September is back to school time here in the UK and for my family this year, that has included watching my son transition from primary (ages 4-11) to secondary school (11-18). With school-related stuff therefore at the forefront of my mind for the last month, I found myself picking up two teacher-authored non-fiction books that both claimed to give an insider’s perspective on life inside British schools.
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Put a Wet Paper Towel On It by Lee and Adam Parkinson
Put a Wet Paper Towel On It is written by Lee and Adam Parkinson, two brothers who host the podcast Two Mr. Ps in a Pod(Cast), a light-hearted look at teaching in UK primary schools. This book had an unusual writing style that was conversational in nature with the two authors talking and joking with one another on the pages – almost as if you were reading a transcript of one of their podcast episodes. While the writing style wasn’t quite my cup of tea, this book was still filled with interesting, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking anecdotes about life as a primary school teacher.
The book was divided up into chapters, each covering a different topic after introductions from both authors about their respective journeys into teaching. Some of these include Classroom Crazes, School Performances, PE, Dinner Times, and Parents. Many of these sections are eye-opening and serve as reminders about just how much work goes into a typical school day even outside of teaching. I also especially liked the two early chapters that chronicled each of the authors’ journeys into teaching.
One of the chapters that really stood out, however, came at the end with the bluntly titled: “Everything Wrong with Education (in the UK)”. Here, Lee lays into the terrible and often toxic environment that teaching has become via mismanagement, poor government policies, over-regulation, misguided attempts at improving wellbeing, and much more that has led to the field having truly abysmal recruitment and even worse retention rates. It’s a chapter that is brutally honest and will leave you with a strong desire to help enact change.
I did find Put a Wet Paper Towel On It to be a little jumbled as it jumped from topic to topic, and not always entirely clear about who was speaking to me at any moment, but I still enjoyed the book and am planning to check out the podcast too.
Let That Be a Lesson by Ryan Wilson
While I enjoyed Put a Wet Paper Towel On It, by far my favorite of the two books has Let That Be a Lesson by Ryan Wilson. This memoir-style book by a former secondary school English teacher follows his career in chronological order starting with his time as a teaching trainee at university, continuing to his first year teaching in an inner-city secondary school, then moving through his various promotions to Head of Department and eventually his decision to leave teaching altogether.
As this is more of a memoir than a collection of individual themed sections, it is far more personal and follows the author’s own story – although many of the incidents he recounts will likely be familiar to many teachers. The book is also an emotional rollercoaster that at times had me genuinely laughing out loud, cringing from second-hand embarrassment, and almost brought me to tears on several occasions. There were also some stomach-churning moments such as a false allegation of sexual assault against the author that reminded me how every day as a teacher is filled with the unexpected and that far from knowing their subjects, possibly the biggest requirement for the job is being able to face these endlessly bizarre, frustrating, and occasionally terrifying moments without faltering.
Despite being more a narrative of a personal journey than a true look behind the scenes of a secondary school, I absolutely loved Let That Be a Lesson and ended up rating it a full 5/5. Not only was it a thoroughly interesting and engaging story, but it also reminded me that all the teachers my son is about to meet during his own journey through secondary school are real people facing their own challenges and to cut them as much slack as possible in the times that frustrations will inevitably bubble up.
Both of these books will leave you with a healthy respect for the teaching profession and a renewed appreciation for everything that teachers do both in and out of the classroom. I would recommend both, especially to parents of school-age kids, in the hopes that they would help to strengthen the bridges between school and home.
GeekMom received copies of these books for review purposes.