Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me by Kate Clanchy
For 30 years, the novelist and poet Kate Clanchy has taught English in comprehensive schools around Britain, said Alex O’Connell in The Times. In this wonderful book – the latest in a boom of “job memoirs” – she offers a series of “dispatches from the front line of education”. Clanchy has had a varied teaching career. The book starts with her, aged 24, in a small town on the east coast of Scotland (where, during a lesson about Aids, students refused to open a book on the subject, fearing that it might infect them). She has also worked in an inclusion unit (for excluded children, she notes, “irony acknowledged”), and now works at a mixed comprehensive in the southwest of England where half the girls wear hijabs. While her book is “packed with classroom stories”, Clanchy also expresses her opinions on a range of education policies, including exclusion (often done to preserve school ratings, she says) and streaming (a “lesser evil” than mixed-ability teaching). Clear-eyed and “never preachy”, it’s a book that will appeal to “anyone who cares about education”.
Its strength lies in the fact that, unlike most people who write on this subject, Clanchy is “no ideologue”, said Bryan Appleyard in The Sunday Times. While she has strong views (she dislikes religious and grammar schools, and favours school uniforms), she has “no theory of teaching”, believing, simply, that schools “run on love”. Above all, her book is a testament to teacherly passion: Clanchy’s own classes are built around poetry. Her method is to read her class a poem, and then get pupils to write something with a similar theme. And some of the results – which she quotes – are “staggering”: her pupils regularly win national awards. “Read this book, then lots of poetry, and the world will be a better place.”