The Confident Teacher, Alex Quigley

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I suppose by writing and posting a review of this book, it makes it a little bit official. I have been offered, and have accepted, a place on Teach First 2017 cohort, where I will spend the next 2 years from July 2017 training in a school to become the very best Secondary School teacher that I can be. I am really excited to take on this adventure, but I have a lot of reading to do before I get started! So, reading for fun will probably just take a side seat for a little while now. But this blog is for things that I have read, and they don’t have to be popular, or fictional, for me to be able to enjoy them and share a bit about what I’ve learned. So here we are, the first book that I have read as a start to my new career.

Overview

This was  fantastic book, filled to brimming with great ideas and good advice, all mixed in with science and research to back up each point. Quigley is a competent and engaging writer. I believe that English is the subject that he teachers, which was really helpful for me as this is the subject I’ll be undertaking, but he takes a range of examples from a variety of subjects which means that this book is relevant and educational for teachers at all ends of the spectrum.

That said, I would say that this book would better serve a teacher with a minimum of a year or two of experience. Whilst it does sell itself as ‘an essential resource for all qualified and trainee teachers wanting to reach their full potential’, I can understand why ‘qualified’ is referred to first. The Confident Teacher requires an extent of experience that trainee (and future trainee) teachers might not yet hold, especially those on the younger end of the spectrum. I have thoroughly enjoyed and learned a lot from reading the book, but will return to it in a year and see how much more it will impact my work then.

Why I Bought It

I purchased this book because of its tagline: ‘Developing successful habits of mind, body and pedagogy’. I had very little understanding of the role of the teacher as pedagogue (which essentially boils down to not only understanding your subject, but being able to take that knowledge and package it up and hand it out as a teacher). I’m still not a hundred per cent confident that I have a full understanding of the role, and that is something that I’m going to continue exploring in my reading as I am well aware that its a deficit going forwards. But Quigley really does bring to life the importance of the role of a pedagogue, and offers some interesting perspectives on it.

I found interesting his take on the setting of a classroom. He is well aware of the difficulties for teachers in less well-funded schools, where sometimes the classroom isn’t as well equipped as might be preferred, but he is adamant that ‘no matter the setting, learning happens’. (p. 169)

His references to ‘Subject Pedagogical Knowledge’ (p. 172) helped me to better understand that it isn’t just the subject knowledge which is important. In fact, ‘once you reach a certain degree of subject knowledge expertise, beyond what the students are required to know, the returns in the classroom begin to diminish’. (p. 172) Subject Pedagogical Knowledge is ‘a combination of knowing the content matter, the students, and a wide range of teaching strategies’. In short, the same subject matter will require different techniques, explanations and examples to be taught depending on the students, and as ‘expert’ teachers, it is our job to know as many techniques as possible in order to be able to educate those we teach. It’s a daunting task.

Other things I liked

So, other things I liked about this book, aside from the descriptions and definitions of pedagogy which I very much needed to be broken down.

Quigley describes teaching as a series of steps. The task would be insurmountable if we took it as a whole, but he describes just making one small change, such as pausing longer between asking a question and giving the answer, which will have a huge impact. (pp. 107-198) His suggestions are small and manageable, and you can see how in the long term, they will bring a satisfying return.

There is a huge focus on school leadership. Not yet working as a teacher in a school, I can only hope I have the support and leadership that Quigley suggests throughout his book.

There were a lot of small, bullet pointed lists of suggestions for teaching, feedback exercises and many other areas. These were great as I’ve already been able to note down some of my favourites and plan how I might put them into action.

Overall

I really enjoyed reading and engaging with this book, and would definitely buy other books by Quigley to study in the run up to commencing my teacher’s training. I am hoping that he has other books which are aimed more at a student teacher audience, as I feel I would definitely benefit more from that in the first instant. But overall, this is a must read for any developing teacher, and a great introduction to some of the difficulties I may face in the coming years, and how to overcome them.

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