Stand up against this culture of abuse and violence towards teachers

I posted this on my Facebook page, and am re-posting here.

This teacher bashing article was published on an Australian website during the week (I’m using donotlink.com to avoid giving them hits)

I have no issue with the author being disgruntled, irritated, annoyed and fed up with her school. But instead abusing her platform to troll teachers and get clicks, if she has issues, she should take them up in a more adult way by opening a constructive dialogue with her school.

Not only are many of the things she says utterly offensive and it contains gross generalisations that are unfair to the entire profession, the publication of this article helps perpetuate a culture that is dangerous to teachers.

And yes, I mean it. Dangerous.

Australian principals, deputy principals and assistant principals are 5 times more likely than the general population to be subjected to threats of abuse, and 6 times more likely to be subjected to actual violence. (more here)

I have been threatened and abused, many of my colleagues have been threatened and abused, and from what I can observe, it’s a growing problem.

It’s not just school leaders. Workcover NSW identifies teaching as a high risk profession for violence and abuse.

And then there’s what we already know about the workload and huge burnout rate of teachers.

Check out this out for starters:
http://www.couriermail.com.au/…/story-fnn8dlfs-1227337760738

and this:
http://www.news.com.au/…/stres…/story-fncynjr2-1227349535411

The point of it all is this: teaching is increasingly becoming an unsafe profession, for both our physical and mental health. I know so many teachers who are at breaking point.

Articles like this which troll teachers, and the publishers who provide them a platform need to be called out and condemned for feeding a culture which say’s its okay to abuse us.

It’s not.

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De-Cluttering your Teaching Practice

Earlier this year, I was revisiting John Hattie’s work on visible learning, and was struck by his mantra: Know thy impact.

To be honest, I’m not sure I know what to make of his study of the effect size of different teaching practices and influences. There seem to be as many voices that challenge his findings as support them, and I know so little about research methods or statistical analysis that I don’t feel I can even have an opinion.

But I am interested to know if the work I do does have impact and achieves the desired outcomes for my student. So to that extent at least, I’m a fan of Hattie. I really concur with his message:

Educators, know thy impact.

So what has that to do with the title of this piece: De-Cluttering your Teaching Practice?

We are so busy as teachers, we don’t always consider the impact of what we do. We can spend an inordinate amount of time on things that don’t matter. We take on new practices but we hang on to the old. We work too hard, the benefits often far out-weighed by the cost.

As an example: In NSW primary schools, we use the Human Society and Its Environment Curriculum (HSIE). It has learning outcomes for each two-year stage of schooling.

Years ago, my stage team found we could cover those outcomes over 6 of the 8 available terms, and we mapped out a plan to do that. As Term 4 was our busiest, with end of year concert preparation, swim scheme, and other events, I advised teachers not to include HSIE in their Term 4 program. There was enough to do, and the curriculum requirements had been met.

However, some would not heed the advice. Some found it hard to come to terms with the idea of NOT teaching HSIE every week of every term, because in primary schools, that’s what you DO. It’s embedded.

I’d observe them struggling with stress. They’d feel guilty for not covering things and extremely over loaded. Sometimes they’d blame me, or others in the management team. I felt for them, I did. But it was clear that at least part of their overload was caused by being unwilling to let go of an unnecessary practice.

I observe this repeatedly: teachers hanging on to practices because they feel they should be done, it’s the way they’ve always done things, or because its something they happen to like.

How to De-Clutter 

For the last few years, I’ve been working on decluttering my practice, but keeping Hattie’s words in mind, has proven particularly useful this year. If we reflect on the impact of our practices, we can make far better choices in how to spend our time.

As I consider my practices, I ask myself,

“Will this have a positive impact on my students and help achieve our goals?”

If I can say yes, I ask this follow up question.

“Will the amount of impact be worth the time taken to implement this practice?” 

If I answer yes to both of those questions, I implement the practice. If the answer is no, I need to either drop or redevelop it.

Finally, I need to ask,

“Do I have time to implement this practice? What low impact practice can I discard to make room for this?”

I realise there’s a lot in teaching that we have to do, but as a starting point for decluttering, it might help to think about this for areas within your control:

Consider what you spend your and your class’s time on. In primary schools for example, we seem to love creating and laminating resources. Will that chart or board game have any sort of real impact? Is it worth the time it takes to create? Will laminating it increase its impact?

If its something that will make a difference, you’ll use it again and again, and the time spent creating it really is worth the benefits for your students, go ahead, create and laminate it. But if not, then why spend the time? Time is precious, make sure you spend it on the things that matter.

What about productive use of classroom time? Do you really need to have all your students come and sit on the mat when they enter the classroom, and quietly wait for you to deal with parents, notes, roll call and messages, before commencing their learning? Is there something more productive your students could be doing for those first minutes of every morning before you call them together to meet as a class? Can you adapt your class routine, to maximise the benefit to students and and minimise waste?

Our time is precious and limited, lets direct it to where it can have greatest effect.

In Pieces

I broke into pieces last week (see my post on depression). Since then, part of me wants to laugh hysterically when I’m asked to do things. I mean its ridiculous. I’m completely broken. Sure, I’ll help you with that, just let me screw my arms on first. Wait, where are my legs again?

I realise it isn’t visible. While its obvious to me, there’s no reason that others wouldn’t assume I’m just fine.

That, I confess, is another reason I wrote my post last Sunday. I needed people to see that I’m not whole at the moment. I’m in pieces and I need time to put myself back together.

I took Monday off work. I was in distress and I needed to recover. But, when I tried to return to work on Tuesday, I hit some difficulties.

It took 3 attempts to leave the house. I kept bursting into tears, washing my face, and reapplying my makeup. On the way to school, I nearly had to pull over as I was so nervous. I was having a panic attack.

I was worrying about  falling apart and people seeing that. I also knew it was likely some had read my post, and while I’m not ashamed of what I wrote, I was apprehensive about their reactions.

People look at you strangely when you say you’re depressed.  I’d not only done that, I’d just publicly admitted to a history of self harm.

Some people retreat. They feel awkward and uncomfortable. Other people will be beautifully compassionate, and when things are close to the surface, compassion reduces me to tears.

Some would be shocked I wrote about self harm on my blog. Some would find themselves confronted and repulsed.  And publishing my pain for the world to see is breaking all sorts of taboos.

But in the morning, people were normal. A number told me they hoped I was feeling better and chatted about how much sickness and flu was going around. I tried to deflect the conversations.

I stand by my belief that in hiding mental health issues just contributes to stigmatising and isolating those who suffer. As a school leader, I want to lead by example.

But it’s one thing to believe, and another thing to act. It’s hard to casually say to a crowded room, “Oh no, I don’t have the flu, I have depression”. So I retreated to my office, and tried to focus on my timetable, and the lessons I needed to run that day.

Shortly before classes were due to start, I dropped into the principal’s office. I was there to talk business, but as soon as she saw me, she stood up and asked if she could give me a hug. ‘Why?’ I asked. She gestured towards her computer, and there was my post, open on her screen.

One of my colleagues had been in a few minutes earlier and told her to read it.

If you’re a school principal, and one of your staff reveals they have depression, or any other mental illness, you would do well to follow my principal’s example.

The way she responded was perfect. She’d already read my blog so I didn’t need to explain anything, instead she said, “I know you, I know you know how to manage this and you’ll be okay. Just let me know what I can do to support you.”

See, there was no judgement, no freak out, no questioning. There was no patronising advice and no assumption, that just because I’m struggling with mental illness, I’m not capable of managing. Instead, what I received was respect: “I know you know how to manage this…how can I support you?”

I thought for a moment, and the one word that came to mind was “acceptance”. That’s really all the support I need. And by that I mean to accept the truth of it, and to allow me to do what I need to do to manage it without judgement. Just as she had when I injured my shoulder, or took 3 weeks off with a severe bout of flu.

By recess, the anxiety that made it hard to leave my house had grown into a monster. I knew that at least some people on staff had read my blog, but I didn’t know who. The person who shared my blog with the principal, never usually reads it, so it must have been passed around at least a little. I felt so exposed and I couldn’t look anyone in the eye.

I was over thinking everything. If someone smiled, were they being friendly, or were they feeling sorry for me? What about that teacher who was too busy to say anything when we passed in the corridor. Was she in a rush, or was she avoiding me, because reading my post  has made her uncomfortable?

The anxiety was so bad, that I started to have panic attacks. I couldn’t leave my office. I was shaking, hyperventilating and trying to keep calm. I closed the door, but that wasn’t enough, I had to shut the blinds as well. And all the time I was hungry, but too panicked to go into the staffroom and get my food out of the fridge.  I calmed myself down a couple of times and attempted to leave, but as I got to the door, I’d start panicking again. So I just stayed in there, trying to calm down and resisting the instinct to hide in the cupboard.

The panic itself fed further anxiety. I’m an assistant principal. I’m meant to be strong and together. A supportive and reassuring presence. Not an emotional wreck who wants to hide in a cupboard. I mean, who does that, and how can anyone respect me? How can I respect myself?

I decided to stay in my office until the next period, when I’d be teaching Year 6. They make me laugh, and as I said in my earlier post, teaching is so immersive. It demands all of my attention and there’s no space for depression in those moments when I’m working with students.

But when the bell went, as soon as I neared the door, I’d weep, shake, and hyperventillate. After 10 minutes of trying, I gave up. I needed to be home.

I found the principal, told her I had to leave, and that was it. Again, there was no judgement from her just acceptance. She trusted my ability to determine if I was fit for work. Trust and respect, that’s the support I need.

I know in my earlier post, I wrote that I had strategies to manage this. Well, sometimes its harder to use them than others. And sometimes they don’t work. Once mental health impedes my ability to work, or lead a normal life, then I know its time to seek help. I’ve seen my GP and have a follow-up appointment tomorrow. And I’ve a medical certificate that covers me for the week off work.

I’ve needed the time out. I had more panic attacks yesterday, and my ability to concentrate is shot to pieces. I’ve been over thinking everything and unable to make decisions about the most simple things:  A friend DM’d me yesterday to ask how my day had been. He’s been supporting me throughout this episode.  I started to panic: How should I answer. Should I tell him the truth? If I did, he’d probably feel obliged to keep supporting me, and I don’t want to be such a burden. Everyone has their issues, and I don’t want to burden them with mine. But, if I lie and say things are good, then he’ll think I’m fine and I’m not and the support has really been helping me. I worried over this, for around 20 minutes, before settling on replying with ‘better than yesterday’ or something along those lines.

Cameron, my TERpodcast colleague contacted me this morning about preparing the script for the episode we were due to record this evening, and I felt the anxiety rising within me again –  and disbelief. How on earth could anyone think I could do any of this when I’m in pieces?

But of course, how would anyone think otherwise? There are no visible injuries. He was understanding though. I warned him he might need a back up plan for this episode, so we pulled the plug on my contribution and he’s working on Plan B. I feel so fortunate to be able to step back from these things, and so grateful that my colleagues support me, when I know it creates an extra burden for them.

And so, it’s the first day I haven’t had to DO anything, no work, no doctors appointments, no other commitments. I haven’t had to leave the house, so there’s been less cause for anxiety. But my mood feels lighter too – For the first time in days I don’t feel like I’m IN distress, just drained, exhausted and melancholic from the experience of it. I think I’ll be better soon.

Why I Published that Post on Depression

Trigger Warning: mentions of depression and suicide.

My last post in which I revealed my struggles with depression, came as a shock to some readers. This is a space normally reserved for issues of education, not issues of  mental health.

I was nervous about it, but I felt I had to publish.

Public blogging helps me sort through ideas and find clarity. In a private journal, I go in circles, ruminating. It’s unhelpful. Writing for an audience forces me to make sense of things and communicate in a more constructive manner. It brings a responsibility to find a positive or practical outcome.  It was when I started to write the more positive part of my last post that I recalled strategies to help me in my own struggle. So at a personal level, public blogging is a helpful process.

But an even more compelling reason was  this story, shared in my Twitter feed by George Couros and then on Facebook by Tina Photakis. My heart just broke for this suicide victim, who was trying so hard to maintain an image of normality when inside she was in so much pain. She perceived that the perfect lives everyone else presented on social media was real for them, and only she was faking it.  None of us have perfect lives, we all have flaws, we all struggle, but if we only present our best parts to the world, we risk isolating others who struggle, perpetuating the belief that they are alone and not normal. I don’t want to be complicit in that.

Since publishing, I’ve received messages of support from so many of you, I’m thankful for that, and I cannot tell you how much it makes a difference. I’m doing it tough at the moment, but the the messages of support, kind words, the acceptance and validation are helping carry me through.

If you think you are struggling with depression, or if this post has triggered some difficult thoughts and emotions in you and you need help, check out the Beyond Blue website. 

Living with the Shadow of Depression

Kintsugi (金継ぎ?) (Japanese: golden joinery) or Kintsukuroi (金繕い?) (Japanese: golden repair) is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique.[1][2][3] As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. Source: Wikipedia

Trigger Warning for mentions of self harm and suicidal thoughts.

Last week, I was in the principal’s office, discussing curriculum adjustments for students with disabilities. I kept my tone light, and my face professional. But behind it, I was preoccupied by a vision of blood – pouring from long slashes running from my wrists to my elbows,  gushing, like a broken dam from my stomach, cut open.

I returned to my office, sat down and stared at my hands for several minutes.  Just staring, on the verge of tears, when I finally thought “What the fuck am I doing?” and got on with the timetable I was working on.

I thought I was past all this, that I was cured, and that I had better coping strategies. It took me by surprise to have those thoughts again.

I was diagnosed as clinically depressed when I was 30, but I’ve lived with depression on and off since at least my teenage years. Some people describe it as a black dog. I think of it more as my shadow self. Its part of me. A friend, whose embrace I find it easy to fall into. It creeps up so softly, that at first I don’t realise it’s there. It can hang around for months before I realise I’m in its grip.

Years ago, I used to cut and burn myself.  When my depression was at its worse, I was numb. There was no pain, but there was no joy. I felt nothing. During those very dark days, I wanted to feel something, anything. Pain was good. Cutting or burning allowed me, just for an instant to feel something and  know I was alive.

But I mostly wanted to cut myself open because I didn’t know how to express the pain I was feeling. I still don’t. I was and am ashamed of it. I don’t have a right to feel this way, when so many people have greater problems, better reasons to suffer. Cutting and burning – they were physical manifestations of pain I had no right to feel and wouldn’t express any other way.

Random events have opened up old wounds for me: the murder of a teacher in NSW; encountering someone who attended the same  high school as I… suddenly I find myself assaulted by memories. Things that were buried are close to the surface now. The scars I thought had healed  are open and bleeding.

I remember the strategies the psychologist taught me. To monitor my thought patterns, challenge the negative ones and avoid catastrophising. I know I need to practise mindfulness and gratitude, to get out in the sunlight and to get some exercise. I’ll do all that,  I will — but for now, I’m letting myself bleed a little. I’m cutting myself open with my words this time – letting you peek behind the mask.

You see, I know I’m not alone in this. There are so many of us who struggle with mental health. Everyone acknowledges that it affects others, but we so rarely admit to it in ourselves. We carefully craft our public identity and our social media profiles to show that we are positive, competent, capable. It’s a risk to confess that we’re also flawed. But that’s why I’m confessing. Depression isn’t something that happens to a small group of weak-minded people Self harm isn’t a weird deviant practice. It’s common, but it happens in silence and shame.

Having lived with this on and off for years, I know I’m okay. At the moment, I’m experiencing symptoms of depression, but I don’t think I’m trapped there as I once was, and I can get myself out.

I’m using apps to monitor my mood several times daily. When I’m depressed, my tendency to catastrophise leads me to believe that I feel that way all the time, instead of it being just a part of my daily experience. I become quite anxious. I never want to return to the dark place I existed in years ago, when planning my death became a full-time obsession. My fear of returning to that compounds the problem. Mood monitoring helps me recognise that it’s not that bad – sometimes its just a mood, and there are times, each day, where I feel good. In fact, I experience moments of joy each day, and my outlook is still relatively optimistic. I can immerse myself in activities (like baking the raspberry macarons that are currently setting in the oven) and for a time, completely forget about these darker emotions.

And yesterday, I found an app called “Happify” which has activities and games to increase positive emotion. I was skeptical, but my initial experience has been good. Last night’s task was to simply identify 3 positive experiences that occurred during the day. Given that I’d had a migraine for most of it, and was feeling fairly melancholy for the rest, I doubted I could find any. But sure enough I found three. Immediately my mood lifted somewhat, I felt appreciative, and it helped me to remember that even while I’m fixating on the negative, good things are happening. I just need to pay attention.

There’s a stigma to depression, and its a risk, as a teacher, admitting to it publicly. As much as we want to promote mental health in our schools, we don’t like to admit to having problems with it ourselves. It’s can be seen as a failing, a sign of weakness. Its okay to admit I stayed in bed for half a day with a migraine yesterday, but a character flaw to confess that I stayed in bed for half a day with depression today.

In fact, years ago,  after I admitted I had a history of depression the principal I worked for refused to allow me to take on any extra responsibilities or leadership. He thought it would make me vulnerable and took a paternalistic decision to protect me, by limiting my opportunities for leadership and career advancement.

But I’ve been living with depression for longer than I’ve been teaching. It’s accompanied me throughout my career. And yet, I’m an accomplished teacher and a school leader, who has earned the respect of my colleagues and community.  When I work with students, I’m completely immersed – in flow. Teaching brings me such joy, and demands my full attention. When I’m teaching there is no room for the darker moods. which can take hold in the quieter moments.

If you think you are struggling with depression, or if this post has triggered some difficult thoughts and emotions in you and you need help, check out the Beyond Blue website. 

More on Teach Like a Pirate: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

I feel I need to write a little more about Teach Like a Pirate. After posting my review of it yesterday, I’ve received numerous comments from people on Twitter which led me to wonder if people were reading greater negativity in my review than I’d intended. I don’t believe there is anything particularly wrong with the book, and certainly many teachers have found it inspiring. I just simply didn’t get a great deal out of reading it myself. My ratings on Goodreads are personal – I rate books based on how they impact me, not on how they might impact others.

But, to be fair to Dave Burgess, who, comes across as a very lovely guy and an excellent teacher, I’d now like to write a little more about his book to correct some of the misconceptions floating around out there.

Teach Like a Pirate is not about dressing up as a pirate and engaging students through performing as a character.

The book is about engagement, and PIRATE is an acronym that Burgess has developed to help his readers remember his key ideas:

P – Passion

I – Immersion

R – Rapport

A – Ask and Analyse

T – Transformation

E – Enthusiasm

The Good:

I  really did like his chapter on passion. When people reflect on which teachers made the greatest impact on them, often they will tell you they were the teachers who taught with great passion and enthusiasm. In Teach Like a Pirate, Burgess writes about the importance of having passion for whatever you are teaching, and if you are not feeling it, how to find it. There were some good tips here for people who aren’t feeling passion.

Burgess talked about three sources of passion: content passion, professional passion and personal passion. Basically if you’re not feeling passionate about the content of the curriculum, you can draw on your professional passion for teaching and learning, or draw on personal passions and weave them into your subject. He had some great suggestions, which, as I wrote yesterday would be helpful for teachers who are feeling a bit jaded and need to find their spark. For me, passion isn’t an issue, perhaps I’m lucky, but there are very few areas of the curriculum I don’t love teaching, and I guess I frequently draw on what Burgess would call my professional passion – I love helping kids learn. So yes, great tips, just not something I needed particular help with.

I won’t go into detail about the remaining parts of the acronym, you can read the book if you want that. I did like the part about rapport – Burgess wrote a lot about the importance of building strong, positive relationships with students. I agree with him on the importance of this, and he had some great tips for how to get to know students at the start of the year.

As well as explaining his acronym and providing examples of how to achieve each part, Burgess had a an entire section focused on what he called ‘hooks’. These are the elements in each lesson that capture and hold students’ interest.  He provided an extensive list of some very good ideas, ranging from coming to class in character, to teaching outdoors, to engaging in projects to solve real world problems.  So yes, heaps of great ideas that teachers can pick and choose from to increase the engagement in their classrooms.

The Bad:

I guess I prefer a book with a more theoretical framework. Rather than fitting good teaching into a PIRATE acronym, I’d rather fit it into a pedagogical model like the NSW Quality Teaching Framework (QTF) Maybe that seems a little dry compared to being a pirate (no pun intended) but I think teachers are more than capable of dealing with some basic theory. Theory is also important because it helps us understand WHY things work.

Much of what Burgess writes about fits well into the QTF. Linking curriculum to real world events and solving real world problems provides what the framework calls “significance”. Rapport is part of what the framework calls “social support” and is part of the “quality learning environment”, as is “engagement” which is the main focus of Burgess’ book.

I would have found it a more powerful read if Burgess had chosen a model like the QTF, and showed how he demonstrates the elements through his practice. I felt the  PIRATE acronym dumbed things down – and ignored a fairly significant and valuable body of research that would explain why his ideas are pretty good.

The section on hooks was practical but also problematic. By listing each strategy as a hook, it seemed to suggest that each were of equal value. I’d argue that some hooks are more valuable than others. Providing students with authentic tasks, where they are motivated to engage with and synthesise the curriculum in order to create a real product or solve a real problem will provide much deeper engagement and deeper learning than interviewing their teacher who is in costume, role playing a character from a period they are studying in history. I’m not suggesting the latter doesn’t have value, just that the learning is not likely to be as deep.

And perhaps that was part of what weakened the book for me. Burgess wrote very little about learning. He wrote a lot about engagement, and what teachers  do, but very little about what was happening within the students. The type of learning that could occur using authentic projects is very different from the type of learning that would occur interviewing a teacher who is role playing a character. There was a missed opportunity to examine this more deeply.

As I commented yesterday, I found the solo nature of Burgess’ teaching model a little problematic, as was his desire to have the student experience in his classroom better than what they would experience in their other classrooms. I can’t help wondering what his colleagues would have thought as they read that.

The Ugly

On a personal note, I find the PIRATE acronym unfortunate, and quite frankly, offensive. I have a very strong reaction to it which borders on distress. When I think of pirates, I don’t think of Disney and Jack Sparrow. For me the word triggers thoughts of the very real, very dangerous pirates who take rob, murder, rape and take hostages in seas today.  I ‘get’ that most people don’t feel that way and love to buy into the Disney version, so I tried hard to squash my objections, but anything that trivialises rape and murder while celebrating those who commit such crimes is going to get my hackles up.

Years ago, I was victim of a violent attack, and I guess since then, I’ve felt a kinship towards other people who’ve suffered from violence. Now  I realise that’s not Burgess’ intention, he’s not out there deliberately glorifying or endorsing piracy. However, I do think he could have chosen a better acronym rather than one that is a potential trigger for victims of violent crime.  I also realise that this is my problem, not Burgess’ problem – but if I have an issue with it, I would say its likely there are several other people who have difficulty with it as well. I almost didn’t write about this, but if I don’t say something, who will?

I really didn’t want to end on such a sombre note. It’s my fault for trying to fit this post into “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” – naturally it has to end with the negative. So to conclude, I’ll remind you of some of the positives:

There is value in this book:

  • There are great practical tips for teaching with passion and building positive relationships with students.
  • There are great practical  suggestions for how to inspire, motivate and engage students.
  • It provides a wonderful window into the work of a teacher.
  • It will certainly inspire and be a great resource for many teachers.

It just wasn’t the book for me.

Teach Like a Pirate – review

Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an EducatorTeach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

So much hype surrounds this book, and its been rated highly by many educators whom I respect, so I thought it would be worth a look.

Author Dave Burgess shares a great deal about his teaching practice, and to that end, its a great read. I always love hearing about how other teachers go about their work. He has a great emphasis on creativity and engagement, and provides many great tips that I’m sure many teachers will find useful.

He repeatedly reminds his readers that education needs to be more than about what is on the test, and one of the points of difference between his class and many other classes, is that he provides far better reasons for his students to engage in learning than telling them they need it for the test. Perhaps this is one of the reasons, the book didn’t really resonate with me. Burgess works in the US school system, which is increasingly dominated by high stakes standardised testing. In my system, that’s not the case. We aren’t test driven, and I know of no teachers who use the ‘test’ as a justification for any of the learning their students do.

As an Australian primary school teacher, I found nothing new. We already take a creative, cross curricular approach to our work. Dress up days, theme days, magic, cooking, outdoor lessons, simulation games, role play, are all common and familiar.

I found it troubling that Burgess frequently wrote as if he was the only teacher using these practices, and his aim was to make his class stand out from all the others that students in his school attend. He went so far as to suggest that the rest of the school experience for his students was dry and boring. He wanted his students to know that as soon as they entered his room they would have a different and superior experience to what they would experience in any other classroom. As a school leader I found this problematic. I’d like to see teachers working less in isolation and more in collaboration. We all improve as we draw upon each others strengths and expertise. Setting out to convince our students that our class is a special experience is fine, but setting out to convince our students that our class is a superior experience to the classes of our colleagues is toxic and undermining.

Teach Like a Pirate includes some great tips for people who are having trouble being passionate about their subjects or engaging their students. However, I don’t believe it deserves the bandwagon hype that it has received. This is not a book that every teacher should read, or that will transform their work. It’s a book about one teachers practice with a few good tips, particularly for inexperienced teachers or perhaps those who are feeling jaded and need some inspiration.

Update: After posting this review I had a number of discussions on Twitter that led me to feel the need to expand on this a little more. There is plenty that is good in Teach Like a Pirate, as well as areas that I find problematic. Read more in my next post: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

View all my reviews