportunity to go behind the government policies to the core aims of education, and gives the reader his vision of what makes an inspirational teacher. This advice is once again peppered with the authors’ own personal triumphs and failures from his induction year.

This is certainly a book which no trainee teacher should be without. Bennett gives a lot of practical advice which, although nothing we have not heard before, is presented here in a refreshing manner. The advice given is not formulaic or pedantic, but rather it stems from an honest, realistic account of one teacher’s early experiences in the classroom: the good, the bad and the ugly. Readers will be able to identify with the anecdotes and to learn from them. They will finish the book feeling inspired and reassured that they are not alone.

Karen Forbes