Just 3 Teachers

three teachersA couple of weeks ago one of my favourite Educational bloggers @MichaelT1979 published this post. Since then other bloggers have jumped on the bandwagon and done their own version of the post – teachers aren’t as averse to copying as people think. The idea is you pick three teachers from your own education. One who you now emulate, one who changed you and one who inspired you to become a teacher. I really struggled with this as I was fortunate enough to be taught by so many fantastic teachers during my school years. But rules are rules – so here are my three.

1) The teacher I emulated – Mrs Woodhams

I sometimes wonder how different my attitude to school might have been if I hadn’t been fortunate enough to wander into Wendy Woodhams’ classroom at the age of 4.  Although my memories of Reception aren’t hugely clear I do remember that classroom being such an exciting place to be and being desperate to get to school every day. Wendy worked hard to give us real-life experiences so we had a real dentist’s chair in our role play area, god knows how she got hold of it. Our art work wasn’t double mounted and displayed on the wall, instead our classroom became “The Ghostbusters Gallery” (I can only assume we chose the name) that we opened to members of the public.

art gallery
5-year-old me curating at our Ghostbusters Art Gallery

We built a Berlin wall and kicked it down for our assembly. Learning was always fun and always started with what we wanted to find out. I think by the time I started school I was well on my way to reading and once I started I didn’t want to stop. Wendy was my very own Miss Honey providing me with her own books that I was allowed to take home.  She was endlessly patient, warm and always, always cheerful and I’m pleased to report that we are still in touch and she is still all of those things today.

2) The teacher who changed me – Mr Hall

Being born in Kent brings one inevitability – the dreaded 11+. Once the tests had decided I was capable enough, I went to a Grammar school in a nearby town. The problem with attending a very high achieving school is that it is all too easy to feel inadequate or imagine you’re failing when you’re not. By the time I was 15 I had decided I was terrible at maths.  This was confirmed for me when I was put in the lower set (because I was predicted a “B” grade at GCSE  and anything less than an “A” wasn’t worth mentioning.) The task of getting me that “B” grade fell to Mr Hall whose official title should be: “The Most Patient Man In Britain”. We went over and over the basic principles; he must have answered the same questions 498 times. Trying to motivate teenagers isn’t the easiest task but with good humour, patience and a huge level of empathy Mr Hall managed to keep us engaged (most of the time.)

I imagine it’s very difficult to teach teenagers, particularly teenage girls as they’ll make fun of any little quirk or idiosyncrasy. High pitched voice or regional accent? There are impressions of you going on in the Common Room. Your clothes, aftershave and the way you walk will all be scrutinised. It isn’t fair or any reflection on how good you are at teaching. However, there are a handful of teachers who escape this treatment either by being relatable, kind and good-humoured or just hugely respected.  Mr Mr Hall was one of them. We thought he was brilliant and he… well, he thought we alright too I’m sure.

It took two long years but somehow, amongst the boyfriend and friendship drama that seems to rule your life at 15, I got my B grade and, far more importantly, my confidence was back. I no longer find Maths intimidating or scary in fact it’s my favourite subject to teach.

3) The teacher who made me want to teach – Mrs Jennings

By the end of Year 6 I’d decided I was going to be a teacher (or a Blue Peter presenter.) I was lucky, I’d had two of most inspiring teachers bookend my Primary education. As I’ve already mentioned I started my education with Mrs Woodhams and in Year 6 I was fortunate to have another inspirational teacher in the shape of Mrs Jennings.

If Mrs Woodhams got me loving reading Mrs Jennings pushed me to the next level. She would always want to know what we were and what we thought about it. She introduced me to Tennyson, Wordsworth,  and Shakespeare. We were only 10 but Mrs Jennings made herself the tour guide as she took us into these new realms explaining the unknown words, providing us with the background knowledge we needed and answering endless questions so we weren’t intimidated by this literature. At the same time she read us picture books, nonsense poems and Roald Dahl. There was no such thing as the books we were “meant” to read – it was just important that we enjoyed reading. I wrote countless stories and poems that year and remember so clearly her positive and thoughtful feedback.

By the time you are in Year 6 you are far more aware of the system you are in and you can better appreciate everything your teacher does for you. I remember watching Mrs Jennings working with a small group of children in our maths lessons. It must have been in the run up to SATs or the 11+ yet there was no sense of stress in herself or the pupils. The group were laughing and working through things at their own pace with just the occasional gentle nudge from Mrs Jennings to stay on task. I remember thinking, “I want to do that when I’m older.”

What I haven’t included are all the teachers I’ve worked with as an adult. So many of them could fit these categories. From Mrs Redshaw, the class teacher I worked with on my first PGCE placement to Miss Noble who taught me to make sure every day is just a little bit magical for the children in her class to my current SLT who I learn from every single day. I’ve worked with the some of best teachers you’ll ever meet (I’ve not met all teachers but just trust me on this) and I’ve learnt from them all.

So – who would be your three?

That’s What She Read

books

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015 was to read every night. That hasn’t happened. So around Easter I decided I would settle for a book a  month which was far more achievable. On reflection 2015 was the year of comfort reading. I re-read some old favourites and the first time reads were books written by authors I knew well.

January – Stone Mattresses – Margaret Atwood

This was a gift from my lovely sister. If I had to choose a favourite author (and I don’t believe anyone should ever have to) it would be a girl-on-girl battle between Atwood and Elizabeth Gilbert. This book is slightly different to Atwood’s usual style in that it is 9 short stories rather than a novel. Disembodied hands, freeze-dried corpses and husband stealing cancer patients all make an appearance in this dark, pick-n-mix collection. Atwood is stepping away from realism, her default mode, and playing with fantasy, and Gothic themes instead. Does it work? Absolutely. After all if Margaret Atwood can’t mix it up occasionally who can?

February – The Elephant In The Classroom – Jo Boaler

Shamefully this is the only non-fiction book I’ve read this year (unless you include the administrators guide to Rising Stars assessment, which I don’t.) When it comes to Educational research, I think one needs to be wary of reading a book and believing it is gospel. Some people have a tendency to cut and paste findings from research into their School Improvement Plans without ever reflecting if it is right for there school.

That aside, one of the main reasons  I like “The Elephant In The Classroom” because it is accessible to the general reader. As a teacher, I like the fact that rather than just pointing out the many problems (yes, I’m looking at you Sir Ken Robinson) Boaler actually suggests solutions and also goes as far as providing example activities as part of an approach schools can adopt. I think this quote sums up her work nicely:

“Bringing mathematics back to life for school children involves giving them a sense of living mathematics. When school students are given opportunities to ask their own questions and to extend problems into new directions, they know mathematics is still alive, not something that has already been decided and just needs to be memorized. Posing and extending problems of interest to students mean they enjoy mathematics more, they feel more ownership of their work and they ultimately learn more.”

March – Once – Morris Gleitzman

Is it cheating to include children’s literature? Definitely not. I re-read this whilst toying with the idea of teaching it to my Year 3 class as part of our work on WWII. Like all excellent stories you’re hooked in from the opening line.

“Once I was living in an orphanage in the mountains and I shouldn’t have been and I almost caused a riot. It was because of the carrot.”

“Once” tells the story of Felix searching for his Mother and Father in the midst of the war. From the outset, Felix creates explanations and stories for the horrors that he sees but as the story progresses Felix begins to piece tougher what is really happening. The war seen through the eyes of children is well trodden ground because that juxtaposition of innocence and violence is incredibly powerful.

“Once” is also about the power of storytelling. Felix uses stories to protect himself from the reality of what’s happening and when he meets Zelda he tells her stories to distract her from having to confront her parents’ death. The message is stories can move, comfort and inspire; Glietzman successfully does all three.

April – Us – David Nicholls

Remember that book “One Day” that everybody read in 2009? It had a sort of orange cover with the silhouette of two profiles on it? With me? They made it in to a film that I’ve never seen because I refuse to believe it can do justice to the book. David Nicholls is the sort of writer I want to be when I grow up. His stories hinge almost entirely on the depth of his characters and “Us” is no exception. The novel follows Connie and Doug travelling around Europe with their 18 year-old son whilst at the same time deciding whether to stay in their marriage. True to Nicholl’s style the narrative shifts seamlessly between past and present as the reader pieces together the story of how this unlikely couple came to be. Following a best seller come film like “One Day” but this is an excellent novel in its own right and definitely worth a read.

May – A Spot Of Bother – Mark Haddon

Speaking of hard to follow books… “A Spot Of Bother” is the first book Haddon has published since “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time.” This is novel about aging, mental health, affairs and ultimately – family. The protagonist George becomes obsessed with a lesion on his leg to the point of pathological hypochondria. He is tipped over the edge by finding his wife Jean in bed with David, one of his former colleagues. Being a middle class, middle aged man George is far too polite to let his mental instability burden others and so unfolds the politest nervous breakdown in literary history. Meanwhile George and Jean’s adult children have their own battles: his daughter is preparing to marry Ray; a fact none of the family are overly thrilled with and their son Jamie has a big decision to make regarding his boyfriend Tony. The characters are interesting and well written but I feel as though “A Spot of Bother” could have been slightly grittier given the nature of the issues it is dealing with. It’s all a little bit too nice and polite. A bit like George himself I suppose.

June – On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan

If I’m honest I made this my June read because it was nearing the end of the school year and, at only 166 pages, “On Chesil Beach” looked quite manageable.  Short yes, but incredibly intense. Set in 1962, a few years short of the Sexual Revolution Edward and Florence arrive on Chesil Beach for their honeymoon. The opening line tells you the entire story:

“They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible.”

The entire book is an in-depth study of the two characters and their anxieties about their impending wedding night. It takes an incredibly skilled writer to keep you with the same two characters and just their memories and thoughts for entire book. I found it gripping and read the book in one sitting.

July – To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

This was a “re-read” before the release of “Go Set A Watchman”. Do I really need to explain this one? I have nothing to say other that hasn’t already been said. I will instead leave you with the words of the unlikely literary critic, George W. Bush (yes, really.)

“One reason To Kill a Mockingbird succeeded is the wise and kind heart of the author, which comes through on every page … To Kill a Mockingbird has influenced the character of our country for the better. It’s been a gift to the entire world. As a model of good writing and humane sensibility, this book will be read and studied forever.”

August – Eat Pray Love – Elizabeth Gilbert

I make no apology for this one. “Eat Pray Love” is permanently on my bed side table. I dip into it on difficult days for advice such as, “You’ve gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone ought to be.” As well as using it for general reference I read it cover to cover every Summer. On Thursdays, when I have the flat to myself, I sometimes drift off to sleep to the audiobook. I love everything from Gilbert’s honest, open style to the detailed picture she paints of her travels.

September – Go Set A Watchman

I’m reluctant to say too much about this as I know plenty of people that still haven’t had a chance to read it so I’ll just make the one comment. The main criticism is the apparent change in Atticus Finch, the hero of “To Kill A Mockingbird”. I would argue that instead of the idolised version of Finch as seen through the eyes of his young daughter, we begin to see Finch, as his adult daughter now does, as a flawed character. This is perhaps a more honest and realistic version of the

It is generally accepted that “Go Set A Watchmen” is an earlier draft of Mockingbird and, if that is the case, I want to know what made Lee change her novel so drastically? Pressure from her editor? Or did she just want her novel to have a hero. Whilst I enjoyed “Go Set A Watchmen” you can’t help shake the feeling that you are reading a draft. It’s slightly clumsier, less polished and just a bit… incomplete.

October – The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood

Once again, Atwood paints us her dystopian vision of the future. This time we follow Charmaine and Stan. Stan has lost his job and they are living out of their car – things are pretty bleak. Consilence, the self-sufficient utopia that offers stable income, warm homes and all of the comforts that brings, seems like the perfect solution to their problems. The only snag is that every other month they have to swap their lovely home for prison cell. Throw in sex with chickens, Elvis escorts and women falling in love with inanimate objects and you’ve got a darkly comic tale that’ll keep you guessing until the very last page. I’ve read a lot of Atwood and I might go as far to say this is my favourite of her novels – I could not recommend it highly enough.

November – Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert

I first read “Eat Pray Love”  in 2012 then the following year did a solo trip around Italy. Now, as I take my first steps towards writing my own book and sharing my writing through my blog – Gilbert publishes “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.” A whole book dedicated to making time for creativity into your day-to-day life. As we’ve come to expect from Gilbet the book is painfully honest, witty and insightful. Gilbert has such a strong voice that the book feels as if she were sat next to you offering advice. So whether its figure skating, gardening or painting stars onto bicycles I’d recommend this book for inspiration, encouragement and a much needed kick up the bum to get going.

December –  The Mayor Of Casterbrige  – Thomas Hardy

This can only just claim a place in this post as I am only 62 pages in. Something about December sends me to Victorian literature. Perhaps its the vivid descriptions of snowy rooftops, plum puddings, miracles and gestures of goodwill that make it the perfect Christmas genre (as long as long as you don’t let the poverty, inequality and Gothic tone bring you down.) I’m hoping to finish this before the Christmas holidays because then it will be time for my pre-Christmas read of “A Christmas Carol.”

Resolution for next year? New authors. It’s time to branch out. I need to read more widely – any recommendations?