Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Well, a week’s worth of posts – once this one is done – and I”m not entirely sure how I’ve managed it without reaching for one of my pre-prepared ‘in case of emergency, post this’ posts. What I am sure about, however, is that planning it out better than I did probably would have been a good idea.

Because we’re on the first Sunday post of the run… and this is the third attempt at writing it.

Because I really, really don’t want to write about politics, British politics that is, this early in the run.

I want to have a few more posts under my belt, and feel more comfortable writing a few hundred words without feeling like the words are going to dry up any moment. But I know that if I try to express my contempt for, my anger at, and my despair at the state of, and the future of, British politics right now? The words won’t come. Oh, they’ll be there for a hundred well-chosen, probably sweary, words, maybe two hundred even. But after that, there’s nothing I can say or write that others can’t say or write… better. And with more justification.

So, until either I can write a few hundred words without it being a stream of swearing obscenities, or I can write a few hundred words of swearing obscenities and make it good writing, I’ll have to find other subjects about which to opine.

So, instead, today, you’ve got something on teachers, and school.

I was thinking about teachers, earlier today. But in an indication of how my mind… ‘works’ (for lack of a better descriptor)… I got there by thinking about Rachel Maddow, of MSNBC, and how much I enjoy her show.

Because it’s Sunday and Rachel Maddow only does her show Monday to Friday. And so I was regretting that I don’t even have the podcast of her show broadcast last night to listen to. I like listening to Maddow, or even watching the show if I’ve managed to get a copy from, erm, places online.

I realised some time ago that a lot of the reason I enjoy her “let’s reach back in history, give you all a brief summary of something that happened and link it to something that happened today…” style is because it reminds me so much of Alistair Cooke. And thinking of Alistair Cooke inevitably makes me think of his Letter From America. And thinking of Letter From America equally inevitably makes me think of a fella named John Ramm, who was my politics tutor at A-Level, at Luton VI Form College. Tuesday mornings, we had double-politics. And John used to play that week’s Letter From America at the start of the lesson.

While I was kind of mildly interested in politics before I met him, his classes got me very interested, somewhat in politics itself, the ideologies and beliefs therein, but wholly and completely in the processes of, and the operation of, comparative political systems.

Not entirely a surprise, I grant, since the A-Level was entitled “Government and Comparative Political Systems”.

It once again reminded me how lucky I was to have some seriously good teachers during my education and I remember the best of them with heartfelt gratitude. Those subjects for which I had good teachers were those which, in later life, I maintained an interest; mathematics, english language, computers, science…

But those subjects for which I had lousy teachers (not entirely a coincidence that for the most part I didn’t like them and vice versa) almost always were subjects about which I had no interest in the time… and crucially developed no interest in later life.

History was a notable exception; I loathed most of my teachers in the subject, including one who very obviously regard the attempted extermination of Jews by the Nazis as a somewhat minor and unimportant, indeed barely worth mentioning, topic in the larger study of World War II and even within the study and analysis of the Holocaust itself.

Only as an adult did I discover well written, well taught and well described history. And while I never fell in love with the subject, I did at least gain some appreciation for it.

The two that stand out as subjects I disliked (and so, apparently, did my teachers) were Geography and Music. I don’t really care about the former; I’m sure it’s important in general and all that, but I just never saw any use in it as a subject for me. As I alluded the other day, not once have I felt my lack of knowledge a drawback, especially not with Wikipedia and encyclopaedias there if I need a specific fact.

Ah,” I hear you cry, “but without the basic knowledge, you won’t be able to appreciate the context nor to apply it accurately.” To which I respond, “yes, I know, and I’m ok with that.”

But Music? All of the music teachers we had seemed there almost as a punishment to us… and to them. And I genuinely regret that for so many reasons. I have next to no musical skill, and I really wish I did. I enjoy music, but couldn’t tell you why, nor identify the skills necessary to make music. My friend, the musical comedian Mitch Benn, once tried, as others have, to explain musical keys to me. He didn’t quite end up tearing his hair out, but it was close.

(And if you read the above and think you can explain them to me, I beg you not to attempt to do so; it’d be like trying to teach juggling to an arthritic elephant. You won’t succeed and you’ll piss off the elephant while trying.)

Lyrics of songs? Yes, those I can identify with. I appreciate a good lyric as much as any writer; lyrics can make me laugh, and can break my heart, sometimes within the same song. I know the synergy of music and lyrics lift me… but couldn’t for the life of me explain why.

Singing? I can’t carry a tune in a bucket… And various friends who’ve heard me are honest enough to admit that, while being nice enough people to stay friends with me after suffering my… singing.

Despite me apparently having a good voice when I was a child, when my voice broke broke, it didn’t merely break, but rather shatter into a thousand shards…

That’s something else I regret, and it’s entirely non-coincidental that whenever I think that I’d like to learn to play an instrument, it’s always a musical instrument that involves me very much not being able to sing at the same time I play it.

On writing this post, it occurs to me that there are two other things about which I’m apparently unteachable.

Cooking. I’ll include any form of food preparation in here, but yeah, cooking. Anything that takes more than a few minutes, and I’m lost. Truly. An example. I have a microwave that apparently allows convection cooking. I say apparently because I’ve always been too scared to try it out. One of the loveliest people on the planet – my ex-wife Laura – has tried to teach me to use it. We never last more than about three minutes before me and, as I say, one of the loveliest people on the planet, are fiercely arguing. And it ends up with her taking the perfectly reasonable and rational position… that I am an idiot.

Which I wouldn’t disagree with.

There are, maybe, a dozen different things I’m… ‘comfortable’ cooking. And that includes omelettes and toast. And any attempt, self-taught or taught by others, to increase my range… has always ended up with me either furious, upset, or self-loathing. Often all three.

And then there’s… dancing, or really any social situation where it’s even remotely possible that I’ll make a damn fool of myself in public. For that ‘remotely possible’ will morph inside my head within moments to become ‘a raging certainty’. I gave up – yes, I acknowledge fully that it was my decision, made in the service of self-protection – even trying. (And if you think that’s it’s not entirely coincidental that I’ve been single for more than a decade and a half, you may not be wrong.)

Y’know, talking about teaching makes me wonder whether to do another ‘teach me‘ post – about things I don’t know I don’t know, about skills I actually do fancy learning at some point – in this run. Hmm. Something to consider…

See you tomorrow, with… something else.



Fifty-seven days. Fifty-seven posts. One fifty-seventh birthday.

I’m trying something new with this run. I’ve signed up to, so if you fancy throwing me a couple of dollars every so often, to keep me in a caffeine-fuelled typing mood, feel free. I’m on

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-seventh birthday on 17th August 2021. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

There’s not much from my schooling that I look back at and positively enjoy.

I’m reminded of the old saw about how someone enjoyed going to school, and enjoyed coming home; it’s just the bits inbetween they didn’t enjoy.

Can’t really say that: I used to usually get dropped off at the end of the road in which my school was by my dad, on his way to work. And sure, I walked home, sometimes with my younger brother in the years where we shared a school, sometimes with a friend.

But the time inbetween, I enjoyed some of it, didn’t enjoy much of it. I was a small child for my age; I didn’t sprout in height until I was 15, putting on six inches in height in a single school year. And unlike my older brother, I was neither popular nor – I suspect – that memorable. At least not in a good way.

And I was bullied. Sometimes for being Jewish, yes it did occur, but mostly for being… well, for being me. And some of the anti-Semitic bullying I faced wasn’t really anti-Semitic in intent. If I’d have been spotty, I’d have been bullied for having spots; had I been fat, they’d have picked on me for that. I was Jewish, so the bullies picked that as an effective tool. It was what upset me that counted to the bullies, not what form the particular bullying took or at what target the bullies successfully aimed.

But the teachers? Ah, I remember the teachers. The good, the bad, the bullying, the kind, the enouraging, the discouraging. I seemed to have the whole roster back then. For every teacher who was horrible and nasty, I had another who was niceness personified. And, probably as a consequence, some years ago I realised that there’s a flip side to the whole “a good teacher can inspire you for life.” It’s that a bad teacher can scar you for life, and can forever (if you’re unlucky) make you regard their particular subject with apathy at best and contempt at worst.

I’m fairly sure that my dislike of history as a subject for most of my life comes from a particular teacher who displayed a dislike of pupils. I honestly can’t recall him praising a single child under his… ‘care’. Moreover, I’m quite prepared to admit that my complete and utter disregard for geography as a school subject arose from another teacher who would punish children who got an answer wrong by making them stand on the desk and recite nursery rhymes.

On the other hand, my love for the English language owes much to teachers who encouraged me to let my imagination fly, who only offered constructive criticism, and were… there’s no other word for it… kind when dealing with what is now called a ‘sensitive’ child, and back then was called a ‘cry-baby’.

There’s no accounting for my enjoyment of mathematics; I had good teachers and bad in that subject. It was just a subject that I always found easy. Lots of reasons for that, but I suspect the main one being that there was, at least at that level, a definitive right answer to each question set.

Over the years since childhood, I’ve had a number of friends who’ve entered the teaching profession, and although of course I’ve never seen them teach, and I’m well aware that someone’s work persona can be very different from their personal demeanor, every single bloody one of them sinks their hearts and souls into the job. Every one of them wants the children in their care to prosper, to be educated, to thrive.

That may be in part why I’m so damned irritated, upset and just plain angry when their jobs, their careers, their very ethos is questioned, criticised and demeaned.

A couple of years ago, a survey suggested that many parents wanted the return of corporal punishment to schools. I’m sure they did. I’d also bet that it was every other parent’s child they wanted belted, as their little darlings would never ever deserve the punishment. They also, I suspect, wanted [other people’s] children never to play truant, never to be rude, and never run in the corridors.

The survey was reported on the BBC and the piece ended by reporting that the survey asked which celebrity would make a good teacher in the opinion of the respondents.

Several names were suggested, including the obvious ones, people in the public eye, and those who the parents would like to have been taught by had they still been at school

The real answer? The real answer to which celebrity would make a good teacher? Not a one of them without decent training, and several years of it.

Teaching’s not something you can ‘stroll into’ and succeed at merely because you’re a celebrity or even because you’re very good at your chosen [non-teaching] job. You’re trained for teaching, and to suggest that just because you’ve written a book, shagged a footballer or appeared on TV, you can walk into a classroom and control a class or create a lesson plan or mark work properly is a lie.

And it’s an insult to the thousands of teachers, teaching assistants and others who work in schools day after day, week after week, term after term, pouring their guts, their souls and their lives into teaching our children.

So, you can imagine my disquiet at the idea that free schools can, and should, employ non-qualified teachers. (And let’s leave the concept itself of free schools for another time; that’s a whole other issue.) Disquiet? No, it would probably qualify as disquiet if it was a policy suggested by a backbench MP, or a leaked policy document from within the department for education.

(That’s always puzzled me: how do government departments decide which is a department, and which a ministry? And who decides which gets the ‘of’, as in ministry of defence, and which gets a ‘for’, as in department for transport?)

No, this policy, this decision, this recommendation is from the bloody Secretary of State for education, one Michael Gove, a man who shares with George Osborne and Philip Hammond the distinction of being the only three people in the Cabinet I actually think would be dangerous, in terms of national survival, were they to become Prime Minister.

Others (step forward Maria Miller) might be incompetent, or (Therese May) horrible, but I don’t think they’d actually destroy the country. Gove, Osborne and Hammond? I’m not so sure.

Anyway, sorry, I’m drifting.

This non-qualified teacher nonsense. It’s ludicrous. I’ve been privileged to know many intelligent brilliant-at-their-jobs people in my life, both in my former professional life and in my personal encounters.

Could any of them become worthy, good, qualified teachers? Of course, with training and experience. Of course.

Could any of them walk into a classroom and gain the respect of their pupils? Again, of course some of them could.

But in the same way as I could teach anyone to maintain a set of books, but that wouldn’t make them an accountant, and in the same way that my brother could undoubtedly teach anyone to cut a head of hair, but that wouldn’t make them a hairdresser, being able to teach one lesson to one class of starstruck or deeply impressed children does not a teacher make.

And it’s insulting and contemptuous of teachers to pretend otherwise.