So I just read The Secret Teacher: Dispatches from the Classroom and…

So I was given a Waterstones gift card for Christmas and I was way too excited, spending an hour running around like a child before I finally settled on a couple of books. One of them was The Secret Teacher: Dispatches from the Classroom. I’m a huge fan of Memoir and so it seemed like the perfect book to pick. 

Or so the Secret Teacher thinks. On his first day at an inner-city state school things don’t quite go to plan . . .

His students are an unruly mob stuffed with behavioural issues, but somehow, the Secret Teacher needs to enthuse them with a love of books. Or at least keep them sitting at their desks until the end of the lesson. And then he's got to deal with marking, OFSTED, educational consultants, spreadsheets, personal statements, school trips, strikes, class, race, love, death, birth, manhood, dry cleaning, the end of literary culture . . . This is a vivid account of the Secret Teacher's first few years in the classroom. Here he celebrates the extraordinary teachers he has worked with, and the kids: bolshie, bright, funny and absolutely eclectic.

I really didn’t know what to expect going into this book, I picked it because the front cover looked pretty and it was on a table on it’s own so it caught my attention. The book was extremely poetic, the author was obviously passionate about literature and it shows throughout the book. Especially in moments when he talks about the poetry he teaches or the moments where he talks about his father passing away or his son being born. 

He also talks about the kids he teaches, talking about them as a class as well as individual chapters about some of the children. The stories are often upsetting, for all he spends his time working hard to prove how amazing the kids are the more heart wrenching stories are the ones that stick with you the most. He talks about teaching about Homophobia and imegration, how that can bring out the worst in the bed children. As well as things like bullying. 

The saddest section of the book for me is when he speaks about Issac, a very talented artist and an amazing speaker but he struggles to write things down and so is seen to be inadequate by the school. It’s so sad to see how this story goes and how it reaches it’s ending. You can feel the heartbreak the teacher goes through, the feeling that he’s failed and you feel his pain with him. 

Like in This Is Going To Hurt by Adam Key the world of teaching is ruined by red tape and budget cuts, something that is mentioned briefly but luckily not dweled on. I feel like this book shouldn’t be about that, the book should be about the teachers relationship with the other staff and children. 

But the main section I want to talk about starts on 255 and 259. He speaks to another teacher about the school and it’s a beautiful conversation, full of power and love and dedication but also exhaustion and a lack of will. It was amazing and I recommend if you don’t intend to read this whole book at least read this section. 

One thing I wasn’t a huge fan of was the glossary. I thought the kids vocabulary section was good and funny but I would much rather he do it the way it’s done in other books like this, where seconds are marked with asterisks (*) and talked about more at the very bottom of the page. That way I feel I would have been able to follow that book a little more. 

I would really recommend this book, it’s funny and forces you to think about the world of teaching in a completely different way. 

This is ‘A book you picked because the title caught you attention’ on the popsugar reading challenge. 

Find your local independent bookshop at https://www.booksellers.org.uk/ 

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Check out my last blog post here where I talk about Fairy Tales for Millennials by Bruno Vincent and maybe consider subscribing to my newsletter on the right.

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