Take it as read
From textbooks to Christmas classics, the books teachers will be taking to the pool
Teachers’ summer holiday book choices revealed in Tes poll
FOR SOME teachers, this summer’s poolside reading includes such page-turners as The A Level Mindset and the AQA A-level biology textbook. For others, nothing says “height of summer” quite like Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol.
And then there are those who take a more conventional path, loading their suitcases with blockbusters by James Patterson, Lee Child and Jodi Picoult.
A snap poll by Tes reveals that some teachers clearly have an idiosyncratic definition of poolside reading. More than half – 55 per cent – of the those who responded will be reading books about education during the summer holiday. And even more – 60 per cent – will be reading books related to their subject.
“Wow,” says Gemma Moss, director of the International Literacy Centre at the UCL Institute of Education. “I’m deeply impressed. They’re not taking much time off.
“I think it’s probably to do with the lack of space and time to reflect during the school year, and the need to think seriously about the issues that are facing them. It’s about not just churning out exam grades – they need to be able to think reflectively as well.”
Moss believes that the choice of education theory as holiday reading may also reflect the increasing trend for on-the-job teacher training. “You have more staff now who aren’t well prepared – who haven’t come up through the university route,” she says. “And therefore they are doing the reading in their own time.”
Even so, many teachers are still planning to unwind with a novel. The most popular genre by far – accounting for a quarter of the vote – is thriller-mystery, with several teachers naming Lee Child and James Patterson as their sun-lounger authors of choice.
“I find it really encouraging that people are reading for relaxation and recreation,” says Mick Connell, of the National Association for the Teaching of English. “It reflects what we actually do as enthusiastic readers – we’re sluttish, aren’t we? We engage with anything in front of us.
“We don’t always have to be reading stuff that tests us, or stretches us, or improves us. There are times when we just want to be wrapped up in a story.”
The second most popular genre, named by nearly one in five teachers, is literary fiction. Awards have clearly had an influence on choices here: Naomi Alderman’s Baileys prize-winning novel, The Power, is on a large number of teachers’ holiday reading lists, as is The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, named book of the year by bookseller Waterstones. And Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fantasy, The Handmaid’s Tale, is accompanying several teachers on holiday, presumably because of its recent adaptation as a TV series, which has been appearing on Channel 4.
“That’s the watercooler stuff,” says Moss. “That’s what the well-read young person is
reading. It just shows they’re keeping their horizons open, culturally. They want to keep up with what’s worth thinking about.”
Some literary choices, however, are more unexpected: several of the 267 teachers who responded to the survey list A Christmas Carol as their beachfront novel of choice. This presumably has more to do with its presence on the GCSE curriculum than a desire to offset the drearily damp British summer by reading a book set in winter.
“That’s real swot stuff,” says Moss. “I refuse to believe they’re reading A Christmas Carol for pleasure. It’s not Dickens at his best.”
Many teachers plan to unwind in a more traditional holiday manner: with a doorstep biography. Twenty-two per cent of respondents said they would take a biography or autobiography on holiday, including comedian Eddie Izzard’s Believe Me and Lion by former lost orphan Saroo Brierley.
And 18.5 per cent are opting for historical non-fiction, with titles including This is London by Ben Judah and A History of the World by Andrew Marr.
Historical fiction (16 per cent) and romance (12 per cent) are also popular among those surveyed, with sci-fi lagging behind (8 per cent). Even fewer are interested in short stories (4 per cent), poetry (3 per cent) and horror fiction (3 per cent).
The 9 per cent who have said that they are reading other types of fiction include those who are keeping up with the latest children’s and young-adult novels.
“The teachers I’ve worked with like to be able to recommend books to children,” says James Bowen, director of leadership-training organisation NAHT Edge. “To say, ‘I’ve read it and I think you’ll like it’.
“You’re always on the lookout for things you can use in the classroom: ‘I could use this in a writing session’ or ‘I could do a reading session based on this book’. Plus there’s some fantastic children’s literature out there that speaks as well to adults as it does to children.”
Meanwhile, any classroom fans of Fifty Shades of Grey are keeping their predilections well hidden: only 0.6 per cent of respondents admit to taking erotica with them on holiday.
But Connell insists that any reading at all – no matter how dubious its literary merits may be – sets a good example for pupils. “Kids can leave a lesson thinking, ‘Ooh, Miss is mad about books. She’s always on about them,’” he says.
“Teachers can surreptitiously slip across the idea that it’s quite normal for people to read for pleasure.”