BOOK CLUB: The School

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The School by Brendan James Murray is a thought-provoking, well-written account of a year in a high school told from a teacher’s perspective. Brendan James Murray is an English teacher, teaching at the same state high school he attended.

The school is in an area where many students have issues and their families are struggling. Although it’s on the coast, this is not a story of well-provided for students from mansions with ocean views. It’s a more gritty reality of life in Australian state schools today.

The book is focused on students and their stories. Although we do learn about Murray’s own childhood and the problems he dealt with. Almost instantly I cared about the students and wanted to know more of their stories, and how they handled the pressure of school. Was Murray able to help and to be honest would they all survive the year?

Murray introduces us to several students who have widely differing problems. There’s Claire who suffers from depression and low esteem, Teagan and Jada who hide under heavy makeup, Grace who has a very low level of literacy but due to a technicality does not qualify for assistance. Plus there’s Wambui from war-torn Kenya, her story puts worrying about day-to-day small issues into perspective.

the school

Several of the stories of the students are more detailed than others like the bullying of Tessa by Lonnie. Bullying is one of the major concerns Murray addresses. He was bullied badly as a student and so is empathetic and determined to do the best he can to help students like Tessa. In doing so he unintentionally causes ripples that affect other students.

One major storyline is that of Kelvin, an athlete who has had cancer, sadly the cancer returns, and Murray provides us with harrowing details of Kelvin’s treatment, how his fellow students stay in touch with him and how he copes when he tries to return to school.

Other students’ stories address domestic violence and mental health.

Murray also relates stories from his childhood, the struggles he had with mental health, and being seriously bullied. Also, he pays tribute to Liam Davison and his wife Frankie who were killed when Malaysian Airlines flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine in 2014. Liam was a teacher who inspired and assisted Murray as a teenager.

At times Murray moves away from the story of the students to critique the education system, its rule boundness, and its lack of creativity. He has serious concerns about the Victorian ATAR system, the pressure it puts on students, and the unfair advantages it gives students from private schools. I have to admit that this area while important didn’t enthrall me, and I was keen to get back to the students’ stories.

It’s in the students’ stories that this book shines, it shows us just what a difference a great teacher can make and just how worthwhile the teaching profession is. This is certainly a book I will recommend to parents and teachers, and maybe it should be compulsory reading for student teachers.

Thank you to Beauty and Lace Book Club and Picador for the chance to read this powerful book.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club Members are reading The School by Brendan James Murray. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

ISBN: 978-1-76098-243-0 / Pan MacMillan

10 thoughts on “BOOK CLUB: The School

  1. I’ve not read anything of this author before but reading this book is absolutely fascinating and I really enjoyed every page.

    Firstly, the cover is outstanding for this book and I think I see a few of the pencils from when I was in high school. It did bring back a lot of memories of my school days for me that I had forgotten.

    The story follows the author’s real life story of being a student and now teaching students at the same school he attended a few years ago. I think reading this book would make you want for your child to have such a wonderful caring teacher that can help them with Literature.

    It is a big book with pages up to 395 but I can assure you that I did not waiver while reading and every page kept me enthralled. Following the students mentioned in the storyline had me intrigued and I needed to know more about their lives.

    When Brendan was a student he was taught by Liam Davidson and he never got the chance to thank him as a teacher as he and his wife actually died in that Malaysian aircraft Flight 17 that was shot down over Ukraine in 2014. Reading this really brings home that ordinary, respected people were killed in that plane crash. I remember it well and it did bring some tears while reading.

    Brendan relates in this book the ups and downs of teaching one year of school but also the personalities of the students. It is so easy to relate to some of the students as I did with Claire when it came time for exams.

    Of course in school there are always bullies and the author knows what this is like as he was bullied as a student which he relates in the story. Tessa is such a beautiful soul and bullying is terrible and needs to be dealt with. Another student called Wambui has had a hard upbringing living in Kenya with the perils she had to face over there.

    Lots of other characters that you get to know from the start of the book and throughout the year of the author’s story. I felt heartbroken with the story of Kelvin – what a beautiful soul was his story and following him was tearing me up.

    Brendan’s students admired his teaching of Literature and this was shown with a gift that they gave him. Brendan loved the author who had won the Booker Prize twice and his students wrote to Peter to see if he would get in touch with their teacher who that put so much praise on for his teaching ethics. Brendan was given something that even I will remember. Advice to young people trying to improve their writing is just “Keep Doing It. Read a lot and write a lot.”

    I absolutely loved this book and I highly recommend this book for teachers to read as they would fully follow Brendan with his students.

    This book is so heartfelt but also compelling and I couldn’t put it down following the lives of Brendan as a student but mostly his students.

    I loved how at the end of the book Brendan ends with an Epilogue and informs us where the students are today. He relates that the story does not give the real names to the students.

    I found reading this book did bring back a lot of memories that were deeply hidden in my mind and I also think that some of the students were in my class also.

    This is a book worth reading and I can highly recommend it. Thank you to Beauty & Lace and Picador (Pam Macmillan Australia) for introducing another Australian author that I am sure I will read more of.

  2. I was lucky to get a copy of this book thanks to Beauty and Lace Book Club and Picador.

    The book tells the story of Mr Murray and a year in his teaching life at a state high school. It is obviously situated in a lower socioeconomic area of Victoria, an area he himself went to school and he tells the stories of various students, as well as his own life at this same school when he was a student. To say these students have hardships to overcome is simplifying things. Cancer, parent neglect, abuse, peer pressure, and bullying are just a few things these children contend with and that the teachers take on. It’s apparent that being a teacher is more than just lessons, at least for the good ones.

    Murray does also weigh in on the ATAR system which I did find informative and the medication system. However, I felt that his personal opinions on private schools and the children that attend them were misguided and pandered to stereotypes. Not all children that attend private schools have families from elite backgrounds or perfect families, and the teachers who work at these schools are just as emotionally connected and driven. I don’t think these parts add to the book but rather draw a line in the sand that didn’t need to be there.

    I think as parents we all learned to appreciate what teachers do for our children much more over the past year, and this book gives great insight into the emotions both teachers and children experience day in day out. The stories he weaves together are emotive and engaging. The hardest and most complicated times of our children’s lives are made easier because of good teachers.

  3. ‘The School’ is a touching account of the journey of teacher Brendan James Murray and his students through one year of High School. With lots of relatable big life events, this book had me smiling and tearing up. Brendan shows empathy for his students, and we see how his job is not just all about teaching the curriculum, but how he mentors and guides (and was guided) students during such a rapid time of self-discovery.

    This book piqued my interest as my first born started high school this year. It was a huge transition, and I can relate on a personal level (from my teens) and now that of a parent of a student. I often think how we cannot always remember what our teachers taught but know that they did. I feel this book portrays those encounters.

    Happy to recommend this book to teachers, educators, parents and students alike. I feel it gives us perspective and much adoration to teachers but also an understanding of students and what other influences impact a learning journey in both academics and personal growth. I will keep my eye out for more of Brendan’s books.

    Thank you Beauty and Lace Book Club and Pan Macmillian Australia for the reading and reviewing opportunity.

  4. Brendan James Murray’s ‘The School’ is a true story composite of many actual students and events the author has experienced in his years as a secondary school teacher.

    I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with this book but I found it to be so heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking and a real eye-opener into the system teachers are working under.

    I can recall many great teachers during my high school years (and a few terrible ones) & it is true, they do play such a big role in a child’s life during some of their most vulnerable years.

    The difference between a good teacher and a great teacher is the care and consideration they have for the students lives outside the classroom.

    As a mother, friend & relative of many great teachers, I urge everyone who has an interest in their child’s education to read this book. It will surprise you in so many ways. A brilliantly written insight!

  5. I found The School by Brendan Murray a really well written book that was easy to read. I really enjoyed reading about the stories of Brendan’s students along with his own stories of what he faced as a student. It gave a great insight into the emotional struggles that teachers face everyday.

    We often think of teachers just teaching our children the required curriculum but not of the emotional connections they build with them. It wouldn’t be a easy job to switch off to after you leave for the day!

    Overall a interesting read that gave me even more appreciation for our teachers and the fantastic job they do! I think there should be more Mr Murrays!

    Thanks to Beauty and Lace and Pan Macmillan for the chance to read and review.

  6. Thank you so much to Beauty and Lace and Pan Macmillan for letting me read and review The School.
    I thoroughly enjoyed the book and would definitely recommend it to parents, teachers, students and anyone really.
    As a mother of a child with special needs it was lovely to read about a teacher and how wonderful he was with his students.
    He talks about not just his life as a teacher but a lot about when he was a student himself and the things that shaped him.
    It was so nice to read of a teacher who didn’t just teach his students from a curriculum, he taught them life lessons, empathy, kindness and so much more.
    I would certainly love for him to teach either of my children and it’s so refreshing to know that teachers like this exist.
    Thank you Brendan James Murray for a great book and for being such a good influence on students who could become anything they want to be, due to your influence.

  7. Thank you, Beauty and Lace and Picador/Pan Macmillan for the opportunity to read The School, by Brendan James Murray. The book is a true story but names and details have been changed to protect identities and in some cases the characters are composites. The narrative cover a whole school year but in reality the writing comes from “across time and from a variety of schools.”

    I found the writing to be incredibly sensitive and beautiful, very well written. The School is inspirational, funny, meaningful with much insight but also at times incredibly depressing. Some of the situations and circumstances those young lives have to cope with and endure are heartbreaking.

    It is obvious that Brendan Murray is a gifted teacher who is, as all gifted teachers are, passionate about his role and the students under his care. He is the kind of teacher we all hope will teach our children. He continues to teach, as does his wife and he has won several awards for his writing.

  8. Very rarely you read a book and you want to tell everyone you know about it!! This book is just Brilliant!! Absolutely loved it!!! I would not have picked it up myself in store hence am so delighted that I got chosen to read and review this book. I have 3 kids and 2 in high school in Melbourne and this book so beautifully captured all the wonder, magic and pain of those teenage years of high school. His warmth and genuine passion for teaching is so evident and the issues he deals with in the book are so relevant and real. The mix of students he chooses to write about encapsulates the whole range of personalities in a class and am in awe of the depth of human emotions a teacher has to deal with on a daily basis. It had me wondering about those kids and their lives for days after I put the book down. For anyone with kids out here get this book and read it!!! I have given it to my 17 year old to read and he loves it!! Its real its raw and genuine.

  9. Thank you Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read ‘The School’ by Brendan James Murray’. Although this is often touted as a ‘must read’ for Teachers or Teaching Students, as a person in a non-teaching profession, I would recommend this book as a must read to not only Educators, teaching students, but parents and students as well.
    The School is is a memoir of sorts, with the Author introducing the reader to his students Individual stories and backgrounds as well as school life and teaching in a government Highschool in Victoria. Throughout the book, the stories were so moving, I felt empathy to the point of tears. Murray speaks of his own childhood and school experiences and it is abundantly clear his own experiences have helped shape the person and teacher that Brendan became. The heartfelt kindness and genuine empathy Brendan had for his students was so heartwarming to read.
    The School is written in a style where you feel genuinely invested in the students Murray speaks of, and in particular students Wambui, Connor and Kelvin. The Author has the ability to make the reader feel they are sitting in his classroom and all that it encompasses in a year, both the ups and the downs.
    As someone who is often confused by ATAR and the workings of Naplan, it was refreshing to have clear explanations and an honest critique of the issues with the Naplan system as well as the pressure and issues adolescent learners are faced with. The empathy, compassion and genuine love for his work and students is do evident in the Author’s writing, .
    making this a thoroughly moving and compelling read, an absolute page-turner and highly recommended.

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