The Value in the Big Read

It took 7 months, but I’ve just finished George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

When my daughter was born, 9 months ago, I was often left wide awake, in the middle of the night, having just completed a feed. This is where the Kindle Paperwhite came into its own; I could read (for free), great works of literature, without turning on the bedside lamp and waking my partner.

I went with Middlemarch for myriad reasons:

  1. It was long (I anticipated a lot of sleepless nights)
  2. It was free
  3. I’d often heard it cited as one of the greatest novels ever written
  4. It was a ‘classic’; as I’ve said before, I try and avoid pop fiction where possible, instead preferring to put myself on a level playing field with the cultural elite.
  5. It was written by a woman. I want to read more books by women.

If you’d asked me, at any point, over the past 7 months, how I was enjoying Middlemarch, I would have replied with an unenthusiastic, “It’s alright, yeah. Not bad.”

I mean, I wouldn’t say it thrilled me, or blew my mind. In fact, if I’m honest, the only thing that kept me going, was, among the multitudinous plots contained within the novel,  a plot concerning unrequited love which is not resolved until the penultimate chapter of the novel. I love a love story, me. 

However, as I wrote ‘Middlemarch’ on the ‘Reading Wall’ in my classroom the other day, I surprised myself by scrawling, alongside it, 4 stars. That’s out of 5. That’s an enjoyment rating of 80%. That’s a “You should definitely read this book” rating. 

All for a book that is largely about legal disputes and discussions about border estates and medical practice. 4 stars. 

The 4 star rating isn’t all down to the love story. It’s down to something else.

Daniel Kahnemann makes a distinction between two types of happiness, which I will call (because I can’t be arsed to Google Kahnemann’s nomenclature) ‘Experience Happiness’ and ‘Post-experience Happiness’. The first type is the happiness we are privy to as we experience an event. For example, the thrill that one might experience as one completes a sky-dive. Post-Experience happiness, on the other hand, is the happiness one experiences after the fact. For example, you might absolutely hate sky-diving, and the actual experience may have been a horrendous mess of defecation and despair, and yet, the fact that you completed it, without dying, and the fact that you can brag about how brave you were (lying), brings you happiness.

Kahnemann says thinking of happiness this way should influence the way we prioritise our spending. He says that it could change the way we book holidays: I, for example, would never enjoy a skiing holiday. It would not bring me ‘Experience Happiness’. And yet, as my more senior colleagues rattle off the names of French ski resorts the way pubescents rattle off expletives, I realise that in years time, when I’m parking in the space closest to the school building, and teaching 6 lessons a week instead of 600, I could well revel in the ‘Post-Experience Happiness’ of that holiday. My memory of that skiing holiday has enabled me to bore people to death with tales of black runs and reflective glasses which has facilitated my dizzying chair-lift ride to the top of the educational piste.

Reading is just the same. Middlemarch-or, more specifically, the act of reading Middlemarch, whilst tedious to read at times, has actually given me ‘Post-experience Happiness.’

 I can now:

  • Enjoy the satisfaction one gets from being faced with a monumental task and getting through it.
  • Brag about having read it to colleagues I know haven’t.
  • Make witty references to it at dinner parties in order to make my superiors feel inferior to me.

So, the next time you’re sloggig your way through a lengthy tome that you’re really not enjoying,  think: 

Will finishing this book benefit me in a way that will make me feel happy long after it’s been consigned to the dusty depths of the charity shop’s book bucket? If the answer is yes, plough on my friend! Plough on! 

Teachers: We Should Read More.

In a recent Twitter poll, I asked whether it is ‘unreasonable for school leaders to expect staff to read edu-books/research outside of school hours.’ Luckily, the majority (53%) of the 477 respondents said no.

Let’s talk about the 47%.

At the very least, in this country right now, there are 224 teachers in this country who consider it unreasonable for school leaders to expect their fellow professionals to better themselves as practitioners, by reading around the profession that they have chosen to pursue. Even without thinking of the 33,600 students under the care of the professionals who hold this view, this is inexcusable.

In a thread that followed the poll, @adamboxer1 explained that his father is a doctor of 40 years who still reads the British Medical Journal, as well as others, in his spare time. Adam went on to make the point that practitioners of jobs such as ours-jobs that play a vital role in the proper function of society- should make a concerted effort to be the very best they can be. And I agree with him.

The fact is, the school day, doesn’t give us time to read research and peruse pedagogical texts. Not with all that data to input. What’s more, often those in charge of schools prefer to spend what CPD time is available, discussing data, behaviour management, and resilience. The fervent determination and effort in getting the kids to read, is rarely, if ever, applied to staff.  And so, if we want to be better, we have to accept that reading about pedagogy, reading about our subjects, reading about how the brain works, is something that must be done in our own time. It just must.

What concerns me is that I don’t think I’d be stretching it to say that many of the teachers who think that reading is an unnecessary encumbrance on one’s leisure time, see no problem spending hours on end marking books during evenings and weekends. This is despite the fact that a recent report by the EEF has shown that ‘the quality of evidence focused specifically on written marking is low’ and that ‘few large-scale, robust studies, such as randomised controlled trials, have looked at marking’. Furthermore,  of those studies that have focused on marking, ‘very few have identified evidence on long-term outcomes.’ I’d argue, that the endless hours spent marking, would be better spent reading. And here’s why.

The Sutton Trust’s report, What Makes Great Teaching outlines 6 components of great teaching. Number one on the list is Pedagogical (Content) Knowledge:

The most effective teachers have deep knowledge of the subjects they teach, and when teachers’ knowledge falls below a certain level it is a significant impediment to students’ learning. As well as a strong understanding of the material being taught, teachers must also understand the ways students think about the content, be able to evaluate the thinking behind students’ own methods, and identify students’ common misconceptions.

In fact, despite the seemingly obvious  opening sentence the wider research picture is a little more complex. Actually, research by Baumer et al has shown that the effect of basic Content Knowledge-that is, teachers’ knowledge of the subject they are trained to teach-has close to zero effect on the quality of teaching. (Of course, from an English teachers’ perspective this cannot be the case. Knowledge of the content of the books you teach is essential to effective teaching of those books). However, as the second half of the above statement from the Sutton Trust states, Baumer has shown that 30% of variation in teacher quality is attributable to variation in teachers’ levels of pedagogical content knowledge. In other words, teachers who know more about how kids learn, how the brain retains information, and how best to avoid-and rectify- subject misconceptions, are better than those who don’t. So, teachers need to make a decision: do they want to rely on the two days of pedagogy based CPD they get a year and hope that’s enough for the kids under their care? Or do they want to actively seek out books that, like rich garners, can provide them with the full-ripened grain of pedagogical content knowledge which is available, right now, for them to access whenever they want.

We also need to consider the move towards a linear system of assessment centred around terminal exams. Currently, all students of English Literature and will be examined on the following:

  • 1 x 19th Century novel
  • Any two of 18 poems from the 18th-21st Century
  • 1 x post-1945 text
  • 1 x Shakespeare play

Students will be expected to know all of these texts-and memorise quotations from them-because unlike in previous years (WJEC aside), the exams will be closed-book. That is, students will not have the texts in the exams with them. This means, that to achieve the top grades, students will need to commit to memory a wide array of quotations from twenty one different literary works spanning three hundred years. And this is just one subject among many. A Twitter poll that is ongoing, 81% of respondents who have recently trained as teachers have not been trained on cognition and how the memory works. This is appalling. There are adults sending students into exams where they will be expected to remember lots of information off the top of their heads, without even a basic understanding of working and long-term memory; with no idea about the spacing effect and the testing effect; with no idea about chunking and retrieval practice. If you are someone who does not know what these terms refer to, are you willing to pass it off as SLT’s responsibility? ‘It’s their job to give me some CPD on this stuff.’ Because, right now, there are teachers all over the land, who aren’t being given CPD on this stuff, but they know it because they’ve sought it out, in their own time and of their own accord. They’ve bought books and they’ve read them.

Reading books builds empathy. Studies such as the this one have shown that reading improves ‘a reader’s capacity to understand what others are thinking and feeling.’ In his excellent blog on teacher-student relationships, Carl Hendrick cites research that suggests that teachers who share common ground with students could potentially get better results than teachers who don’t. In his excellent, ‘Reading Reconsidered’, Doug Lemov makes note of the fact that the brain doesn’t discriminate between actual lived experiences and read experiences. That is, reading about an experience or subject, in terms of how the brain processes the ‘memory’ of that experience or subject, is no different from having actually experienced it yourself. So, unless you want to spend your evenings playing Minecraft, trampolining, or bottle-flipping, reading about these things (although flippin’ dull) could help you to better understand those students you teach who are doing these things (not necessarily at the same time) day-in, day-out. And teachers who understand their pupils- and reading is a gateway to better understanding, remember-could get better results than those who don’t.

Of course, school leaders have a responsibility to make things easier for us. As I’ve said before, SLT should abolish onerous marking policies. I even think theirs a case for making flawed Marking practices- such as spending inordinate amounts of time ticking and flicking through books- something to looked at- and dealt with-quite seriously.

 And yet, we have a responsibility too.

Doctors do it. Lawyers do it. So why not us? Without us- and forgive me for blowing our collectively owned, albeit metaphorical, brass instrument here- there’d be no doctors and there’d be no lawyers. It is our duty to better ourselves and it is our duty to do so because if we ain’t getting time (and we’re not by the way), we need to make time. We need to make time for the students who will one day become the doctors that cure cancer and the lawyers who fight for the needy. 



We’re Marking Too Much

Here’s the full article that ended up in the TES earlier this year. The link to the TES version can be found here, although this is the article in full:

We’re marking too much. Or, at least, we’re doing too much of the wrong sort of marking; the sort of marking that keeps pencil cases open, and mouths and hearts shut. We’re spending too much time ticking, flicking and dicking about in the kids’ books and it simply isn’t fair. On us or them.

According to the DfE’s Workload Challenge Report of 2015, 53% of teachers stated that marking was something that took ‘too much time’. In fact, according to the report, some teachers are spending twenty hours a week marking books. 

Worryingly, these same teachers deemed marking to be the second most ‘unnecessary and unproductive’ task they undertake. This perverse absurdity has presumably been caused by the more earnest among us wrongly taking ‘feedback’ to mean ‘spending loads of time writing comments in books that kids will spend loads of time not reading.’

Last year I decided I wanted to have more time to do fun things like eating, sleeping and gouging my eyes out. And so, apart from the once half termly assessment which gets the credit of my cursive, I have abandoned written marking. In fact, I have devised a scheme that ensures not a single book gets touched.

It works like this: Twice weekly, midway through the lesson, once I’ve set them off on an extended writing task (18 minutes minimum), I haul a desk to the front of the classroom and sit myself down on a chair under the white board, facing the students. Once the pupils have marvelled at the ease and skill with which I have lifted what must surely be a heavily cumbersome desk, they start working, and I start calling them up. 

One by one, students ‘come up’ and talk me through some of the work in their exercise books. They turn the pages and read sections of their efforts to me. More often than not, they beam with pride as see my eyes widen with wonder as I listen to them read aloud a piece of work that demonstrates genuine skill. And yes, occasionally they cower in shame when I spot a piece of work that has been left incomplete. But that’s no bad thing. They never make that mistake again. Whatever happens, as this conversation takes place, I’ll always indicate my respect for the other party by doing any one or more of the following things:

Ask questions about their work.

Suggest ways in which their work can be improved.

Interrupt the rest of the class with excited proclamations of the student’s greatness.

Once this sincerely heart-warming exchange – sorry, dialogue – has taken place, the student then sits there, right in front of me, and improves the work based on the verbal feedback I’ve given. Now that’s the sort of marking I like: it’s personal, it’s interactive, and sometimes it’s even interesting. 

In eighteen minutes I’ll generally manage to see about 4 or 5 students, but it depends on how many pieces of work I want to look over. Sometimes I’ll have students write for longer so I can give more feedback. (It wasn’t long into the academic year, because of the personal interactions this method necessitates, that I got a sense of which students needed calling up more often and who I could leave for a week or two.) Over the course of about three weeks, I’ll see everybody and after doing so, have a very good idea of where students are in terms of their progress. 

Sometimes I do get off my arse. This is where a decent highlighter comes in handy. Snape-like, I circulate the room invading the personal space of students with my neon wand. If I spot a punctuation error, or a mis-spelt word, or even, if I’m feeling particularly efficient, an adjective that I simply find infuriating, I’ll swipe at it with my highlighter (always pink), leave their work branded and walk away, mysteriously silent.

Strangely, the students grin with delight as they see me frowning over my shoulder at them like the pantomime villain whose hypothetical garments become me so well.

“Lordy Lawks, why’s he gawn and ‘ighlighted that? What’s wrong with it?  Have I spelt ‘impecunious’ wrong again? Silly me!” 

Kids just love solving mysteries. And solve them they do. For the times when they’re simply stumped, I’m just a raised hand or eyebrow away.

So why do I favour the verbal feedback method over innumerable hours spent bent over books? There’s a few reasons, actually:

Marking is not an efficient use of my time

Time spent marking can always be better spent doing other things that better affect the educational outcomes of the pupils under my tutelage. Like reading books, for example. In the Sutton Trust’s Report,What Makes Great Teaching? it is stated that, “the most effective teachers have a deep knowledge of the subject they teach”. The way I see it, every two hours spent marking thirty books (and that’s a conservative time estimate), is another two hours where I have actively chosen not to make myself more knowledgeable in my subject area. It’s two hours where I could’ve read a new specification, annotated a copy of next term’s text, or read a Dickensian description of some fog in preparation for a lesson on periodic sentences. 

The written word is flawed

Have you ever tried correcting a student’s misunderstanding of Iambic Pentameter through writing alone? It’s impossible. Correcting a student’s misunderstanding of Iambic Pentameter needs lots of smiling and lots of sympathetically soft utterances of “You with me so far?”. Sometimes, the things that kids get wrong, simply need to be talked through. And if only one kid has got iambic pentameter wrong, then why stop the whole class to talk through it all again? Verbal feedback during the practice period eliminates this problem. 

Short-term, actionable, targets work best.

The EEF’s Marked Improvement report cites evidence that improvement is greater when students are given short-term goals that they can act on quickly. Because of this, lots of schools make use of Directed Improvement and Reflection Time (DIRT), where a section of the lesson is dedicated to students acting on targets set during the most recent written feedback period. I dread to think how much valuable curriculum time is taken up by DIRT activities, especially for students whose teachers are dedicated advocates of the written marking method. But also, the thing with DIRT is, it’s not real-life. It’s acting on targets out of the context of the usual lesson format. This isn’t the case with the verbal method. What’s more, verbal marking allows the teacher to give a student an instant target that students can work on right there, right then, during practice, without the need to take time away from the subject matter the students should be learning. 

Lack of Evidence

Considering ‘acknowledgement’ (tick n’ flick) marking is so popular, the EEF state that “no strong evidence suggests that acknowledgement marking contributes to progress”. As for the frequency of marking, the EEF say that, despite trying to find some, “no studies on the frequency of marking were found”. So why would I waste my time ticking and flicking every spare minute I get? For the pupils’ morale and confidence? I boost their morale and confidence, but I do it by looking them in the eye, smiling and saying, “That’s a great piece of work you’re doing there.” 

I have come at this from an English Teachers’ perspective. But the verbal feedback method lends itself well to other subjects. Take PE for example: imagine a student completely misunderstands the way a hinge socket works. What’s going to be a more effective way of correcting this misunderstanding? A tatty drawing in the margin of their exercise book, or a spoken explanation complete with gestures that point to-yep, you guessed it- a real life hinge socket? History teachers: are two lines of A4 really enough to elucidate student’s sketchy understanding of the complexities of the causes of the Wall Street Crash? And Primary teachers: there’s no need to waste reams of paper with written feedback on Year 5’s Waste and the Environment project- use the verbal feedback method instead!

Of course, some people will argue that this approach displays a lack of respect for the students in my care. They write for me and, therefore, I should repay their efforts to do so by marking their books. Surely, it’s the least I can do. 

And yet, what is a bigger indicator of the respect I hold for my students: a clumsily articulated comment that tries to both praise their efforts, explain misconceptions and make suggestions for improvement, dished out simply because that’s what teachers have always done? Or a conversation? A conversation with the facial expressions, eye contact, and the rhythms and cadences of speech that exist only in an interchange between two people who are involved in the creation of something that could be great?

The written marking method says, ‘I write over your work because what I think is all that matters’; the verbal feedback method says, ‘This is what I think about your work; what do you think?’ 

Others might argue that the verbal method is lazy. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As I’ve already mentioned, the time saved from not rigorously writing comments in books that students will ignore, can be better spent doing other things that have been shown to improve the educational outcomes of students. Try practicing, in front of the mirror, for an hour, explaining how osmosis works, again and again, until it’s word, gesture, and content perfect. Ticks and ‘Well dones!’ are easy. This isn’t. 

And let’s not forget the assessment that I am marking, using the written-method, once per half-term. For a teacher with 6 classes of 30 students, that’s still 23 essay-length assessments being marked, per week, based on an 8 week term. In a 6 week term it’s 30 per week. Some might argue that considering the lack of evidence on written marking, even this is futile, but I’m not completely de-institutionalised; I still see the value in written marking. However, I believe it’s not that we need to be marking more; we need to be marking more intelligently. I ensure that my marking of written assessments is rigorously undertaken, and that students are given a SMART target they can act upon in next lesson’s assessment DIRT. Because I’m not dishing out written marking every week, when I do, it hits home. The students know that anything I do commit to writing, because I do it so sparingly, must be important. 

For those of you who worry about student and parent reaction to such an approach, I urge you this: speak to them. Read the flimsy evidence base that surrounds marking and tell the kids and their parents about it. Go further and tell them what you will be doing instead of spending hours writing hundreds of different targets all over hundreds of different books: Practicing explanations of difficult concepts in front of the mirror (I love this); annotating next term’s class reader; writing model answers for student scrutiny. Tell them you’re going to make them better and you’re going to do it with honest and frank conversations; not cold and impersonal scrawlings.

Too Many Saints.

Once upon a time, in a meeting long, long ago, when I dared to suggest a strategic change based on what ‘OFSTED want to see’, a colleague kindly reminded me of the following: “It doesn’t matter what OFSTED want- it’s what best helps the child that matters.”

Now, of course, what this colleague actually meant was, “I only think about the good of the children whereas you are clearly only concerned with trivial matters such as performing to government standards, and because of this, I’m going to have to remind you, in front of everybody in this room, of where your priorities should truly lie. You are the devil and I am a saint.”

Needless to say, I was fuming. Reminded, once again, that ours is a profession dominated by sanctimonious, holier-than-thou, isn’t-everything-so-Enid-Blytony, do gooders, determined to make the rest of us- the actual humans- look like a bunch of tossers who couldn’t care less about darling little Johnny and the rest of his pubescent cronies.

These do-gooders are those who go on about educating ‘the whole child’ as opposed to the rest of us who presumably only care about the elbow bit of the child. Or the bit between the nose and the upper lip that everyone says is called the septum, but doubtfully so, worrying that they might have got this mixed up with the perineum.

These do-gooders are those who bang on about Pastoral this and Pastoral that, looking upon any teacher who shows the faintest interest in academic achievement as a Gradgrindian monster whose sole purpose in life is to enforce suffering and subjugation. 

These do-gooders are the ones in at 7am until 7pm just to tell people that they were in at 7am till 7.30pm.

They’re the teachers who rail against those who sell resources for money on TES, exclaiming ‘education should be free for all!’ without considering that actually, you know, some of us are bloody poor and could do with an extra few quid.

These do-gooders; they’re the ones who moan about the ‘factory model’ of education without actually considering the metaphor: factories are bloody efficient. And they have high standards. In fact, they have the same high standards for all and do everything they can to ensure that every thing is in place to ensure that every thing processed in that factory becomes the very best product it can be. 

These do-gooders, they’re the ones who frown at you when you swear about little Johnny in the staff room, as if you actually meant it when you called him a feckless shite, when in fact, of course you didn’t mean it. But, you’re human, and sometimes, slagging someone off makes you feel good. 

I understand that there’s an argument for modelling good behaviour; that, as teachers, we should be paragons of virtue for all and sundry. 

But I disagree. And so do the kids. They know what’s real and what isn’t. Why do you think they constantly criticise those teachers who change the moment another teacher is in observing? Kids value authenticity. And the Mother Teresa act just ain’t genuine.

There’s a mental health crisis in our schools. We’re overworked and we’re stressed and we’re crumbling. Many of us are leaving work feeling worthless. This saintliness, exhibited by so many of our colleagues, is not on. It’s an act designed for their own apotheosis at the cost of others’ denigration. 

So, please, for the sake of our students. Actually, no, this time-sod the students. For the sake of us- the colleagues who come to work to get the job done and occasionally hate it a little bit-for our sakes…can we stop with the mother Teresa act? It’s not doing anybody any good.

Making Clever, Cool.

A recent twitter poll conducted by Amjad Ali (@ASTsupportAAli) found that of 185 participants, a majority of 69% stated that ‘calling somebody a GEEK is a positive term, to represent hard work with successful outcomes.’

This astounds me.

Where I grew up, and amongst my own group of friends, being a geek was just…geeky. And geeky in a non-ironic, loser-ish way, like carabiner key chains, ‘World of Warcraft’,  and anybody that’s ever used the phrase ‘Elven brethren.’

Any attempt to ‘normalise’ terms such as GEEK for the end purpose of making intelligence ‘cool’is, in my humble opinion, informed by my own personal experiences and nothing else, doomed from the off.

All this got me thinking:  If I’m not there every lesson saying things like, ‘Wow kids. Aren’t books, like, soooooo cool’, what am I doing to make being clever, cool? Well, this is what I’m doing

  1. I’m really cocky.


Whilst I’m plagued by a crushing awareness of my own paltry contributions to the academic world of which I so long to be a valuable part, the kids I teach aren’t aware of this fact. In fact, to the kids I teach, it’s a surprise that I manage to squeeze my fat, bloated ego through the door every day. Because I’m always bangin’ on about everything I know. All the flipping time. Not in a bitter, twisted, ‘I know more than them’ way, but in a ‘I woke up this morning and I literally smiled when I saw my face and realised how flipping brilliantly clever I am’ kinda way. Of course, the kids laugh and they jeer and they poke fun. But they’re also a little bit impressed. They are plagued by self-doubt in many areas of their lives and I’ve shown them that simply knowing more than someone else is something that can make you feel good. Selfish perhaps, but true.

2. I’m really honest.


“Yeah, books can be boring.”

It’s the first thing I tell kids. I’m not going to stand there and condescend them by explaining that there’s a book for them and they just need to find it. I’m not going to tell them that books will engross them for hours and hours on end. I’m not going to say that books are the best things on the planet. Because, for the kids we teach, the best thing on the planet is anything which allows you to laugh at other people’s misfortune on the internet. What I will tell them is this: ‘You won’t reap the benefits of working hard or reading or doing your homework right from the off. These things don’t provide the instant multi-sensory thrill that Call of Duty can-and does-provide. But, if you want to ever get somewhere in life, you need to play the long game. It’s simple as this: smarter people lead more successful lives than those that aren’t as smart. So get smart.’ And I tell them this, time and time, and time again.

3.I teach kids stuff they’ve never learned before.


We need to work hard at giving kids the thrill that learning can provide. We can’t be complacent. As a teacher, I’m sick of teaching metaphor and simile year after year after year. Because of the benefits of overlearning, I do need to go over this stuff again and again, but that doesn’t have to be the sum total of my intellectual repertoire. And so, I go home and I read stuff. I read about polysyndeton, and anadiplosis. I read about framed narratives and compound-complex sentences. I read about ethos and pathos and logos. And then, when I’ve made sense of it all, I teach it to kids. They know with me they’ll get stuff that challenges them and they love it.  They see me in the corridor and shout out words I’ve taught them four years ago (mellifluous, nidificate); they proudly tell me they’ve bamboozled other English teachers with concepts I’ve taught them; they come in and ask me if Martin Luther King was a man who used ‘pathos’ to great effect. And I tell them ‘yes’. Yes. Yes. Yes.

4. I let them see me using knowledge for my own advantage.


I recently got a class to learn, off by heart, Inspector Goole’s ‘Millions and Millions’ speech from the closing of An Inspector Calls. Staff frowned: “Why do they need to know the whole speech?” There are myriad benefits of knowing the whole of this speech, and if you’re someone who is also questioning the value of such a task, shame on you.  Anyway, a few lessons later, when writing a question on the opening of the play, I improved my model answer by making reference to-and quoting from-the inspector’s speech that I’d also learnt off by heart, with the kids, some lessons previously. “Yes! My answer’s the best! Ha! Have that you lot!” I beamed. “I remembered the speech and it’s made my answer better than yours. Get in!”  So what did the kids do? Whimper, whine and waste away in self pity? Not at all. They rose to the challenge is what they did. And over the course of a few weeks, kids were able to use their recollection of Goole’s speech to elucidate their analysis of other aspects of the play. Being clever had a practical advantage. It’s no longer just a status symbol (see points, 1 and 3, above).

So, that’s what I do to make being clever, cool.

The School Morning Routine.

Set your alarm for 5.45am. Snooze till 6. Then, jump into the shower. Spend just 4 minutes in the shower and be sure to think about that class you’re looking forward to teaching and that colleague (we all have one) you’re hoping smiles at you later on today in the staff room.

After the shower, whack on your underwear, and then a dressing gown. Check the baby is breathing. Perhaps kiss her, just to see if she moves. She moves. Amazing. But also dangerous…tread lightly down the stairs. Must not wake her.

Make it to the kitchen and shut the door. Turn on the light, the radio (TalkSPORT), and the kettle. Now here’s the important bit- the recipe:

Turn on the George Foreman. Whilst you’re waiting for that to heat, fill a small saucepan with cold water and add a drop of white wine vinegar. 

By now the kettle has boiled so make yourself a coffee. Always black, never sugar. George Foreman still isn’t on so go into the living room and set up the ironing board and switch on the iron. 

The George Foreman is ready- you hear it click. Back in the kitchen, from the fridge remove two slices of Aldi Lancashire Black Pudding. It’s very important that you’re using Aldi black pudding- the texture and the spices surpass all other brands of black pudding. Put these in the George alongside two rashers of smoked back bacon. 

Now turn on the gas to heat the saucepan of water. Whilst you’re waiting for that to come to the boil, go and iron your shirt. It’s now 6.23 by the way. Once the shirt is ironed, the water will be boiling. Black pudding and bacon cooking nicely on the George. 

Use a spoon to swirl the boiling water in the saucepan and add two large eggs. These eggs must cook for two minutes and forty five seconds. Whack some bread in the toaster. One slice. 

Once the eggs are done, remove using a slotted spoon and allow them to rest on a piece of kitchen towel. Put the toast on a plate and add the bacon, and then the black pudding. Be careful with it- it may crumble. It’s like a paste inside. Divine. Top with the eggs. Consume. 

After breakfast, finish your coffee. Go upstairs, get back into bed and feel the warmth of the person you love best for ten more minutes.

Hop out of bed, moisturise (just the face), dress (always a tie pin), and finish with some aftershave (Issey Miyake- one spray on the left wrist followed by two on the shirt. It’s a bit much but there’s a half hour drive to work so it’ll calm down by the time you arrive).

Drive to work listening to songs that allow you to pretend you’re in a music video. Get to work. Teach. Come home. Repeat. 

Nurture 2016/17

Right, here goes: 3 good things that happened in 2016 and 5 good things I want to happen in 2017.

1. I had a daughter

Bloody hard that. I mean, I didn’t have to push her out of an orifice, but I did have to not break into a million pieces when it looked like her Mum might die. And now they’re both doing fine. Annoying sometimes, but definitely not as annoying as I am. So that’s good.

2. I became a HoD

Head of English. I like English and I like being a head. Perfect job really. 

3. I wrote for the TES

As an English Teacher who will always be a failed novelist, it was important for me to see my name in print. And now I have. 


1. Do something about mental health

I don’t know what. Something. Donate some money to charity; help someone else through a tough time; finally write that blog in which I admit to all the shit I go through on a daily basis. Something. Probably, I need to sort myself out. The constant feeling like an impostor; the constant cowering from conflict. When I was a kid I used to fight. I don’t fight anymore and I feel weak. 

2.Talk at a conference

This one makes me a little bit sick, because I’m perfectly aware that others might think I lack the credentials to do so. And I get that. When I see what other people are writing at the moment, and what they are achieving and doing, I feel remarkably inadequate. Which leads to my next point.

3. Do Something

I want to do something. Something that isn’t a pithy tweet or a sentimental blog post devoid of any academic merit. I want to engage with something and I want to trial something and I want to write about it.

4. Write more.

I don’t write blogs any more. Here’s why:

  1. I feel as though I can’t even get close to the quality of other people’s blogs. In terms of writing style, but also content. My (relatively) young age (31) and my (relatively) unacademic upbringing simply can’t be an excuse anymore. It needs to change.
  2. I don’t want to piss anybody off at my current school. My best writing comes from being pissed off. This is a problem.
  3. I’m tired. 

I need to work something out.

5. Improve things.

Results. I want results to be better than they were last year.