Being a teacher – a book review

      Comments Off on Being a teacher – a book review

This book came into my life at a time when I felt lost. I wasn’t sure what I wanted my career to look like in the future, although I knew I did not want to leave education. Reading the book raised many questions about me as an educator and at the same time, it reminded me why I decided to become a teacher in the first place. Reading the stories and doing the reflection tasks helped me find myself again and regain my passion for education.

Being a teacher by Cooker, Cotton and Toft (2018) is a book for teachers about teachers from teachers. The book promises to engage educators with an insight into international education and to be ‘an essential read for anyone embarking on a teaching career within the international education market’. The writers deliver on their promise by providing that insight through their own personal narratives as well as other educators’ stories.

The three authors met while working on the University of Nottingham’s PGCEi course in Bangkok. Lucy Cooker is the course leader of the PGCEi course, Tony Cotton is an educational consultant and writer, while Helen Toft is an accomplished educator with experience at the primary, secondary, and tertiary level. The fact that they are all educators makes them uniquely qualified to explore the topic of being a teacher.

At a glance

The book opens with a quote from Tony Cotton’s earlier work (Thinking about Teaching, 1998) as an explanation for the way the book is organised: our own educational experiences have a great impact on the way we teach. Being a teacher is organised into 4 main sections with 11 chapters in total. The format of the book is like a journal where each educator reflects on the central theme of the chapters. This is followed by a reflection section for the reader with some guiding questions. The reader is meant to use a ‘commonplace book’ in the fashion of Virginia Woolf to write notes while working their way through the book. Each theme is summed up with a visual by Eddy Walton.

Part 1

Part 1 is an introduction to the book, the authors and to the way they collaborated in writing this book. Other than the three lead authors, there are stories from six co-authors: Edward Emmett, Lisa Fernandes, Cassius Lubisi, Haana Sandy, Jarret Voytilla and Han Wei. They all add their own spice to the mix by telling the reader about their own unique experiences. These educators live and work all over the world in very different contexts, which makes their reflections truly appealing to international educators.

The reflection questions help you acknowledge and perhaps even question who you are inside and outside of your classroom and what sort of influences have had an impact on you. The reader is prompted to reflect on what attributes they wish to instill in their learners while acknowledging the barriers to these. Listing out all that I am on paper was a powerful experience for me for many reasons. Most importantly because it made me realise that not only am I more than ‘just’ a teacher but being a teacher also makes me more.

Part 2

The second part focuses on the educators’ own learning experiences. Here you will find some deeply human stories, some of which might resonate with you on a personal level. I for one can relate to Lucy’s story about Miss Mills, who reminded me of my own maths teacher in high school. Chapter 4, My day in education, is an interesting read. It showcases the many-faceted nature of teaching and highlights the underlying similarities underneath the differences that arise from geographical location or type of workplace. It’s nice to be reminded that teachers everywhere have the same hopes and worries and care about their students the same way.

At the end of these chapters, the reader is invited to dig deep into their past learning experiences. Both the pretty and the ugly. It surprised me what strong feelings arose when I had to put these words on paper. Who knew that something that had happened on the first day of high school would still stir up such strong emotions. Reflecting on them made me realise how these stories have influenced my beliefs about education.

Part 3

Part 3 is titled Our experiences as teachers and gives an account of the author team’s reflections of their best lessons as well as their experience of observing others. This part of the book completes the arch of reflecting about our own learning and teaching. The focus here shifts from how the authors’ own experiences as learners have informed their teaching. They write about what it felt like to be able to teach somebody something new and how watching others teach contributed to their own practice.

This section highlights the importance of classroom observation for developmental purposes for both the observer and the observed. Unfortunately, this notion often gets sidelined in schools in my experience. Classroom observation is meant to be about more than just a quality check. When you have the privilege of watching someone teach, you have the chance to learn something from them. Teachers learn best from other teachers so observing or being observed by a colleague can be a mutually beneficial experience.

Part 4

The book closes with the author team’s vision for education, which is as uplifting as beautiful in its simplicity. The final chapter explores what makes somebody a global educator from the perspective of the outcome – an educated person. The authors set out to define an educated person through their skills. From there they deduce the kinds of skills and competencies such a person’s teacher requires.


The book promises to engage educators with an interest in international education and it delivers on its promise. The personal style of writing makes it easy to read; however, the journal-like nature and the prompting questions mean that you need to take your time with it. The personal accounts and reflections make the book enjoyable to read, while the reflection questions help the reader get to the bottom of their own beliefs about what it means to be a teacher. There is no point in rushing through this book, otherwise, you miss out on the meaningful parts. When you settle down to read Being a teacher, make sure you have that commonplace book at hand.


In conclusion, this is a title I highly recommend to in-service teachers as well as to those considering becoming teachers. Everyone with an interest in education will get something out of this book. Pre-service teachers will benefit from reading the stories of experienced educators and reflecting on their own beliefs before they form their own practice. In-service teachers, on the other hand, might enjoy challenging their existing views and reflecting on their own practice. Written and contributed to by experienced educational professionals, it also inspires teachers by celebrating the best this profession offers. Get your copy and start reading!

Sign up to receive newsletters from me.

About Adri

My name is Adri. I am an experienced English Language Teacher and academic manager with a passion for transforming education. A life-long student and a reflective classroom practitioner, I actively look for ways to develop my skillset and help others do the same.