Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?

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Pub Date 21 Jul 2020 | Archive Date 20 May 2020

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 A funny, life-affirming memoir, in diary form. Set in the manic world of a busy teacher, and based on real experiences, Fran Hill's account of one typical year shows it's not just the pupils who misbehave.

English teacher 'Miss' starts the Autumn term beleaguered by self-doubts. She's mid-menopause, insomniac, and Mirror and Bathroom Scales are blisteringly unsympathetic. Her pupils make her laugh, weep, fume and despair, often in the same lesson. Her unremitting workload blights family time and she feels guilty for missing church events to catch up on marking. After all, God-lady is watching. 

Meanwhile, the new Head of Department seems unreachable, an Ofsted inspection looms, her sixth formers (against school policy) insist on sitting in rows, and there's a school magazine to produce... 

When childhood secrets demand attention Miss doesn't want to give them, life gets complicated.

A funny, life-affirming memoir, in diary form. Set in the manic world of a busy teacher, and based on real experiences, Fran Hill's account of one typical year shows it's not just the pupils who...

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ISBN 9780281081998
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Featured Reviews

A laugh out loud, eye opening account of life in the classroom, and just what your little darlings get up at school as told by a teacher, who has great patience and humour in all situations. Well worth a read for those who have to home school their children recently and may have a new found respect for the job teachers do.

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All human life is here in this witty and touching memoir of one academic year in a teacher’s life. From the annoying headmaster to the supportive teaching assistant, from the fellow teacher always on the edge to the mysterious ailments of the Head of Department, I found plenty to keep me turning the pages.

I read the book in two days, resenting the household duties that tore me away. What is Camilla’s secret? Will Zak be OK? Can Sally find the strength to call it a day with Archie? How about the Goater? The author blends school life with home life, a supportive spouse, a bathroom mirror and scales who tell the author the Awful Truth every morning and her Bible study group, who learn about her back story at about the same rate as we the readers do.

There are many things to love about this book. For me, one of them was the delicate blend of humour, truth, characterisation and painful delving into the past. Several passages took me right back to places I haven’t been for a very long time. This is very clever writing.

Any teacher reading this book will be laughing wryly and nodding their head. Parents too will recognise much of the depiction of school life. It’s a great read and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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I received this book as an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I thank the publisher and author for this amazing opportunity.

I immediately requested this book when I saw the title because it hits so close to home. I work in education, and I swear I have had this exact phrase said to me about six billion times. I was very excited to pick it up, but I don't think this was quite what I was expecting. While I knew this memoir would be written in diary form, after a while the repetitiveness of it became quite dull after a while. I do understand that this repetitiveness is part of the position, and I do believe that it is quite a realistic look into teaching for not school-staff, but it started to blend with my actual existence and bore me a little bit. I also started to find the humour very annoying after a while — particularly in relation to Mirror and Scales. The constant mentions and repetition of negative body image started to bring forth my own insecurities about my appearance again, which was not a good thing for my already struggling mental health.

The issues with spirituality, being mid-menopause, and the age of the narrator did not achieve what they were supposed to with me as I am 19, so I don't believe that I was the target audience for this book in that sense. While I did grow up religious, I have some specific religious trauma to sort through personally, so this did not speak to me that much. In saying this, it did just feel like a natural part of life as opposed to a big deal, which I really appreciated.

In saying this, the main thing I appreciated about this book was the insights into actually dealing with these students on a daily basis. Monitoring them, watching them grow and develop, and deal with all the stresses that these fantastic young people face. There was a diverse range of students going through diverse struggles that are very realistic and worked really well from an educator's perspective. This is the success point for this book, in my opinion.

I believe that you would enjoy this book if you don't work in education and want a more realistic look into what teaching is actually like.

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A touching yet humorous look at a year in the life of a teacher. There's a good mix of work and home life which features Hill's battles with the mirror and scales as well as an upcoming Ofsted inspection. The only downside for me was the heavy focus on religion which detracted from the rest of the book somewhat.

An easy, honest and entertaining read.

Thanks to SPCK Publishing and NetGalley for the ARC.

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A good easy read with an interesting style of writing. I enjoy memoirs of various occupations and this one didn't disappoint.

Moments of funny, moments of reflection and moments of not niceness this is a book well worth a read

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This book gave me sleepless nights.

No, not nightmares. I struggled to put it down and go to bed because Fran Hill made me care about the characters.

Her memoir of a year teaching English in a British secondary school is by turns funny, poignant, and most of all honest. Her description of contemporary teaching in the State sector is one that I recognise from having several friends in the profession.

Written in diary form, 'Miss' struggles and also laughs with students, colleagues, family, and church. Clearly based on her own lived experience but with names and events suitably altered, amalgamated and fictionalised, this is a serious dose of reality with a smile on its face. And as such, it is a far better account of lived-out faith than the 'When I became a Christian, all my troubles went away' books.

Enthusiastically recommended.

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This year in a life of an English teacher in a secondary school is done on the form of a journal. She’s in her 50’s, menopausal with spots, a bit chunky round the middle,loves a drop or two of Baileys, totally overwhelmed with marking, the usual a mixture of students and there’s Ofsted looming following a rather poor report in the last inspection.

This is a very funny memoir which I chuckled my way through and much of it resonates as I’ve been there, done that and worn out the t-shirt! I laughed out loud at the heads unmotivational motivational speeches, the work avoider (trust me, there’s always at least one who has it down to a fine art), there’s always a Rebekah (very clever), a Zak who struggles and a León who surprises himself. There are some of the funny classroom situations she gets herself into and the conversations with her colleagues are fun too. The conversations with the mirror and the scales are especially funny. It’s full of humour throughout and some is very witty, clever and a bit snarky and I love the literary references. I wish she hasn’t reminded me of exam invigilation which is death by boredom - we used to count the bricks on the rear wall of the sports hall and never got the same number twice. What can we say about the hovering (or hoovering) presence of the inspectors? It’s almost a relief when they come, a bit like toothache. I really enjoyed the various plays on words the author gave to that venerable institution. However, what shines through all this is her sheer hard work, her absolute dedication to her job and her students , the hours and hours she put into marking which clearly made her the excellent teacher her colleagues declare her.

Overall, a very enjoyable read which reminds me why I used to loved my job especially the students, being in the classroom and the camaraderie and the things I didn’t like - Ofsted obviously, Forth Bridge marking, and blooming SIMS!!!!

Thanks to NetGalley and SPCK for a copy of the book.

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As an ex-school teacher myself, I'd been looking forward to reading this memoir based on the author's experience of teaching English in secondary schools. The diary format made it easy to read, meaning it would be a good book to dip in and out of...although I was so hooked that this wasn't an option!
The characters - both staff and pupils - are well-observed, and I frequently found myself sniggering at pupils' responses to lessons and homework. However, Fran Hill also manages to explore some of the darker aspects of school life. This is done with great sensitivity, so that I found myself really caring about the characters and how their stories unfolded.
I also liked the fact that Hill included snippets of her home life, so the reader gets to see how her career impacts on family and church relationships, and I was particularly moved by the way she used this as a mechanism to explore her own vulnerabilities.
Would definitely recommend this book!

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I love, love, love this book with all my heart. A kind of ‘Bridget Jones diary’, by a fifty-something English teacher, the memoir is tender, warm, honest and very, very funny. For me, a story which makes me laugh and cry, sometimes in the same paragraph, is bound to be a winner.

As a teacher, I could relate to that peculiar blend of frustration and passion which characterises the job. There are also many moments of humour in school and the way Fran Hill describes these had me (almost) longing for my old job back. Interactions with students and colleagues had me laughing out loud. Everything is there – the clever one, the quiet one, the attention seeking, the work shy. And that’s just the teachers.
As a human being, also in my ‘middling’ years I could totally relate to the bittersweet way in which the young can unwittingly cause us to look back. Hill gets the balance just right here. We are moved but not pitying, stirred but not sad We see how our own stab at ‘being young’, along with those who helped or hindered us, can impact our relationships.

I found the few mentions of faith intriguing. It is a rare thing to find a writer who speaks of it so naturally, so honestly, rather than as someone who has made better choices, and is a better person, than everyone else. Faith can be fragile and messy as well as sustaining. Less is definitely more here, and, in my opinion, Hill has got this just right.

I would heartily recommend the book. If you are a teacher, it will have you nodding with recognition. If not, it will open up a world which, for many reasons, is often shadowy and closed to those outside it. I envy you this read. I want to do it all over again, for the first time.

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This is a great book, which clearly shows how much work teachers put into their job, the amount that is expected from them and the amazing influence that they can have on young lives. It also demonstrates how painful experiences in early life can shape a future but can also be used for good.

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I received a copy of this book as an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This book is a memoir set out as different diary entires which cover an entire school year. There is mixture of work and home life which cover the author's battles of a work life balance. They highlighted some issues within schools and also gave a backstage view of a teachers world and how it never really stops.

The main part of this book that I enjoyed was the insight into the students and see seeing the development through a school year even with different students going through a range of struggles that are realistic, this worked really well in having the teachers perspective and was the most enjoyable part of the book.

The humour relating to the mirror and scales became very repetitive by the end and I was fed up of reading about it as I understand everyone has body insecurities but for it to be mentioned in every other page was draining. This was also the same for the religion side of the book, it always seemed to be dragged back to religion and took away the point of the book being about being a teacher and day to day school life. If people don't know that the book is published by a Christian publisher then they may pick this book up expecting it to be more school focused.

Overall the book was an easy read and did give insight into the world of a teacher. For people aspiring to be teachers it may help open them up to what they may face in the future and the hours that need to be put in.

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Photographic! Every teacher will recognise the scenario - overwhelming workload, including marking every evening and at weekends, missing church and visits to family, unrealistic expectations from management, incompetent management, supportive colleagues, lazy colleagues.
Written in epistolary style, the narrative proceeds at a leisurely pace, but with a satisfying - and satisfactory -conclusion.
Should be compulsory reading for all student teachers.

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Humorous book written in diary style chronicling the life of an English Teacher. Who said that Teachers have an easy life! It would put off anyone thinking of a career in teaching!

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A real insight into life as a secondary school teacher. This diary style memoir set over the course of a school year shows the many trials of teaching. One of the main aspects of this is seeing “Miss” struggle with her work/life balance, often forgoing family time and bible studies for marking and report writing. I love how the author opens up throughout the book. At first we know very little about her but as the book progresses she talks more about her difficult childhood and the feelings that surround that.
The character growth (not literal - thank you mirror and scales) is the highlight of this book.

I enjoyed the humourous morning conversations with said bathroom Mirror and Scales. I can imagine this book is even more appealing to those in the teaching profession working in a similar setting, some of this humour may have been missed by the likes of me who don’t relate completely.

For me the faith element of this book seemed relevant, even though I would consider myself as an atheist. I didn’t find it pushy and a lot of the humour came from the need to please “God Woman” and the bible study group.

This is definitely a book I would recommend, especially to my friends who work in schools. A very enjoyable read.

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I received an advanced copy of this book through NetGalley. It is a fun, lighthearted look at life as an English teacher. Written in diary format, it covers a full academic year, during which time we are introduced to a host of colourful characters. I grew particularly fond of Bahlul, the hapless teacher who is so obviously failing in his job, but is such an endearing character that his colleagues rally round to support him.

One of the issues I sometimes have when a book has a myriad of characters is remembering who each one is. The author gets round this beautifully by giving many of the pupils nicknames which describe their characteristics. Some of her sixth formers who have transferred from a private school at the end of year 11 are referred to throughout at “the privates”, a term which both encapsulates their background and sums up their approach to work.

As a teacher I could relate to the complexities of school politics and empathise with the pressure of workload, senior management and Ofsted. Obviously written by a serving teacher, it oozed realism. However, I’m not sure whether any non teachers would enjoy it as I felt that much of its appeal lay in reflecting the subtleties of school life.

The author includes references to attending (or not because of the pressure of marking) a weekly Bible study group. Her faith is a relevant part of the story but it is a background feature, as it her traumatic childhood. Both of these elements colour her reaction to events around her, as is to be expected, but neither is laboured to the point where you feel that she is trying to make a statement.

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A look into the life of a high school English teacher - through the eyes of the teacher. Some touching moments, some moments that made me laugh at loud and overall a nice book.

Would have been 4stars, however lost a star for me as had a heavy religious undertone and that isn't something I am into within non-fiction, I feel it can alienate some readers with different views and beliefs.

Easy and quick read and overall enjoyable.

Thanks to NetGalley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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This book was an absolute joy to read! I am the daughter of a teacher and the mother of a teacher (clearly the desire to educate skips a generation) and so much of this had me nodding along in agreement.
As someone who studied English at A-level and who saw two children through it as well the scenes in the year 12 and 13 classes were my favourites. I’m sure every mother of a sixth former can name their school’s Rebekah!
I related to so much of the book, I am also a Christian, also overweight and I reward any weight loss with chocolate too (doesn’t everyone?) and I also find my duvet feels as though I’m stuck under an alpaca most nights. That said I don’t think you have to be tubby, middle aged or religious to enjoy this book and I’m going to recommend my 21 year old daughter read this now I’ve finished it. I know she will love it.
It is incredibly refreshing to read a book where Christian faith is just a norm rather than being the centre of the story. Hill casually throws in leading worship or going to bible study and then carries on discussing her spots with her mirror. There is no attempt to proselytise, no moralising just a woman who happens to be a teacher, happens to be a Christian and happens to drink Baileys as a reward for finishing her marking.
The deeper level of the book regarding Hill’s own childhood were staggeringly brave. Seeing ‘Miss’ open up to her colleagues and bible study group about this and her struggle to reconcile her past behaviour with her current self was so emotional and that is before you stop and think that the author is actually telling far more people than her colleagues and friends, she is telling everyone who reads this book.

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A entertaining and sometimes emotional read about life as an English teacher at secondary school.
The conversation between the mirror and scales were amusing.
So much effort goes into teaching, especially behind the scenes, and I appreciate the honesty of this book to share this.
Definitely engaging to read.

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I loved this book so much, I don’t even know where to start!

This memoir, written as a diary spanning an academic year, is a deadly accurate portrait of every secondary school, ever, portrayed with humour, realism and warmth.

Hill doesn’t just stop at funny stories though – through the memoir-diary style of her writing, there is much deep and honest writing, too, as she allows the reader a glimpse into some poignant moments – both her own and those of the students in her care.  I finished the book, wishing I had been a pupil in one of her classes.

Teachers, especially English teachers will resonate with every page of this book - but the humanity and humour on every page make it a book that’s well worth reading for all ages and professions - I don’t think you have to be a teacher to enjoy this, as it’s both a glimpse into a modern comprehensive school and into the heart and mind of the author, whose experiences all of us can recognise.

A brilliant read - I felt bereft when it ended. Buy this book! In fact buy several for your friends!

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An insightful view of a year in the life of a high school and sixth form teacher. The issues Hill highlights are certainly recognisable to anyone who has worked in a school/college, and at times eerily similar to my own which made the experience of reading extremely cathartic. Overall this was an enjoyable read, though the mirror/scales device did get tiresome and laboured, feeling out of place in an otherwise direct and candid outline of each day.

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Memoirs/anecdotal style books offering insights into all kinds of professions or lifestyles are becoming hugely popular as a genre. Ranging from the life of a junior doctor to the secret life of a barrister through to life as an inmate or prison doctor in British jails, there are no end of titles to satisfy our curiosity. Having enjoyed a few myself, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to read an ARC of ‘Miss What does Incomprehensible mean?’ and what a brilliantly funny, superbly written book this proved to be.
Written in the form of a journal, this memoir charts the life of an English teacher over the course of an academic year, working in a state secondary school. Whilst it took me a few pages to get used to the style of writing, I found it highly entertaining and hugely enjoyable to the extent that I devoured it in one glorious sitting.
Knowing a number of people in the teaching profession, I’m always amazed at the dedication these people show day in day out, working incredibly long hours and ‘Miss’ is no exception. Beneath all the cynicism and sardonic humour lies a woman clearly married to her job, whose workload is unbelievably burdensome. Reading this made me feel both exhausted and relieved I wasn’t walking in her shoes, grateful to be working in a job I can easily leave behind the minute I exit the building. Miss doesn’t recount these often hilarious anecdotes with any trace of self pity or a sense of ‘woe is me’ but in a way that makes you as a reader automatically warm to her personality, almost wishing you could be a pupil in her class. I felt as if I was eavesdropping outside the staff room door, a fly on the wall, given a tongue in cheek insight into relationships with other colleagues and pupil interaction.
Poor Miss not only has to educate willing and not so willing pupils as to the finer aspects of English language and literature, she’s also of an age where the menopause is playing havoc with her ability to sleep and function as a rational human being. Her daily conversations with her malicious mirror and bathroom scales had me in stitches , so relatable to women of a certain age suffering the indignities of insomnia, weight gain and facial eruptions more in keeping with the teenage years. Miss paints such a self deprecating portrait of herself that I wished she’d been my English teacher!! Rather fond of Baileys, cake, pizza and junk food in general I felt like Miss was a person I’d really love to meet. Her husband (or Spouse) as he is affectionately referred to throughout had to be the most patient man on earth, often attending Bible study group or visiting their offspring alone due to the never ending pile of marking/reports etc that accompanied Miss home at the end of a long school day.
Despite the overall humorous and witty tone, the more serious side of teaching is revealed. Not only does Miss need to teach to exam passing standards and possibly inspire the odd pupil along the way (Leon springs to mind here) she has to be adept at crowd control/discipline, provide a shoulder to cry on and safeguard her pupils welfare, be a willing team player and constantly wage a battle with all the administration that has to be dealt with on a daily basis. That alone makes this woman a superhero in my eyes. Revelations about her own upbringing and behaviour as a child added an extra human touch, making some of the discourse incredibly touching especially when related to some of the more challenging or disadvantaged pupils.
I really didn’t want the summer term to end, so familiar with the colourful characters that comprise the rest of teaching staff, finding many of their quirks and traits endearing and annoying and generally highly amusing. Equally both the troublesome and goody two shoes pupils alike provided so many truly laugh out loud moments and I read the final page feeling nothing but admiration for Miss and her colleagues. Highly recommend.
My thanks to the publisher SPCK and Netgalley for giving me the opportunity to read such a funny and uplifting memoir.

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This book is a memoir in diary form going through a year in the life of a teacher. It is an enjoyable read - both humorous and thought-provoking, with an assortment of interesting and relatable characters. I was drawn into the story and keen to keep reading to discover how certain situations would be resolved.

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A humorous, well written and interesting book about the life of a teacher.
I liked how well the author describes what being teacher means and her humour.
I strongly recommend it.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.

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Often many of us forget that teachers are fallible.
This book is a great, laugh out loud account of what life is like on the other side of the teacher's desk. I would have loved to read something like this whilst still at school. To all my former teachers, I salute you and hope your staff room always has a plentiful supply of cake!

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Oh the trials and tribulations of being a teacher have never been more clearly, and accurately, described.

The story is told through the eyes of a slightly older than middle-age woman in a series of diary/journal entries. The entries include daily happenings at her school, run-ins and celebrations with fellow teachers and higher ups, students (some of whom get issued special nicknames), the relationship with her husband (and other family members), the beginnings of menopause and interactions with her sometimes nonplussed bible study group.

I enjoyed this easy read and had a few laugh out loud moments and a few cringe-worthy moments.

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Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean is the diary of a middle-aged English teacher in England. Fran teaches all the school years including sixth form classes, which predictability has an array of personalities in each of the classes. We read about what they are being taught as well as some of the struggles students face and, mainly, overcome.

Aside from the student's Hill also writes about other staff members within the school, some more successful at the job than others but gives a real eyeopener into how much work the job is outside of school hours. I think teachers in this country are clearly undervalued for the work and commitment they put in (not you Bahlul) to their jobs. Hopefully, after recent times they gain more acknowledgement.

One of the only issues I had with the book where some of the religious references, don’t get me wrong I have no issue with any religion within books (or the world) it was simply that I didn’t understand a large number of the religious references as I personally don’t follow a religion. It was however interesting to read about the bible study group Hill attends and the reflections she had from some of the topics they discuss.

Overall it was a good read, a true reflection of school life from the point of view of a teacher in the format of a diary which I particularity enjoyed.

Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for the advanced copy.

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I really enjoyed this account from an English teacher. As a parent, (and ex school pupil!) it was really interesting to see ‘behind the scenes’ as it were. Funny yet with moments of depth, I take my hat off to teachers everywhere for what you put up with! I loved the staff relationships too. A great read.

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