Tuesday 8 June 2021

The School by Brendan James Murray - a brief review

I was fortunate enough to be sent a copy of The School by the author owing to retweeting his promotional tweet. A review wasn’t part of the deal but here it is.

Like the author, I've worked with many children, although my relationships with them were usually far more fleeting than a teacher’s and I’ve worked with very many teachers. Teachers of varying age and length of time in the profession, teachers of different subjects, they had one thing in common – a voice problem! Hence my sessions with them.

As we talked about the factors contributing to their voice issues, I got to know the frustrations and the stresses that many of them encountered, whether from pupils or the system (more often the latter) but sometimes I was lucky enough to hear the joys too. The latter were nearly all from the teachers who obviously loved teaching, were passionate about their responsibility to their pupils and, it seemed to me, were the most effective teachers, good teachers. Sadly, I couldn’t say that about them all. 

Brendan James Murray is one of those passionate teachers. (Hopefully without a voice problem.) He listens to his pupils, endeavours to understand why those who demonstrate challenging behaviours do so. He aims to encourage not only an understanding of literature (his subject) or even a love of literature but learning about emotions and life. 

His writing is beautiful – often poetic prose – as he recounts the stories of some of his students and the significant lessons he has learned from them as well as those he has imparted, or tried to impart, to them. He looks back to his own schooldays to inform how he teaches. 

The reader shares the journeys some of his students made through an education system that is baffling to me (being from the UK) and frustrating in its inequalities for many of its teachers and students. Many students came from families who had their own struggles. Some students were to face difficulties most young people never even need to think about and as I read, I desperately wanted the best for all of them.

Many schools have fantastic resources but the best resource is inspired and inspiring teachers. The School has several. That some students recognised this was demonstrated by their arranging for their favourite teacher’s favourite author to phone him! (You’ll have to read the book to find out who it was.)

The School is a book I didn’t want to put down but neither did I want to race through it – as it deserved time and thought. Brendan James Murray’s writing is a joy to read. The School taught me something, made me think, made me laugh and made me cry which is about as good as a book can get.