Singre A J and the Hofstra New Teachers Network (2014) Teaching to Learn. Learning to Teach 2nd Edition. London: Routledge

233 pages Second edition  (first edition 2004)

This book is about learning to be a teacher and adopts a firmly integrated approach. It links theory with practice, knowledge with critical analysis, practicality with beliefs and values. It offers a model somewhat clumsily named PRO/CLASS to frame the chapters. PRO/CLASS stands for planning, relationships, organisation, community, leadership, assessment, support, struggle and each of these topics is the focus of a chapter. Chapters incorporate theory, practicalities of teaching and learning, individual teacher stories, reflective and critical analysis and strategies for coping and decision making about the kind of teacher the reader wishes to be. Teaching and learning are regarded as taking place in specific social and organizational contexts which must be understood by the teacher in order to work effectively. Relationships are held to be the vehicles within which teaching and learning take place and their establishment and nurturing are thus seen as highly important. Attention is thus given in the book to both contexts and relationships, a welcome relief from more technicist models of teaching which may reflect (or report) the policy context but give little credence to the human side of teaching. While the topics chosen do not fully cover all demands on new teachers they do offer a thoughtful way of considering issues. There is reference in the book to State standards, updated for this second edition  along with other updated material reflecting changes in the educational environment.

The initial theory presented draws directly on key educational philosophers including Dewey, Friere and Septima Clark. Their ideas and those of others are used to show how thinking on teaching and learning has developed. These are combined with the direct reflections of second career teachers on their own school and teaching experiences.  The book then moves on to specifics of planning different types of lessons, followed by a short contextualizing chapter on relationships  which argues that building effective collaborative relationships with students is key to improving learning. Again the argument is supported by detail derived from real situations, coupled with practical suggestions and strategies. The chapter on organization considers how both classrooms and schools are organised , the role of the teacher as a potential change agent and participant in the school, the importance of establishing and maintaining boundaries  in the classroom and raises issues and offer strategies for working with other adults in the classroom. The chapters all raise issues of beliefs, values and goals, give clear examples which feed reflection and emphasise the diversity of teaching challenges and of strategies which may address them. There is a strong emphasis on the development of personalised practice which is congruent with one’s own beliefs and in participation beyond the classroom. Singer identifies himself as an activist and he encourages teachers to develop as activist professionals (Sachs,2000), to question how things are done in schools and to promote change.

This book is written for student and beginning teachers. It is peppered with concrete examples  and questions for reflection which are encouraged to be conversations rather than individual ruminations. Sharing ideas and experiences and arguing about meaning and values are central to the book. It is thought provoking and correctly named a handbook. It is practical enough to offer suggestions for strategies to try while also offering theory and principles to underpin developments in practice. It addresses some key issues in teachers’ practice:  planning, class management, assessment, evaluation and gives due weight to the need to recognize diverse learning needs and contexts. In covering such a broad field it inevitably is selective and gives less space to some  issues, for example about understanding the processes of learning, the impact of peers in classrooms, the changing need of beginning teachers as challenges are recognized and attempts made to address them. However as an encouragement to positive thinking, exploration and experimentation in teaching and active participation in the education system it does its work very well. This is no catalogue of tips for teachers with an underlying presumption that one size fits all, instead it is a book that offers challenges for the thinking teacher.

Sachs, J. (2000) The Activist Professional. Journal of Educational Change,1, 1, pp 77–94.

Janet Draper, (Adjunct) Professor of Education, Hong Kong Baptist University