The Complete Guide To Becoming An English Teacher

Author(s) Clarke S., Dickson P. & Westbrook J.
Publisher Paul Chapman Publishing
Price 18.99
ISBN 0761942424
Reviewed by Mr Kerry Doyle
Northbrook College of Further and Higher Education
Review published 26 April 2006

Whenever I encounter a book title that presents itself as a panacea, I develop a bout of wary cynicism. The Essential Guide to… Everything you ever wanted to know about… Such volumes are using a marketing ploy to play on our insecurities or habitual need for easy remedies in one handy text. These books never fulfil their grandiloquent claims. How can they? Knowledge develops, views change and interpretations differ. This applies to the teaching of English as much as it does to playing the guitar or using computer software.

Having allowed this prejudice to pre-empt my reading of The Complete Guide, I was prepared to seek immediate reinforcement. But try as I might, I could not help but admire the breadth and scope of this text. I still maintain that it is not a complete guide (although readily accept that the title is only a marketing ploy in this case) but it comes very close.

This is a book I would recommend to all, no matter what route they take to train as a teacher of English. It is aimed at secondary teachers but would be equally useful for those preparing to teach in the further education. Not only does it provide concise and balanced accounts of key pedagogic issues, it also includes a range of interesting and engaging lesson suggestions.

I was particularly impressed with the inclusion of the discussion about the re-emergence of the concept of literacy, not just with reference to the National Literacy Strategy, but in terms of an alternative perspective on what constitutes English studies. Chapter 12, which focuses on critical literacy and literary theory, is particularly informative. The reference to and use of Lankshear’s Changing Literacies is helpful but not representative of the wealth of research being produced by the National Research and Development Council (NRDC), for example. This is a minor criticism but I think that given the way in which English is being linked with media studies and ICT, students need to be introduced to concepts of purpose, context and audience in as many ways as possible; and teachers need to be aware of current research projects. Such an approach would also prepare a foundation for the study and teaching of English Language A levels.

This book does cover a lot of ground with excellent chapters on planning, assessment, teaching reading and teaching poetry. The foundations of the language are covered with chapters on language, grammar and spelling, although not punctuation, which is only touched on by comparison. Hall and Robinson’s Learning About Punctuation is worth consulting to fill this gap. The format of each chapter has been effectively planned for the student teacher with a clear focus on the ‘Knowledge and Understanding’ component of the teaching standards. Each chapter opens with a helpful description of the expected learning outcomes, followed by a concise and engaging discussion of important theoretical perspectives; links are then made to the National Curriculum and the KS3 strategy. Excellent further reading lists and useful websites conclude each chapter.

This is not simply a text to be read however. The chapters also include a series of activities that encourage the reader to tackle important questions about teaching English in a variety of ways: in the context of the classroom, as an individual task or in discussion with a mentor. For example, in the chapter on Writing, the teacher is encouraged to try a collaborative writing exercise; consider an approach to the teaching of genre; and analyse two samples of student writing. This last task is accompanied by some useful suggestions from the authors about the quality of the student writing - a welcome feature of the book but not used consistently.

Two further and significant features of the chapters are referred to as Scenarios and Continuous Threads. The former present opportunities for the reader to engage in some challenging teaching issues that require careful consideration. As the authors suggest, they can be used for INSET courses or discussion work. The continuous threads (six in total) not only provide appropriate links to the QTS standards but also, because of their ubiquity, help to embed knowledge of key teaching concepts such as differentiation and class management, thereby encouraging the teacher to actively integrate theory and practice.

This is a text that should accompany every student teacher of English and find its way onto the shelf of practising teachers. This book excited me. It is written in a style that makes you want to try out activities and take up challenges. Read the chapter on Teaching AS/A2 English Language, for example, and sense how you are welcomed into the community of English teaching and provided with important information and support. Recognise that the activities and lesson plans presented are a result of collaboration and refinement, not of formulaic and often untested ideas that appear in other publications under the guise of essential resources. This book will encourage the student teacher to embrace the subject of English along with its associated values and debates.