Time to curl up with a good book? If you can’t quite free yourself from the dramas of school life, then experiencing vicariously the ups and downs in the lives of fellow teachers might help settle you into your summer break. There are three recently published books that I can recommend.

Kate Kellaway, well-known for her articles on her co-founding of Now Teach, the charity that encourages and supports seasoned professionals into the classroom after a career in say law or business or journalism, has digested her route from Financial Times columnist to maths, economics and business studies teacher. Re-educated: How I changed my job, my home, my husband & my hair is an absorbing, lively and funny call-to-arms for those who want a new challenge and are not daunted by a career U-turn beyond the age of 50. Bright-eyed, optimistic and full of a desire to change children’s lives, Kellaway soon learns that being a teacher is considerably harder work, more emotionally draining, but also significantly more rewarding (and of course much less well remunerated) than anything in her previous working life. As she navigates the challenges of IT, lesson planning, relationships with fellow recruits half her age and sceptical heads of departments, she learns to think differently about herself and about those she teaches. Her narrative and financial security (she owns her own house) – which she readily acknowledges, may irk some seasoned teachers who have been charting the education waters for many years, but as a celebration of the power of education to improve lives, not least her own, it is a highly enjoyable read.

This summer, Faber have reissued the memoir of Beryl Gilroy, the pioneering teacher who in 1969 became one of the UK’s first black headteachers. Black Teacher was first published in 1976 and charts Gilroy’s journey from teacher training college in British Guyana to her studies in Child Development at the University of London in the 1950s. With good humour and armed with her intellect, tenacity and a desire to break into an education system that tries hard to exclude her because of the colour of her skin, she vividly records her own career and details with affection the lives of children in her care. Gilroy values education in its broadest sense and shows how important her role was in helping and supporting the individual child to navigate, often culturally as well as economically, impoverished lives. With a foreword to this re-issue by Bernardine Evaristo, this is an entertaining and inspiring read. This book highlights the barriers that post-war immigrants to the UK had to overcome and shows off Gilroy’s strength in doing this but also confirms her place as an important writer of the 1970s and 80s. She wrote several novels as well as poetry and essays and titles in the Nippers reading scheme, one of the first series of books for children that explored multiracial perspectives.  

Equally inspiring is Kate Clanchy’s Orwell Prize-winning memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me. Not strictly new this year, the paperback appeared in 2020, but it’s a brilliant book and brings together some of the themes explored in Kellaway and Gilroy’s memoirs (both published in hardback this summer). Award-winning poet Clanchy’s book is political, strident, moving, loving and celebratory. It tells the stories of pupils she has taught during her long career as an English teacher and how creativity, and in particular poetry, can make a difference to a life. In her clear and beautiful prose, Clanchy celebrates the cadences, rhythms and language of verse which a rich cast of students from a wide range of backgrounds and countries create. Punctuated with views on society and education policy more specifically, this memoir proves why not only Clancy herself is an award-winning writer, but why her poetic protégés are too.

All three books celebrate the power and importance of education: passionate, funny and ultimately uplifting stories to vindicate the work that teachers do. These are the perfect gifts for the non-teachers in your lives too to show them that what you do really can change lives for the better. They are equally recommended to staff in the Department of Education – let’s hope they might pack them for their summer holidays as they consider teacher recruitment, retention and pay.

If you are looking to escape the classroom completely this summer, we have some recommended reads in next week’s blog, which will transport you to other places, whether you are sprawled on a sofa at home or lucky enough to have secured a holiday cottage along the British coast.