The Passionate Teacher

Robert L. Fried, The Passionate Teacher: A Practical Guide, Beacon Press 2001, 318 pages, ISBN 0-8070-3143-7, paperback

“passion is not just a personality trait that some people have and others lack, but rather something discoverable, teachable and reproducible, even when the regularities of school life gang up against it.” (Fried p6)

This book addresses the heart of what good teaching is and could be and resounds with the message that 'passion' is essential to education. The Passionate Teacher is one of two books by Fried that deal with this issue, the other being The Passionate Learner. It takes a welcomingly optimistic view that passionate teaching of the kind that is examined can and must occur regardless of the many stresses and strains that come hand in hand with the job of teaching. The anecdotes about passionate teachers within the book are not meant to be isolated incidents but incentives for others to create these types of experiences within their own classes. It is both a philosophical and instructional book, thereby empowering its readers to not only be inspired by its message but to attempt the teaching methods that it covers with relative ease.

The book is split into five main parts, together with a forward and prelude. In these sections, Fried firstly analyses what passion actually is, before going on to look at how it can be included within school life and the modifications which may be required in teaching styles and the curriculum.

Fried touches on how passionate teachers care about their relationships with children, the subject they teach, the pupils' knowledge and ideas, their own commitment to being learners as well as teachers. Of course, teachers already know how important these areas are, but this book suggests that if a teacher's commitment is great enough, she or he may need to try different techniques even if they are quite radical. For example, if a teacher has a passion for getting to the heart of his or her subject, is covering the whole curriculum as set down by QCA or a school's medium term plan going to help the children really understand the subject, or will it just result in them learning a number of facts which they subsequently forget? The book gives valuable ideas about how we can teach units with far greater long term effects, although some of the suggestions would require us to be flexible in expectations that many of us take for granted; such as that all children will roughly cover the same material when studying a unit.

A teacher can be passionate in many areas but, as this book acknowledges, it must not be overshadowed by the 'game' of school. Controlling noise levels in class, taking the register and other such actions are daily jobs and not always conducive to passionate teaching.

Although this is a useful book, it is based on the American education system, so some of its suggestions and anecdotes are not always totally relevant. In addition, as a primary teacher I would have to tailor a certain number of Fried's ideas which are sometimes more suited to older children. However, this book has a great number of strengths. It turns passionate teaching from an almost 'pie in the sky' idea to something that is distinctly do-able'. For example, Fried shows how to introduce it gradually so that you do not become overwhelmed by so many new ideas. It presents a challenge which is a little frightening, but ultimately exciting and should help some people to be the sort of teachers that they had their heart set on becoming before having 'their spirits dampened' (Fried p20). After reading this book, I can't wait to get started!

Reviewed by Julia Diamond, Newbury Park Primary School, Redbridge

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