Must Try Harder - by Daniel Ken

Must Try Harder is a book about teaching, written by a classroom teacher and based on his experiences of the madness that accompanies, and increasingly conspires to destroy, what should be a wonderful profession. Obviously, names, genders and locations have been changed to protect the often less-than-innocent, but his experience as a teacher in a Bog Standard secondary school is distilled into the 300+ pages of madcap mayhem and occasional moments of pedagogical bliss. 

Must Try Harder by Daniel Ken, supply teacherAs the blurb puts it:

“Eight years after the events described in the his previous book, Bog Standard, the old Technology College has been demolished and in its place is the brand new £150million William Edward Arnott Learning Village, complete with primary-colored open-plan learning areas, glossy wall-photographs of radiant children and an ‘integrated e-learning package’.

Problem is, while the name may have changed, and the walls are now made of plasterboard rather than asbestos, the students are still as crazy as ever, the paperwork, exam-scams and Ofsted-obsessions have multiplied on a geometric scale, the Wunderkind Deputy Head has introduced a whole new teaching system, and the school is now run by a new generation of Stepford teachers.

Daniel Ken, former blogger and committed classroom teacher finds that, if he is even to survive in this brand new teaching arena, he Must Try Harder.”

Despite the experiences he recounts, Daniel Ken’s view of teaching is humorous, wry and filled with the joy of educating young people - the endless surprises, challenges and occasional mishaps more than outweigh the target-obsessed, Ofsted-crazed, manage-by-powerpoint world that exists right outside the classroom door, always threatening to walk in unannounced, armed with a clipboard and a ticky-box sheet, determined to spoil everything. Because the bottom line is that education is about relationships, and those can’t be measured on a checklist. And the purpose of education is to educate, not to accumulate data, not to please Ofsted, and not to adhere to spurious graphs devised by people who don’t teach.

Must Try Harder is about the reality of teaching: the joys, the frustrations and the ever-expanding workload. And it’s about the students too, those raucous, rambunctious, rabelaisian characters who appear at the classroom door every time the bell rings, ready to cause havoc if they can, or learn if they must, and who always seem to know more, and care less, about what’s going on than the staff ever will.

So if you love teaching, or if you just wonder what teachers get up to when they’re not enjoying their endless holidays, you’ll recognize the spirit of this book and hopefully you’ll enjoy it – but if you’re a government education minister looking for easy answers, in the words of Obi Wan Kenobi, this is not the droid you’re looking for.

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