‘Hands Up!’ – Oenone Crossley-Holland
Dear Ms Crossley-Holland, I didn’t Oink at you yesterday but I do admit I did oink it was a private joke between me and Billie. Know I do Admitt I should not of been making noises so I am sorry for making noises but yeah as I said I am only sorry for making noises. From Chantelle
When Oenone Crossley-Holland started teaching at an inner city school in London, she had no idea what to expect. She just knew that there was no going back. She would have one of the most challenging and overwhelming years of her life, in which she would get involved in the lives of some wonderfully (and sometimes horrifyingly) exuberant students, and find herself tested to the limit. In this colorful and moving account, Oenone tells of the lows and unexpected highs of the sharper end of teaching. Will she make it through the year? Will she make it through another day? Hands Up! is for anyone who’s ever worked in a school or thought about teaching. It also gives a very clear answer to those who still believe that those who can’t do, teach.
Let me start with two health warnings: firstly don’t expect this to be a book of humorous anecdotes from a secondary school teacher; secondly, don’t attempt to read this if you happen to be in the profession or have an idea of what teaching is really like. The outcome? A tedious read that seemed to take far longer than a less than 300 page book should have done.
This book follows a secondary school English teacher who is training on the Teach First scheme which was in place several years ago. This was back when English curriculum was different both for Key Stage Three and GCSE. As such it makes the book a little bit more difficult to relate to, especially if you are newly qualified. Nonetheless, the trials and tribulations that Crossley-Holland faces are generic across the years and it certainly brought back memories for me from when I was in the teaching sector.
What I found most irritating was the fact that Crossley-Holland continues to moan about the amount of work required, the lack of time she has, and how tired she feels. Yet, on the flip side, she tends to spend most of the week-nights and weekends socialising and out late. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with this, but surely from a logical perspective she is simply making things worse for herself? If it is that difficult, don’t go out each night but instead spend the time doing some of this school work that you repeatedly hark on about. It is this which made me feel impatient to finish this book because I simply could not sympathise with someone who is not making things easier for herself.
The book’s chapters reflect the half terms of a school year. Within these chapters are breaks to show different episodes whilst Crossley-Holland is teaching. This definitely made it easier to dip in and out of but I do think it made the book feel like it was dragging on far longer than it actually was. On reflection I think this book is probably best enjoyed whilst read alongside something else. That way you don’t feel too committed to reading it, and just perhaps enjoy the anecdotes far more.
Although I haven’t read many other teaching books, I am sure there are far more enjoyable memoirs out there than ‘Hands Up!’ can offer. If you really want to have an insight into the teaching profession, you might want to give this a go. However, Crossley-Holland is simply irritating and I think there are better written examples on the shelves. Quite frankly I’m a bit disappointed I wasted time to read this and even now I think perhaps two stars is being a bit generous. On a final note, the author writes a column for a broadsheet newspaper so maybe her articles are far more interesting and enjoyable to read than this memoir.