A very short ‘trad’ reading list – five books for NQTs

I’m not going to spend long going into the taxonomy of ‘trad’, you can read my defence of the pedagogy and my dislike of the terminology here, The Radical Case for ‘Trad’ Education. Instead I’m just going to accept the term (and the division between trad and prog) as something that (a) really exists and (b) something that is quite a useful way of describing a certain set of ideas about teaching. If you’re curious to learn more about ‘trad’ ideas, keep reading.

I wrote recently a short thread of tweets about how reading ‘trad’ teaching books and becoming more of a ‘trad’ teacher liberated me from a lot of anxiety and disappointment about teaching during my NQT year. As a result a few people reached out and said they would like to know where to start reading about ‘trad’ ideas so here’s a very short introductory reading list. Not every book on here is 100% trad and not every author would happily use the term, they are merely the books that have had the biggest impact on my teaching this year.

A Five Book Reading List

Rosenshine’s Principles in Action by Tom Sherrington

I think if I could only recommend one book for NQTs it would be this. Firstly it is short, secondly it contains the original paper in which Rosenshine put forward his Principles of Education which are, for me, the absolute backbone of everything I do in teaching. You’ll read them and, if you’ve not come across them before you’ll most likely have the same realisation I did: I already do so much of this! What Tom Sherrington then does is show you practical ways you can improve your practice in areas like retrieval practice and presenting knowledge. For me realising I did most of this already but could do it better, more efficiently and more often was the key to regaining my confidence in teaching.

Making Every Lesson Count by Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison

For me this has to be one of the most important and frequently-thumbed books on my teaching bookshelf. It builds on Rosenshine and brings others into the mix and provides an easily adaptable formula for teaching day-to-day lessons which I have found absolutely indispensable. There is a whole series of these which make the points specific to different subject areas which are really great for very specific, subject-based advice.

Trivium 21c by Martin Robinson

For me I think I’ve always been a bit of a ‘trad’ at heart. When I came to choose my degree I went with a liberal arts degree which focused on the Great Books and the Trivium and Quadrivium of the liberal arts. Those are the ancient and medieval ideas on which Western education was based and what Martin Robinson does is reclaim them for the 21st century. You don’t have to be a head of department or deeply involved in curriculum planning to enjoy this book but it will change the way you see value in knowledge and, for me, it really re-ignited by love for passing on knowledge from the past to my students in the present day.

Understanding How We Learn by Megan Sumeracki and Yana Weinstein

At the heart of ‘trad’ pedagogy is a strong bedrock of cognitive science. I can’t say psychology or science is really my strong suit but I do think it’s important that all teachers have some awareness of cognitive science and how it affects our teaching. This guide is really nicely illustrated, with quite complex ideas simply explained and it’s relevant to the classroom teacher.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Teachers edited by Katherine Birbalsingh

One thing I’ve quickly learned is that you don’t have to be right-wing to be a ‘trad’ and that you don’t have to love everything about the famous Michaela School or free schools or anything else, it’s important that there’s debate and dissent within the movement for traditional teaching. That said there’s no doubt that Michaela, small as it is, has changed the way many people teach and understanding what happens there (beyond the headlines and hype) is vital. This book is an impassioned defence of traditional education and even though I disagree with chunks of it I think it’s a written by teachers with great passion for their work and it is a fascinating read.

At the end of a long year: thoughts on NQT and thriving

There was a time this year when I had written my notice, I had told my husband I was quitting my job and I’d applied to go back to studying Theology. There was a time when I sat in my head of department’s classroom and cried in a visceral, horrible way because I felt like I could not do this anymore. There was a time when I went to see my GP and they signed me off with workplace stress and I sat in my room and cried and felt like a complete and utter failure. It wasn’t that, on the surface, I was being a bad teacher, I was in control of my classes, I was delivering the material, I was doing what I needed to. Instead it was a feeling very deep down that I wasn’t really teaching and that students weren’t really learning.

Looking back on that from my desk on the Monday before the end of term I cannot believe that occurred in the same decade as this one, let alone just a few months ago during this, my NQT year. I remember telling people at the start of the year that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to step off the lesson-to-lesson roller-coaster of stress and emotion. I was convinced that when people told me “it gets easier” they meant in five or ten years rather than in just a few short months. Now though I really feel as though I can give that advice to next years’ NQTs, it does get easier, you do become adjusted, this is a job you can do and being an active part of a network of professionals is at the centre of that.

A huge part of my transformation was about rebuilding my confidence in my ability to teach. In that sense I’m incredibly thankful to my head of faculty who gave me a copy of Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction in a CPD meeting earlier this year. I had already dabbled in some different pedagogical approaches and in the chat about pedagogy on Twitter but it was Rosenshine’s Principles that really liberated me from my anxiety in the classroom about my ability to teach. Here was a clear and tangible way to structure my teaching which meant that I was able to teach in the way that felt natural to me. Better than that this was not some faddish method for lesson planning like those I’d come across before, most of these principles were things I was already doing but having them written down like this gave me such a boost in confidence.

One of the biggest moments for me was letting go of a spark of anxiety that my PGCE had instilled in me: “too much teacher talk, aim for 20/80”. That was a persistent note on so many of my lesson observations and so I went into NQT finding myself obsessed with reducing the amount of my own talk. Rosenshine gave me freedom once again to take ownership of my space in the classroom and teach in a way that was not only quite heavily structured and therefore easy to plan, but also a way that empowered me as a teacher and as someone with a love and knowledge of their subject. My proudest memories of this year are not the flashy PowerPoints or card sorts but the photos I’ve kept on my phone of my whiteboard covered in notes or of well-used models or the recall quizzes that have been picked up and used around the school.

Ms H’s Reflections on my NQT Year blog post really focused my attention on moving the narrative for NQTs away from merely surviving this year and instead looking at places where NQTs have thrived. I think I’ve had half-terms where I did merely survive but there have also been moments where I’ve felt I’ve come into my own as a professional. Some highlights of this year include: talking at BuffetEd, giving a speech at the TUC Young Workers’ Conference, getting elected as the secretary for my NASUWT association, having my resources featured in school-wide CPD, engaging with some of my favourite writers on Twitter, seeing my blog and my Twitter page grow, seeing people using and enjoying resources I’ve made, getting good feedback on lesson observations from people I really respect at this school, engaging with my subject community and generally feeling part of a network of professionals I like and respect.

In the short space of a year I feel as though I’ve actually become a professional in the full sense of that term. I remember saying to myself “I just don’t know why I’m doing this” back in the dark days before February half-term and it is in no small part thanks to Twitter and my colleagues both online and off that I actually know the answer to that now and I actually felt sad coming into my classroom on this Monday morning and knowing that soon I wouldn’t step foot in it for six whole weeks.