All entries for September 2011

September 22, 2011

A little English monad

English Reflection

I certainly wasn’t born into a world of books. Don’t get me wrong, my parents did everything they could to encourage me to read, but the pull of the saga mega drive, of football and rugby, was simply too strong. At primary school teachers expressed concern that I wasn’t doing much to fulfil my potential, and there could have easily been a scenario very different to the one I now find myself in. I wasn’t a clever kid, nor did I find the work too hard – on reflection, I suppose I just cruised along without knowing the means to challenge myself, so I didn’t.

 It was some time during KS3 when I found a book that truly gripped me – Ian Fleming’s Thunderball. I couldn’t put it down; the story drew me into something far deeper than I had the capacity to understand as a boy of thirteen – a world of reading. If this was one monad, in Walter Benjamin’s sense of the word, then the next one occurred on the day I received my AS level results. By this time I had thrown myself into literature like a killer whale into an enclosed seal pen, and oh how I ate. It didn’t dawn on me that this growing passion could run full pelt into a crisis, but it did.

 By the end of year 12 I was getting ‘A’ grades every time I put pen to paper; sounds cocky, I know, but that’s just how it went. My teacher was fantastic. She was a fountain of knowledge, enthused about English (language and literature) and inspired me in nearly every lesson I attended. But for some reason on the day I took my AS exam, it all went wrong. Call it nerves, bad luck, call it rum and raisin ice cream if it helps (since I still don’t understand exactly how I managed to do so badly), I let myself down. I knew it on results day, I just didn’t want to believe it: four ‘As’ and a ‘C’. No prizes for guessing what the ‘C’ was in (and it was a low ‘C’)... yes, you’ve got it – English. Enter full blown crisis.

 I loved English (and for now I’m not going to unpack the subject as a concept, just run with me) but I couldn’t envisage how I could take it through to A level when it was my weakest grade by a long, long way. With a heavy heart, I decided I would take economics instead. It wasn’t a passion, but I was good at it, and the grades were what I needed if I was to get myself into a top university. But there was a metaphorical elephant in the room I hadn’t accounted for – my English teacher. There was no way she was giving up on me that easily, and I’m glad she didn’t. She put many hours in convincing me that I would nail a re-sit, and that I had too much invested in the subject to throw it away on one bad day. I was still disposed to a comforting, belligerent form of self-pity that pushed her away, but eventually I let reason speak to me and opted to choose English for A level. She put many more hours in, at lunch and after school, with those of us re-sitting the exam. Low and behold I did nail it, so much so, in fact, that I went on to get full marks in every module for my English A2.

 For me that event and the surrounding months were life changing. Ever since then the study of English has been fundamental to who I am, what I am interested in, and what I want to do for the rest of my life. It was a teacher who did that. There is no overstatement when I say she changed my life - for the better (I wasn’t really going to become an economist, was I?).

September 21, 2011

Reflection and choice

Follow-up to Fine Rain from A landscape unfurling in new colour

Reflection and choice.

I have just had a full day in Finham Park school as part of my 'base' / 'professional studies' placement. It was fantastic - such a thrill to be back in a school again, talking to students and teachers, observing classes and generally getting a 'feel' for the environment... but more on Finham in a minute.

It is with huge sadness that yesterday I was told that my school friend, David Fairbrother, was killed during his active service in Afghanistan. He was a Royal Marine with 42 Commando, and an exceptional one at that. But why am I putting this in my PGCE blog? Two reasons, really. Firstly, I feel compelled to keep this whole event alive for a little while longer, before I move towards a healthy (but far from permanent) forgetting (already the story is no longer on the front page of many news websites, due to the speed and ephemeral nature of modern information). Secondly, it got me thinking of my time at school with 'Fairy'; we were in the same year, had many of the same classes, enjoyed the same sort of craic that young lads do. We hadn't spoken properly in a while, our last words being much earlier on in the year (2011) just before I ran the infamous 'tough guy' race. Dave had done it twice, with his times being about half of what I managed to achieve. Still, it has brought home just how important school can be. Children can grow up to be whatever they want in life; 'Fairy' chose to become a marine, just as I chose to become a teacher. But with both of us, our choices were free because we were brought up to think.

For my friend, there are few words to describe the tragedy adequately, but he had the education (including a very good degree) to do whatever he wanted - he chose his path in life and so ended it doing what he loved. I suppose you never know what choices that lippy year 9 lad will have to make when he grows up; you can only hope they won't have the finality that 'Fairy's' did. But as a teacher, you can give them the tools, the mind and the heart to make those choices freely. On reflection, you owe them that much.

Anyway, back to Finham. With these thoughts in mind as I walked through the school gates, I felt both anxious and excited. The students were lively and bright, the staff warm and extremely knowledgeable. The first impressions were great. However, it was the afternoon which brought the most interesting aspect, the classroom, into focus. I was able to observe two lessons, and without specific detail on their content (to stay on the right side of professionalism), here are my general reflections:

  • Year 7 students responded very well to clear lesson objectives set at the start of the class.
  • They responded brilliantly to 5 minute plenaries following each 'chunk' of the lesson. The next stage could then be modelled with leading, open and closed, questions.
  • Students were allowed to elicit answers, which were then brought back to the LOs - very effective.
  • The language of questions and instructions was very precise. Students were 'to be able to' perform specific activities by the end of the lesson. General objectives such as 'to understand' were broken down into component parts.
  • Having a starter is important. One lesson took a while to come back under the teacher's authority due to the ICT taking too long to set up at the beginning of class. The students became restless when they had nothing to do during the opening 10mins.
  • Speaking clearly, slowly and pronouncing vowel sounds is effective.
  • No hands technique works, but only if you have several questions to ask, or quite open questions.
  • The girls and boys who appear not to care often do, but finding an 'in' is often required. Sometimes hard work, but worth it.
  • Video is predicated on the right equipment being ready.
  • The importance of good reinforcement specific to your class. Stickers work better with year 7 than 11, for example.

Overall, a brilliant day in school, even if it was framed through something as terrible as losing a friend. I realise 99% of people who read this will never have known Fairy, but I'm putting his picture up anyway. As student teachers we are being taught to educate, but school is so much more than that. You meet people you will never forget, some of whom even become heroes.


September 20, 2011

Fine Rain

Whilst sitting down in my living room and reflecting on week one, I felt prompted to look for a profound quotation to sum things up. Surely, looking over my books, a wiser man or woman than I could have started off this blog with a perfect slice of timeless wisdom? It is interesting then, that after a good 5 mins of looking though texts that are the pride and joy of my bookshelf, the most apt phrase which sprung to mind was not Plato or Neitzsche, nor Tolstoy or Keats, but that brilliant sage... Peter Kay:

"It's that fine rain that soaks you through!" ( about 6.25mins in).

Yes it is Peter, thanks.

Monday was the first raindrop, Tuesday a little more, but by mid week a quick reflection told me, that without me fully realising it, my mind was drenched with new information. There has been much to take in during week one, but the course has given me the wonderful impression that it is, simply, for me! A year of TA work confirmed it, but now the PGCE has started I am anxious to wade in ever further. Things will get tough this year, but I'm hoping the sense of vocation, alongside a calming drink or two with new friends (and those I've met so far are wonderful), I'll come out the other side the teacher I want to be. By that point I'll be underwater, but with the distinct advantage of having found the ability to swim.

September 2011

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