Thailand University Teacher Extraordinaire

The trials and tribulations of a young English teacher

Books Reviewed – The Skillful Teacher by Stephen Brookfield

on Wed,Jan,2011

After many months of reading nothing but fiction, I decided that the time had come to read something that would benefit my performance in the classroom. Wandering aimlessly through one of my university’s libraries, I stumbled across Brookfield’s The Skillful Teacher.

The book is divided into 14 chapters, which range from understanding students and the beliefs they bring into classrooms, to organizing effective lectures and discussions, to the politics of teaching and surviving emotionally.

My first impressions of the book were very positive. I dived right into Chapter 10 – Giving Helpful Evaluations, as I considered this to be one of my biggest weaknesses. As someone wiser than I once said, “to teach is to give feedback”. There are a myriad of tips and pointers in this chapter, many of which could immediately be applied to my craft.

Other chapters in the book that I consider to be strong are Chapter 13 – Dealing with the Politics of Teaching and Chapter 14 – Surviving Emotionally. Most other books on teaching that I have read tend to ignore the politics that go on in any institution, as if it is a dirty secret that should never be mentioned. Politics play a major role in teaching in Thailand. If you don’t win the hearts and minds of many of the Thai and international staff, you can find yourself out in the cold teaching horrible Thai program courses and no lucrative international program courses. The emotions that teachers experience also seems to be another topic that isn’t widely written about in textbooks. Chapter 14 seems to be more about reassurance rather than techniques that can be learned.

The book does have a few problems though. Many chapters seem padded. I almost had the feeling that Brookfield was being paid by the word when reading. Often, a point that could be made in one page is instead made in a dozen pages. At least two or three chapters could easily be cut by two thirds and combined into one stronger chapter.

Brookfield also has the habbit of repeating himself often. It seems as if not a chapter goes by without a mention of the importance of giving students Critical Incidence Questionnaires, or having students from previous years come into the class and spend an hour reassuring current students about the subject as the teacher departs from class. These are however minor gripes compared to the wealth of useful advice found inside the book.

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