teaching


This article at Observer on much of modern writing being steaming cow chips struck a couple of jarring chords.

I teach English, and am acutely conscious of the “five paragraph”, teaching to the exam, model of writing training the article talks about. It’s so pervasive though. And there’s such little time – “pig weighing” – and such high expectations of “getting the right grades”…  The utopian dream of being an inspirational teacher bucking the system is being constantly disturbed by the realpolitik of Target Grades, MiDyIS data (however that’s capitalised) and other five year plan impossibilities.

As the article suggests, few people devote time to reading any more. My students are all dedicated, but there are so many other things demanding their attention, formulae to be learned. While I love and enthuse about “English” – words and that – it most often feels like it’s a struggle against people who can do spreadsheets.

The five parts of this passage are in the wrong order. What is the correct order?

A. Fortunately, he does not have to convert raw scores to quotients.

B. Tonight, the teacher is marking reading tests.

C. Not only that, but the mark scheme runs to 32 pages also.

D. Each answer is multiple choice, and the sheets have been photocopied so it’s quite hard to make out the answers.

E. He is thinking about drinking gin on a school night.

Answers are available on the Scorer/Profiler CD-ROM, but we won’t tell you whereabouts.

Silas Marner, the deceptively slight novel by George Eliot, can still pose problems for modern, young readers. If you are unfamiliar with the book, the main character is an alienated weaver-turned-miser who loses his gold but regains his soul (etc). He has two leather bags full of guineas, gold coins he likes to fondle lovingly.

Tonight I was marking some empathic work from students – mostly diary entries in character. One of them had written:

My genies. My golden shiny genies. Why did you have to leave me?

The recasting of Silas Marner as a magical realist tale woven through with 1001 Nights is a wonderful notion. It even got better:

Gem Rodney, I bet it was that man. He was always jealous of my genies. Oh, how my genies overpowered his.

…and a jinn warfare aspect would certainly enliven the novel for a contemporary teen audience.

While we’re mashing:

Busy tonight fending off an end-of-school-tomorrow tutor reports deadline.

Faced with an Eiger of commentary to generate, and with the view that parents have enough text to wade through with up to 11 course content and individual progress updates, I lapse into fantasias of form tutor comments being something brief yet expressive. Haiku, say:

A mixed view for Sean:
Articulates ideas well,
Yet forgets his pen.

or semi-gnomic aphorism:

Sinéad’s approach to school is a Facebook riddle wrapped in a Snapchat mystery inside an Instagram enigma.

Regrettably, though, such brevity is frowned on. There is consequently a lot of paraphrase of already euphemistic analysis, finding ways to spin positively a recalcitrant student’s impending examination disasters, owing to their tendency to fanny about all the livelong day.

Tutor reports at least give one a chance to rehumanise the youth a bit. Stuff like the award for tidiest room, or the predilection for building mini robots, or the swimming trophies, or the surprise knack for a riffle shuffle executed exquisitely, or the prize essay based on ‘Nighthawks’, from the point of view of the window… these are worth mentioning far more than their granularly-graded hoop- jumping capacity.

One might go on. Regrettably, also, though… these things won’t write themselves.

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Hey! Teacher!

It was hot – damned hot – in the rehearsal spot.

Previous Rock Notes have mentioned that we jam in a drama studio space at a local school. A big room with a whiteboard in it and posters with useful vocab like Barn Doors and Apron. It also has windows that barely let any air in, making for humid conditions. So, the strings were once again twongling when tangling was expected, atmospheric factors exacerbated by a moribund battery in the tuner pedal we were sharing.

Partly prompted by the wonky tuning, and a week off for half term, the session brought a curious discordance of emotions: plateauing ennui, with the issue of the singer in ongoing work scheduling torment preventing us from hearing the full picture, if you see what I’m saying, and excitement, principally that we have advanced now to playing all the tunes without recourse to chord charts inked up on the board.

For some reason I am able to locate a dry wipe pen with considerably greater ease at practice than when I’m in class at the day job, but that’s another matter. Props, Stage Manager.

No garden today. Today I had to work. Periodically, ‘they’ let the boarding school students out to see the real world, and buy stuff.

As duties go, getting what was effectively five hours to wander round Leeds city centre browsing in record shops and going for a big bowl of spicy chicken noodle soup has to rate among my Most Preferred.

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Mmmm…  Bún gà Huế… Just delicious, from Pho, in Trinity Kitchen

Music finds, courtesy of Crash Records: Du Blonde (the continuing wonders of Beth Jeans Houghton), and Nozinja:

Coaches, headcount, bosh. “Not a bad shift…”
Back to the shovel next week.

Just finished – in a triumphal last minute sprint – a pile of marking.

Many an undeveloped comment on how writers create clever effects with language that impact the audience and make you want to read on, but a regrettable lack of comedy howlers to share. A dull class indeed is the one that brings no entertaining inaccuracies, even.

Instead, I shall confide that in conversation once a colleague, a fellow teacher of English, twice used the non-word “irregardless”.

My brain looped the utterance as they carried on speaking, now mute under the roar of blood in my ears. They hadn’t quoted an erroneous student. They’d used it as an actual word. Twice.

Still wakes me up from time to time.

There was another terrible bit of word-maiming I heard just today, but what with the pile of marking, it’s evading me. Probably for the best.

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