Nick Yapp: Bluff Your Way in Teaching
Ravette Publishing 1998 (1987)
This fell out of the bookshelves recently where it had somehow got wodged in and unnoticed. I didn’t ignore the irony as I myself had somehow got wodged into school education, only managing to extricate myself many years later by the skin of my teeth (and with my heart in my mouth, just to mix metaphors). I couldn’t finish this when I first came across it for it was much too painful — despite its deliberately humorous take on the state of pedagogy it was too close to the madness that pertained in British teaching at the time, and no doubt still does. Would a revisit bring back the pain?
Skimming through it now I note that, as is to be expected, it’s way out of date in terms of practice, acronyms and the like — but not where the mindset of authority is concerned. By authority I mean of course anybody in the echelons above the level of the humble classroom practitioner at what used to be called the ‘chalkface’, which is where I spent most of my time. When I wasn’t in interminable meetings. Or writing reports. Or having to do some creative accounting.
Bluff your way in Teaching is written by an insider. I see that the author was a teacher for 27 years before switching to writing, so he knows — or at least knew — whereof he wrote. Now a prolific writer of documentaries and light entertainment for radio and television he’s also responsible for short fiction as well as scores of non-fiction books — from photographs to film stars and from crime to cricket — and finds time to contribute travel pieces for the New York Times. By turns cynical and insightful, he vents his spleen on institutions and personnel, gives us the lowdown on classroom technique and other requirements of the job, and finishes with The Teacher’s Year and a glossary. I particularly relished his “How to get out of teaching” hints beginning with Death, working through Early Retirement, Nervous Breakdown, Suspension, Slipping to the Side and ending with Opening a Wholefood Shop or Pottery. It turns out I went for the fifth option by becoming first a supply and then a piano teacher.
His one-liners are best, though a bit tiring after a while: Rousseau “was the first person to admit that children are like wild animals,” an open testimonial is “a measuredly meaningless document that tells nobody anything about anybody” and music education is a no-no in the curriculum: “Educational research revealed that playing in a string quartet was no sort of preparation for working in McDonald’s, and anyway music was making children happy, and education should have nothing to do with making children (or teachers) happy.”
And then there’s the advice on classroom technique.
There are four techniques to be mastered:
1. How to get the children into the classroom.
2. How to keep the children in the classroom.
3. How to get the children out of the classroom.
4. How to deal with the children while they are in the classroom.
You can see why he got out of teaching. The whole slim volume (less than 70 pages) is a quickish read but, to answer my initial question, it still brought back the pain of teaching, not so much the requirement to educate those unfortunates pushed through the sausage machine as having to deal with insane systems which squeezed out any joy to be had from learning. At least that pain is only a dull ache now, flaring up when I’m reminded of it.