Why I Prefer Twitter

Twitter

Thanks to Twitter, I am a better teacher. Twitter introduced me to @atharby’s sentence escalator, @Xris32’s colour-adjectives, and @joeybagstock’s work on getting students to memorise quotations.

Thanks to Twitter I recognise the value of knowledge, the fallacy of learning styles, and the power of rhetoric.

On Twitter I talk to open-minded individuals who are passionate about education and English Literature.

My students get a better deal because of Twitter. 

On a more personal level, thanks to Twitter I’ve had a wealth of opportunities that I simply wouldn’t have had without it. I’ve been asked to speak at conferences. I’ve written for a national magazine. I’ve even been asked about writing a book. Thanks to Twitter I have had personal conversations with some of the greatest educators of our age. I’ve even met some of them. 

The Staffroom

Today someone microwaved a fish curry and another person moved my pigeon hole tray because it was getting in the way of their coffee jar.

I like Twitter. 

Dear Boys

Dear Boys,

It strikes me that some of you need some guidance and advice. Whilst I’ve split my guidance and advice into sections for your convenience, I’d suggest you read everything in order to have the full benefit of my boyish experience.

 

FIGHTING

I am not going to lie to you and tell you that walking away from a fight and being the ‘bigger man’ will make you feel good. Because it won’t. In fact, in my 31 years of experience, walking away makes you feel weak and ashamed. This is because we live in a sexist society which places too high a value on physical strength as a sign of maleness. Walking away means you’re less of a man, and for some of you, becoming a man is all you want to do.

And yet.

Walking away may save your life. Being punched hurts. Sometimes, being punched kills. I’m always reminded of a story in which two boys in Year 9 met at a park to have a fight. One of the boys got punched, cracked his head on the pavement and died. Now the other kid is doing time. That’s two un-lived lives.

I’ll say it once more, because it’s important. Walking away may not make you feel good, but it could save your life.

SEX

It is never okay to call a female a slut, slag, or a tart just because she might be more sexually experienced than you are. People might think that ‘might’ is the key word here but, actually, whether or not a female is sexually experienced is irrelevant so long as she is of appropriate legal age. Nor does it matter how sexually experienced a female is so long as she is of appropriate legal age. The fact is, women think about,  want, and have sex just as often-or as little as often-as you do. Whether a female has slept with a hundred people, only one, or maybe two, all this points to the fact she’s human, just like you.

It’s not okay to joke about rape. Nor should it be used as a verb as part of your banter or vernacular. Rape, when a man is the rapist and a female is the victim, is the forced insertion of a penis into the vagina of a girl who has never, ever deserved it. That’s what rape is.  It’s not a verb for getting beat 15-0 at FIFA like your mate did.

I hear a surprising number of you use the word ‘paedo’, or ‘paedophile’ incorrectly. So let’s be clear: Paedophiles are adults who have sex with children under the age of consent. That is sixteen years old.

16 years old.

Paedophiles are not your mate in Year 9 who fancies Sophie in Year 8, nor are they the teacher that smiles at you when he or she sees you at the school gate. Bandying around terms like ‘paedophile’, ‘perv’ and ‘stalker’ only serve to normalise and trivialise these terms, and paedophiles and perverts and stalkers should never be normal, anywhere, ever.

Whilst, we’re on the topic, staring like a love-sick fool at someone you ‘fancy’ doesn’t automatically make you a ‘perv’. However, if your staring is making another person feel uncomfortable, stop it. Now.  And also, the fact that you once sent a clumsily worded Facebook message declaring your undying affections to someone doesn’t make you a ‘stalker’, either.People use terms like this loosely and if anyone ever calls you ‘paedo’, ‘perv’, or ‘stalker’ and you feel it is not fair, you should report it. It’s not acceptable.

KINDNESS

Chivalry is not sexist; it’s kind. Lift stuff and open doors wherever you can. If people object, don’t get angry; apologise and know that you were only trying to be kind.
GENDER

Jokes about the size of a man’s penis are not okay. Phrases like ‘Size Matters’ and ‘You know what big feet means don’t you?’ all contribute to the idea that maleness is achieved simply by having a big penis. The fact that these phrases are stitched across novelty t shirts like gore, or declared with a wink by girls who watch too much Loose Women, does not make them acceptable. They are sexist. Do not tolerate them.

Being a man does not make you stupid, but daytime TV will try to tell you otherwise. Adverts abound with clownish buffoons whose domestic ability is limited to burning, staining, and failing. The sad irony is that your belief in these gender stereotypes will only help big businesses peddle their products to women, which in turn reinforces the sexist notion that the domestic sphere is the province of the female. Which it isn’t.

Objectification is the process of making another person feel as though they are less than human; an object to be used as others wish. Women are objectified every day. They are whistled at, and they are grabbed, and they are pinched. Whatever your intentions, making non-consensual physical contact with a woman is unacceptable. So don’t do it. Talking about women as some of you do, using crude and unsavoury sexual language, is also a form of objectification. Stop it.

You’d do well to remember that men are objectified too. When female panelists on daytime chat shows whistle and leer at that geezer from Poldark or Benedict Cumberbatch, they are objectifying him. When Sunday supplements lead with articles like ‘Britain’s Sexiest Scientist’, they are objectifying him. When females say things like ‘come and give us a hand with this muscle man’, they are objectifying men. There’s more to men than their physicality.

P.S.

Be kind.

Speak. Always Speak.

8 Mistakes we make about Boys and English

Occasionallysome of us get things wrong with boys. Here’s my thoughts, based entirely on my own experience and absolutely nothing else, on the mistakes some English teachers make with boys.

  1. Assume all boys love war poetry.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard English Teachers  say things like “I’ve got a boy-heavy class so I’ll just do loads of war poetry. They love that.” Well guess what; that’s not always true. In fact, rather than ‘loving’ war,  for most boys, war is a totally abstract concept that is no more relatable for boys than the experience of riding a unicorn, whilst baking a cake, in a field of pink roses is for girls.

And yes, boys do play computer games centered around warfare like ‘Call of Duty’. But this means nothing; I grew up with Super Mario and that never made me want to read poems about plumbing, or become a plumber for that matter.

So, my advice here is this: show boys war poetry; they need to engage with war as a concept. But if you want them to really engage with poetry, show them poems about the quotidian events that they can relate to. Like falling in love, arguing with family members, and hating shit.

2. Teaching Macbeth instead of Romeo and Juliet for boy-heavy classes. 

Macbeth’s a great play and should be taught for reasons based on its own merit. But it should never be taught because somebody has assumed boys won’t be able to relate to Romeo and Juliet. And people do wrongly assume that a group of teenage boys could never relate to a character who is a) a teenage boy who  b) falls in love with someone he shouldn’t and c) defies his parent’s wishes, before d) messing it all up and wanting to die such is the excruciating emotional pain he is feeling. Yeah, they’d never relate to that.

3. Hark on about how ‘wet’ Romeo is. 

He kills a bloke. He ain’t wet.

4. Miss Opportunities to Discuss Masculinity.

Another A-Level language lesson on gender with same old sexist Victorian etiquette guides on how women should behave and 1950’s guides to being the perfect housewife. Again, worthy of study, but can we please look at works of fiction-and non-fiction- that perpetuate negative and damaging stereotypes of masculinity. Like anything written by the female newspaper columnists who write for that one newspaper we all love so much.

Ask questions about portrayals of masculinity in fiction texts. Why do you think the men on the ranch think it’s okay to call Curley’s wife a tart? Isn’t Gatsby actually a little bit great? And don’t you feel that Rochester is a victim of  19th century expectations of masculinity?

5. Assume all boys love competition.

Competition is great for the people that win competitions. And generally, the experience of winning a competition is limited to one person. That is, the competition winner. Last place feels really shite. Especially if you’re the kid that’s always last. And there’s always an always last kid. So think carefully about this. Competition’s are worthy and kids need to know how it feels to win and lose. But not every single task needs to be an episode of The Generation Game. Sometimes boys just want to chill and get along with everybody. 

6. Assume boys can’t discuss emotions. 

In my experience, the reason boys struggle to discuss their emotions is because people keep telling them to struggle with discussing their emotions. So stop pouring scorn on all of those male protagonists who dare to reveal an inch of emotional feeling. It’s okay for Othello to be jealous; It’s okay for Jack and Ralph to be angry; it’s okay for Keats to mope. Men feel too. Acknowledge that fact and give your boys the opportunity to discuss/write about/read about their own emotions too. 

7. Pour Scorn on Dead White Men

The literary canon is dominated by men. But that doesn’t mean those works are any less valid as a result. Encourage boys to engage with the canon positively. Reflect on its male dominance and challenge it with the works of female writers. But challenge doesn’t mean slag it off. The fact is, much of what exists within the canon is there, not because of its male authors, but primarily because of its brilliance. That should not be forgotten. 

8. Assume all boys love football

Often the solution to the problem of getting boys to read: buy them a football book. Well, the problem here is this:

For many boys who love football, the last thing they want to do is read about football. Because reading about football is time that could be spent playing football. You’re better off treating boys as individuals with different and myriad interests. Speak to boys and find out about their own specific interests. And just because boys like playing football, it doesn’t mean they want to read about it too. For many boys-and girls- books are about escapism. Books about football only serve to immerse them in a world they already know. Perhaps these boys want to play football at breaktimes but fight dragons and fall in love whilst they read . Perhaps.