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Posts Tagged ‘Teaching Memoir’

I have had Phil Ball’sThe Hapless Teacher’s Handbook‘ with me for a long time. It looked like a comic memoir, and I thought that it was written by someone who was new to the teaching profession and it looked like he had taken all his new experiences and spun it off into a fun memoir. I thought I’ll read it when I was in the mood for something comic, and so it rested in my bookshelf for years and gathered dust. A few days back, I decided to take it down and read it.

First things first. My perception of the author was totally wrong. It was Phil Ball 100 – Me 0. When I read the book, I realized that Phil Ball was no green horn, he was no spring chicken. He has been a teacher for decades and after starting his teaching career in England, he has taught in many different countries. He has written books on teaching. He was an experienced hand, he was a veteran. So the comic nature of the book, the humour, springs from the weight of experience, and it is not a newbie’s attempt to sound cool. I was surprised and happy when I discovered that.

In the book, Phil Ball describes the first four years of his teaching career, starting from the time he applied for a certificate in teaching course after finishing university. He gives more weight to the initial years in the book – they occupy more pages. The time when he joins a school for ‘Teaching Practice’, which is part of his course, and when he tries teaching for the first time, is covered in considerable detail. It was one of my favourite parts of the book. He also talks in detail about the initial months and year when he first took a job as a teacher in a school. In these two parts of the book, we are able to see the teaching profession through a new young teacher’s eyes and it is fascinating, because we discover that however much one prepares for it, reality is always more complex and different. Through the book, Phil Ball also tells us about teachers who inspired him, teachers who were eccentric, students who were interesting and students who were eccentric outsiders. The music teacher in his school is one such character – his piano playing is divine and he should have been a concert pianist, but as he is introverted and shy, his fellow teachers make fun of him, and his students bully him. There is a student who thinks that he is the reincarnation of the poet Andrew Marvell, and he rarely listens to the lessons in the class, because he is composing poetry. There is an elementary school teacher with whom he worked with, who brings a lot of joy to the class, and his own high school teacher who takes the class textbook and throws it into the dustbin (makes us remember Robin Williams’ character in ‘Dead Poets Society’) and then proceeds to do something very inspiring. It was wonderful to read about all these amazing people.

From its first lines –

“There are proactive people and there are reactive people, and that’s basically it. It took me a long time to realise that I belonged to the latter group”

– ‘The Hapless Teacher’s Handbook‘ is captivating and it refuses to let go till the end. Phil Ball’s understated British humour is wonderful and in many places we can’t stop laughing. I loved this memoir – it was comic, insightful, fascinating filled with wonderful real-life characters. It is one of my favourite books of the year. It is a shame that it is not more well known. It deserves more readers.

Have you read ‘The Hapless Teacher’s Handbook‘? What do you think about it?

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