A slight rant over ‘Textbooks’ which I love*

“…a book that contains detailed information about a subject for people who are studying that subject”

1 I once wrote a Chemistry textbook – with two other great Chemistry teachers –


Our Foundation level textbook

not examiners, not academics just plain Chemistry teachers. It was for the so-called less able or foundation GCSE pupils, labels I use but intensely dislike and I learned a lot win writing it and it was a fantastic challenge to help lots of pupils access our subject – especially those who find it hard – which is nearly everyone. It didn’t make us a fortune, schools bought lots of texts for the more able ( have a copy at home have a copy in school etc, but this was for the less able who were in small groups and often weren’t allowed to take a book home).


2 I love textbooks because

  • I learnt most of my Chemistry from one with help from an inspiring teacher and in other subjects I learnt most from textbooks without an inspiring teacher. At University the textbook was often my only hope as the stuff was so difficult – even the textbooks were a hard read ( check out Peter Atkins Physical Chemistry)


    Given to me as a school prize in third year (Y9)

  • We had few books at home, my Father took me weekly to the library, so once I could afford my own books including textbooks I was relieved.








  • I relied upon textbooks when I started teaching. In school in the 1980’s textbooks were second only to colleagues. However you entered the curious place we call a classroom with a piece of chalk and a textbooks. Occasional worksheets  off a  banda, occasional tests and exams from the gestetner and if you were in a rich school you had an OHP but probably very little acetate to write on.

3 But it’s the 21st Century and whilst some of this is still true for learners and teachers other stuff has changed:

  • Governments have interfered ( for good or bad depending on your view) endlessly to adjust content and assessment of our world of teaching. Content has gone new stuff has come in. We need the next book almost every few years. I loved teaching Salters’Chemistry, we had 5 versions of the textbook in 15 years!
  • Books were relatively expensive, they now feel very expensive a typical GCSE text costs £28 to £20 and an A Level costs up to £40. Budgets are tight and heads and governors must look in those cupboards and on shelves and see texts from recent years many apparently only gathering dust. Libraries friends use libraries


    Versions two and four of my favourite text BUT 5 versions in 15 years = £££

  • There was a change form a textbook to a course book. Often written and produced by examiners or exam boards (don’t mention Pearson!). “Buy this to pass an exam< get an A*” not buy this read, learn and inwardly digest to enjoy your learning and increase your understanding.
  • No texts at all – some subjects with smaller numbers of entries didn’t get support with a text. that included A Level SCience courses and BTecs. One thing I learned when writing was just how expensive books are to produce: Licences for photos, commissioning graphics let alone writing, checking, proof reading etc. Our book retailed at £12.00 in the mid 90’s and we got 30p a copy each in royalty.
  • Revision books. I used to like them, bring them out in the late end of a Spring term and help with revising but now students seem to buy them day 1 and  look for shortcuts. A bit like doing past papers from day 1 – some teachers who like that might do themselves out of work.

4 Rich resource. My subject has come to life in the advent of the internet.

  •  I love those little video animations, I tried to do them on paper or OHP but now we can animate gas behaviour and do things unimaginable in a school classroom. Chemistry modelling, molecular graphics, not jelly babies and cocktail sticks.
  • We have projectors and screens to show video, and clips just a few minutes worth. Back in the day I booked the video room, wound the video to the right place and hoped it might work – justifying the lesson time lost, it needed to be a very impressive video. ( fav = the periodic table of the element: Sheep are wonderful chemists, they turn grass into wool, grass into milk, even grass into new sheep.)
  • We have the ability to show worksheets, powerpoint etc We can share worksheets, adjust and edit for the next time we use them. We can upload to a learning platform  and share with students. We can share with colleagues in school and in other schools and…around the world.
  • We can find blogs and stories and frontier Chemistry. Wonderful enriching which an old book just couldn’t do.
  • We can tweet and facebook people across the globe in groups and networks who understand our subject and get discussions and answers, and problems solved and catalyse further work – there I said it without suggesting ‘google search’

5 I’m a professional get me out of here. Please please please don’t tell me how to teach my subject unless you are a Chemist or a teacher and preferably a Chemistry teacher. Of course I am reading and researching – I read your papers and glean help, I read your articles and go to teach meets I pick up ideas, BUT it’s me in the classroom and I think I am pretty professionally good at knowing what works and what doesn’t. Let me choose, don’t dictate to me (ONLY this way). If there is a good text I can use believe me I will but even so I might do an experiment with my class, show a demonstration, send them some reading. That’s what we love about teaching and it really is what will attract good people in, autonomy and professionalism, not some dogmatic ” must do this” whoever you are and however well-intentioned telling me my job ( SoS, Ofsted, Governor, headteacher…)

and you know what, these are tools, great tools to pass on knowledge and skills but beyond the textbook is the relationship between pupil and teacher – thats what might need looking at……..right rant over.

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