A link to my post for #Nurture 14/15. This is a personal reflection on 2014/15 with a glance ahead at what is to come.
I hope you enjoy this if you read it and that it sparks a few comments from my colleagues in teaching.
January 2nd 2015 finds me procrastinating. After a 20 mile bike ride I am now in the dacha, some pleasant music (Rachmaninov) ringing out into my sunny garden through the open doors; I am snug and warm and enjoying the break from the shivering cold of the last few days. I am working.
Except that I am not.
I will be, soon, but I wanted to get something down in writing.
Chatting to my wife the other day, I was brought up short by a comment she made about Learning as a concept. She was wondering whether it would ever be possible to return to University, even as a mature student, and still revel in the sense of the veil being lifted as we explore and discover our areas of passion for the first time. We both read Classics at KCL and have different memories of the course – her veils were lifted by Dr Michael Silk in a course called Theory of Literature (which as far as I know he wrote and designed the exams for…) and mine by Professor John Barron exploring Homer and the Dark Ages of Classical development. We both sat in awe of @wmarybeard teaching us about Virgil – she seemed so incredibly knowledgable and yet so utterly cool as she dragged undergraduates through material she must have known backwards.
This is my point. One lecturer at KCL, sadly he died very young, never convinced that the was excited by exploring Aristophanes. Notes were read from a book full of neat handwriting and we sat around a table listening, commenting and re-noting. The real nadir came in a discussion of Ekklesiazousae – “It is time for Aristophanes to produce a penis… (a long pause full of weight before the deadpan delivery continued after turning the page)… joke.” Hardly stimulating delivery which encouraged engagement on a hot afternoon in a small room high up in the Strand Building behind Aldwych tube station.
As I teach, I must return again and again to a small group of texts. Some I love and some I am deeply weary of teaching. However. for our students, each page, each sentence, each word is new and carries a multitude of possibility.
I have taught Much Ado in KS3,4 & 5, for IBDP, A level, GCSE, IGCSE KS3 SATS and for fun – I know it backwards – or so I think. This year I was working for the first time, in my new job, with a group of boys. The dynamic shifted. No longer was Beatrice one with whom they would identify in secret and the whole reading took on a much more “masculine” tone. I was taken to a new perspective and I hope the boys never received the opinion that I felt that I “knew” the play too well to discuss their ideas. Whilst I might expect it to be obvious from the start that Beatrice is someone who is exciting to be around, for my little chauvinists she was irritating and too cheeky. A whole area of new-to-me discussion developed. They were also the first group I have taught who were interested in Claudio.
The same is true of the hoary favourites like Of Mice and Men – a text I adore teaching. OK so it has gone from the GCSE set lists. No matter: us it in KS3/4 in Year 9. Again the perspectives change with regards to character. A slightly worrying group of boys found Curly to be a fine chap and were deeply saddened by his maiming. Again, this challenge to my assumptions developed over the years is stimulating and makes me go back to the text for myself to ensure that i am recognising where Steinbeck is actively seeking to influence his readers’ opinions. It was also a relief not to be teaching it for an exam – we spent more time being creative and digressing than my GCSE course would have allowed.
Old materials being constantly rethought. And by extension this is why I am excited about 2015. I am also dreading it. Let’s be honest: the dog’s breakfast that is A level reform is not going to be fun. On the other hand I need to revisit old texts and crash headlong into others for the first time. As an academic, this should be exciting.
- PROMISE: to try to view the challenge of curriculum change as stimulating for my own creative faculty and not to obsess about the workload or imposition from Whitehall.
In September I will be engaging in Shakespeare. What a choice: Hamlet – not taught it, love it. Read at A level in 1980 (Thank you Anthony Reynell); Measure for Measure – not over keen and taught it for IBDP for a couple of years around 2008; 12th Night – adore it and taught it to year 8 at SGS in 2008… the only comedy; Coriolanus – not read, but seen; exciting and boy friendly? Tempest- not taught but read often and loved; Richard III – not taught but seen several productions and much loved. I should be thrilled to be allowed to be exploring so much great literature – and that’s just the Shakespeare! Yes. It will be very time consuming and I will resent it – even more if the changes don’t come in after all… But what a chance to engage in exploring great literature for myself and helping to lift the veil both for me and my students. Teachers of English Literature are the luckiest teachers on the planet!
So much for curriculum stuff…
I took up a new position in 2014 as Head of English and I am loving it. At times the learning curve has been extreme and I am getting used to the need to fill a good spreadsheet… however i want to focus on my department management for the rest of my #nurture post.
2. PROMISE to try to deliver a Multiplier approach to all I do. This can be hard, especially when trying to introduce new practice or ideas. How not to come on too strong and unintentionally confuse and overload is something I have been aware of this term. As we go back, I know that I will be supporting a colleague who wishes to move on to develop his career. He is an excellent teacher and whilst I would love him to stay, I know that it is my job to develop and support his professional practice as much as my own. He has a few responsibilities and needs to bring these in to help me and to load his CV with recent success – “Problem? What do you suggest?” must be my watchword – try not to be too controlling even with the best of intentions.
3. PROMISE to pull my weight in the department. This sounds obvious but can be ignored. I get paid extra to be a HOD. This means that the extra work required by the Senior Management tier is mine and mine alone. My colleagues will be required to present me with data on occasion, but it is my role to do the boring input bit… I will not shirk this. The other half of this promise is that to will continue to work every bit as hard as they as a teacher. I am not an administrator, that is only part of my role. I am a School Master (to use an old phrase) and to me this embodies what happens in the classroom and what happens in the extra-curricular sphere. I will continue to develop debating at the school and hopefully continue to work in the Music department…
4. PROMISE to maintain my sense of humour both with colleagues and the boys in my care. It is so important to be able to laugh at ourselves. I hope that I will continue to use humour to deflect pain and to prick pomposity as well as to help me to maintain my sanity.
5 MINOR PROMISES
- to give chocolate to the Physics department on a regular basis for use of their sink and taps for my coffee machine
- to provide chocolate and restorative beer/wine as required to my department to thank them for the work they do and the support they give me.
- to remember that Year 7 matter! How often do we concentrate on exam years at the expense (temporary) of KS3? I will continue to develop a new KS3 teaching plan to begin in September.
- to continue to ride my bike as often as I can.
- to be home before my wife as often as possible and to arrange my life to try to enjoy downtime in the evening whenever possible
- (linked to above) to get out whenever possible – at least once a month and “do something”. Arranged thus far in January and February: Andrea Chenier at ROH; A City of London Burns supper; A teachmeet at Bentley Wood. Looking ahead: Spurs Vs Man City for my birthday and still to be arranged: Wasps at their new home, my son’s 18th in April and some time at my place in Somerset to forget the internet and walk…
- Wish me luck.
Great reflections. I’m currently rediscovering Larkin through Booth’s excellent biography. Agree we are the luckiest teachers! Good luck with the promises. I dare not go public with mine for fear of inevitable failure! Best regards for 2015 x
Cheers Joe- and here’s to a great 2015 for you.
What a lovely read – and yes – we are the luckiest teachers. I enjoyed reading about how your new context was giving a new spin to old faves and you clearly love your subject – that shines through all this. Happy New Year and good luck!
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