The Secret Teacher – an anonymous but authentic look at school life through the early years of a career

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This is an anonymous book. A teacher in an unnamed school tells it like it really was, hence the fact that there are no real identifying details. With an impressive combination of humour, pathos and reality, this is a book offering genuine insights into life in a school. The characters in the classroom are challenging and entirely realistic, representing all types of school student in depth, not just the clever and the difficult, a good cross section of the characters a teacher would encounter. The teacher starts with dreams and aspirations for transforming lives, or at least delivering brilliant lessons which excited and challenged everyone. As might be expected, for more than one class that does not transpire. Such is the nature of the book that the challenges do not only just come from the students; sometimes other teachers, including the senior management team, make life difficult. The language used by the students can sometimes be a little fruity, sometimes just bewildering, and in recognition of this there is even a glossary of words and phrases included in the book.  Many familiar situations arise; using the wrong marker on the interactive white board, asking questions that no one will admit to knowing the sensible answer, students reacting noisy when they spot a teacher outside school. Most teachers know the way strange ideas are past down from on high, as when every class must include reference to “British Values”. The technological challenges are there, when the staff computer refuses to work properly, when detailed lesson plans disappear, when a classroom of computer using students will not cooperate. Parents want the best for their children, or just want a peaceful life. Some students are ambitious, some students just switch off, especially if home circumstances conspire against them.

As a teacher myself, I really enjoyed this less than respectful, sometimes painfully funny view from the classroom.


The book begins with the teacher starting his career as a Newly Qualified Teacher in a mixed school which includes some older staff, full of the quirks and habits of the long established. Our hero does not go in without ideas; post it notes for plenary activities, experience of a challenging placement, an awareness of what other NQTs really meant by their confident chat. As the book progresses his confidence ebbs and flows as an inspiring lesson is followed by one where no one listens, where the behaviour enforcement team is permanently present. Observation lessons are recalled in perfect, horrendous detail, but the solidarity of the staff in times of crisis is real. The social life of teachers is explored, as alcohol is taken but no grudges taken. New time tables, new school years and new classes present new challenges but also fresh rewards. A highlight of the book is a school trip to Oxford, where assumptions are made about a certain group of students, which are thoroughly overturned among the dreaming spires. The humour of a situation involving favourite students out in the world is brilliantly written. Well written, well paced and always interesting, I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in what really goes on in classrooms. 


As students work their way through the school and other teachers leave or move on, conflicts and opportunities come and go. This is a painfully funny, completely authentic memoir of teaching in the twenty first century with all its challenges and rewards. The teacher begins by thinking that this is the best career in the world, and while there are some difficult moments, he discovers that it is really rewarding, always challenging, and rarely boring.    


I happened to buy and read this book when on a trip to Oxford, and I found it entertaining when the weather meant that I did not really feel like wandering around seeing the sights. It has been some time since I taught in a classroom, but I recognised the situations described with powerful humour. It is so truthful, as the writer comes to realise that he cannot succeed with every student, but must try just the same. A genuinely entertaining book, I really appreciated it  in so many ways.