Teaching is a complex activity and is both an art and a science. In Learning to Teach in the Secondary School, 6th edition, we show that there are certain essential elements of teaching that you can master through practice and that help you become an effective teacher.


The book introduces the professional knowledge and skills required by teachers, including general principles of effective teaching. The book is backed up by subject specific and practical texts (Learning to Teach X Subject in the Secondary School and A Practical Guide to Teaching X Subject in the Secondary School) in the Learning to Teach in the Secondary School series by the same editors and by Readings for Learning to Teach in the Secondary School: A Companion to M Level Study. The reader provides extension reading around key areas of professional knowledge underpinning teaching.

Teaching is a complex activity and is both an art and a science. In this book we show that there are certain essential elements of teaching that you can master through practice and that help you become an effective teacher. An effective teacher is one who can integrate theory with practice, use evidence to underpin their professional judgement and use structured reflection to improve practice. An effective teacher is also comfortable in the presence of young people and is interested in them as individuals as well as learners. An effective teacher motivates and encourages pupils by planning interesting lessons, and links their teaching to the lives of pupils. Part of being effective is to respect your pupils and in turn earn their respect, not only through the skills mentioned but by maintaining firm but fair discipline.

However, there is no one correct way of teaching, no one specific set of skills, techniques and procedures that you must master and apply mechanically. This is, in part, because your pupils are all different and each day brings a new context in which they operate. Every teacher is an individual and brings something of their own unique personality to the job and their interactions with pupils. We hope that this book helps you to develop skills, techniques and procedures appropriate for your individual personality and style and provides you with an entry to ways of understanding what you do and see that you can bring together into an effective whole. We also hope that the text provides the stimulus for you to want to continue to learn and develop throughout your career as a teacher.

Developing your Philosophy of Teaching

On your initial teacher education (ITE) course much of your time is spent in school. You can expect your ITE course not merely to provide training but also to introduce you to wider educational issues. What we mean by this is that ITE is not an apprenticeship but a step on the journey of personal development in which your teaching skills develop alongside an emerging understanding of the teaching and learning process and the education system in which it operates. This is a journey of discovery that begins on the first day of your course and may stop only when you retire. Teachers are expected to undertake further professional development throughout their career. Thus, we use the term initial teacher education rather than initial teacher training throughout this book

The school-based element of your course provides the opportunity to appreciate at first hand the complex, exciting and contradictory events of classroom interactions without the immediacy of having to teach all the time. It should allow you time, both in the classroom and the wider school to make sense of experiences that demand explanations. Providing such explanations requires you to have a theory of teaching and learning.

By means of an organised ITE course that provides for structured observation, practical experience and reflective activity suitably interwoven with theoretical inputs and evidence, you begin to develop your own theory of teaching and learning which is embedded in practice.

Theoretical inputs and evidence to underpin practice can come from a range of sources including tutors and teachers, lectures and print- and web-based resources. Theory also arises from practice, the better to inform and develop practice. Everyone who teaches has a theory of how to teach effectively and of how pupils learn. The theory may be implicit in what the teacher does and teachers may not be able to tell you what their theory is. For example, a teacher who is a disciplinarian is likely to have a different theory about the conditions for learning than a teacher who is liberal in their teaching style. Likewise, some teachers may feel that they do not have a philosophy of education. What these teachers are really saying is that they have not examined their views, or cannot articulate them. What is your philosophy? For example, do you consider that your job is to transfer the knowledge of your subject to pupils? Or are you there to lead them through its main features? Are you ‘filling empty vessels’ or are you the guide on a ‘voyage of discovery’? On the other hand, perhaps you are the potter, shaping and moulding pupils.

It is recognised that an ITE course only enables you to start developing your own personal understanding of the teaching and learning process. There are a number of different theories about teaching and learning. You need to be aware of what these are, reflect on them and consider how they help you to explain more fully what you are trying to do and why. Through the process of theorising about what you are doing, reflecting on a range of other theories as well as your own, and drawing on the evidence base, you understand your practice better and develop into a reflective practitioner, that is, a teacher who makes conscious decisions about teaching strategies to employ and who modifies their practice in the light of experiences.

An articulated, conscious philosophy of teaching emerges only if a particular set of habits is developed, in particular, the habit of reviewing your own teaching from time to time. It is these habits that need to be developed from the start of your ITE course. This is what many authors mean when they refer to ‘the reflective practitioner’. This is why we (as well as your course tutors) ask you to evaluate your own teaching, to keep a diary of your evaluations (reflective practice), a folder of your lesson plans and other material to develop a professional development portfolio (PDP) to record your development and carry that forward from your ITE course to your first post. Many higher education institutions now expect student teachers to develop their PDP or equivalent as an e-portfolio. If you are learning to teach in England you are required to compile a self-evaluation tool which includes reflection and evidence.

Structure of the book

The book is laid out so that elements of appropriate background information and theory along with evidence from research and practice introduce each topic. These are interwoven with tasks designed to help you identify key features of the topic.

A number of different enquiry methods are used to generate data, e.g. reflecting on reading and observation or on an activity you are asked to carry out, asking questions, gathering data, discussing with a tutor or another student teacher. Some of the tasks involve you in activities that impinge on other people; for example, observing a teacher in the classroom, or asking for information. If a task requires you to do this, you must first of all seek permission of the person concerned. Remember that you are a guest in school(s); you cannot walk into any teacher’s classroom to observe. In addition, some information may be personal or sensitive and you need to consider issues of confidentiality and professional behaviour in your enquiries and reporting.

This text is written primarily for student teachers, but should also be valuable to teachers in their early years of teaching. An appendix on writing and reflection is included to help you with the written assignments on your ITE course. It also provides advice for you in undertaking the kind of action research project which could lead to M level accreditation. A glossary of terms is also included to help you interpret the jargon of education.

We call school children pupils to avoid confusion with students, by which we mean people in further and higher education. We refer to those learning to teach as student teachers. The important staff in your life are those in school and higher education institution; we have called all these people tutors. Your institution will have its own way of referring to staff.

Meeting the requirements of your course

The range and type of requirements (standards) you are expected to meet during your ITE course have been derived from those for all student teachers in the country in which you are learning to teach. The units in this book are designed to help you work towards meeting these requirements. Your tutors in school and in your institution help you meet the requirements for your course. At appropriate points in the text you should relate the work directly to the specific requirements for your ITE course. Many student teachers are on programmes which provide accreditation towards a Masters degree which can be completed through further research and study focused on the workplace in your early years of teaching. The content of this book, some of the tasks, further readings and the reader, together with the extra materials on the website, are intended to support M level work within your initial teacher education (ITE) course. In this book, we use the symbol shown on the left to denote tasks which can be designed to meet the requirements of M level work but it is up to your tutors to design assignment titles which meet the requirements of the higher education institution with which you are registered. Once you have qualified as a teacher, M level and Doctorate in Education programmes are designed to support your further professional development through research, reflection and wider reading.

Reflective practice and your professional development portfolio (PDP)

As you read through the book, undertake other readings, complete the tasks and undertake other activities as part of your course, we suggest you keep a professional development portfolio (PDP).

You may want to keep a diary of reflective practice to record your reactions to, and reflections on, events, both good and bad, as a way of letting off steam! It enables you to analyse strengths and areas for development, hopes for the future, and elements of your emerging personal philosophy of teaching and learning.

Your PDP holds a selective record of your development as a teacher, your strengths as well as areas for further development, and is something that you continue to develop throughout your teaching career. It is likely that your institution has a set format for a PDP. If not, you should develop your own. You can use any format and include any evidence you think appropriate. However, to be truly beneficial, it should contain evidence beyond the minimum required for your course. This further evidence could include, for example, work of value to you, a response to significant events, extracts from your diary of reflective practice, good lesson plans, evaluations of lessons, teaching reports, observations on you made by teachers, outcomes of tasks undertaken, assessed and non-assessed coursework.

At the end of your course you can use your PDP to evaluate your learning and achievements. It is also used as the basis for completing applications for your first post; and to take to interview. It can form the basis of a personal statement describing aspects of your development as a teacher during your course. Your PDP could include teaching reports written by teachers, tutors and yourself. It can also help provide the basis of your continuing professional development (CPD) as it enables you to identify aspects of your work in need of development and thus targets for induction and CPD in your first post, first through your self-evaluation tool if you are learning to teach in England, then as part of the appraisal process you will be involved with as a teacher.

Ways you might like to use this book

With much (or all) of your course being delivered in school, you may have limited access to a library, to other student teachers with whom to discuss problems and issues at the end of the school day and, in some instances, limited access to a tutor to whom you can refer. There are likely to be times when you are faced with a problem in school which has not been addressed up to that point within your course and you need some help immediately, for example before facing a class the next day or next week. This book is designed to help you address some of the issues or difficulties you are faced with during your ITE course, by providing supporting knowledge interspersed with a range of tasks to enable you to link theory with practice.

The book can be used in a number of ways. You should use it alongside your course handbook, which outlines specific course requirements, agreed ways of working, roles and responsibilities. It is designed more for you to dip in and out of, to look up a specific problem or issue that you want to consider, rather than for you to read from cover to cover (although you may want to use it in both ways, of course). You can use it on your own as it provides background information and supporting theory along with evidence from research and practice about a range of issues you are likely to face during your ITE course. Reflecting on an issue faced in school with greater understanding of evidence of what others have written and said about it, alongside undertaking some of the associated tasks, may help you to identify some potential solutions. The book can also be used for collaborative work with other student teachers or your tutors. The tasks are an integral part of the book and you can complete most individually. Most tasks do, however, benefit from wider discussion, which we encourage you to do whenever possible. However, some tasks can be carried out only with other student teachers and/or with the support of a tutor. You should select those tasks that are appropriate to your circumstances.

This book will not suffice alone; we have attempted to provide you with guidance to further reading by two methods: first, by references to print and web-based material in the text, the details of which appear in the references; second, by further readings and relevant websites at the end of each unit.

There is much educational material on the Internet. Government and subject association websites are useful. However, there are many others. Useful websites are listed in each unit in the book. The website which accompanies this text includes further information and links to useful websites. It also contains several chapters, including ‘Managing yourself and your workload’ and ‘Using research and evidence to inform your teaching’, from the text Starting to Teach in the Secondary School (Capel, Heilbronn, Leask and Turner, 2004), which support material in this text and were written specifically to support newly qualified teachers. We suggest you keep a record of useful websites in your PDP.

If you see each unit as potentially an open door leading to whole new worlds of thought about how societies can best educate their children, then you have achieved one of our goals: that is, to provide you with a guidebook on your journey of discovery about teaching and learning. Remember, teaching is about the contribution you make to your pupils, to their development and their learning and to the well-being of society through the education of our young people.

Finally, we hope that you find the book useful, and of support in school. If you like it, tell others; if not, tell us.