2016: My Blog Posts

Here’s a run down of my top 10 most viewed blog posts from 2016.

10. An Insight Into the Male Experience: 447 views

In this one, I tried to explain that books and GCSEs and degrees won’t always make everything okay. For some people, in certain situations, brute, physical force is all that means anything and if you can’t fight-or if you aren’t scary enough- you will be made to feel shite by other people. And feel shite you will.

9. Okay, So You’ve Read it. Now What?: 452 views

Teachers who read more, must be better than those who read less, right? In this post, I explain how I change my reading experiences into teaching experiences.

8. Corridors: The Ultimate Behaviour Management Tool: 476 views

Written from experience, not research. And based on something my mentor, John Hardy once told me.

7. Allusion: Teach It: 490 views

I never write enough English blogs. And it frustrates me. This one pleased me for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the closest I’ve ever come to writing like @Xris32 and secondly, Doug Lemov got in touch after reading this. And that meant a lot to me; for me, he’s a celebrity.

6. Dear Boys: 642 views

This originally started out as a performance poem. But then I got sick of a) the way women talk about boys and b) the way boys talk about women. So I published it. It’s unfinished.

5. I’m Too Good For This CPD: 673 views

This one peed a lot of people off, mainly because the arrogant tone of the article. It should be noted, I used behaviour management simply because it was the first thing I thought of. I could’ve chosen any other area of education: data, SEND, subject-knowledge. The point of the piece isn’t ‘I don’t need any more behaviour management training’; rather, it’s ‘give me some training that I want. Please.’

4. 8 mistakes we make about Boys and English: 848 views.

There’s loads more than 8.

3. In Defence of Similes: 1309 views

Inspired by a piece @Joeybagstock wrote, this looks at similes. I’m really proud of this bit:

And, with similes, a young Italian man can be in desperate love with a young Italian woman he perceives to outshine all others , but – because he remembers she is human -he needn’t die due to a blinding devotion that mars his ability to make rational and informed decisions.

2. There’s More to Life Than Teachers: 2167 views

In which I acknowledge that students have a life beyond school. A life that helps them to do a load of stuff we overburden ourselves with trying to teach.

1. Dear PE Teachers: 10,400 views

Over 10,000 views in about two weeks this one. Unbelievable. Josh Clayman was holding a PE teachmeet at my school and I wanted to say something; I’d just read Sam Leith’s ‘You Talkin’ to Me’ and I wanted to try and write a speech that follows the six part structure of rhetorical arrangement. It’s all there- Exordium, Narratio, Division, Proof, Refutation, Peroration. I delivered the speech in front of a crowd of PE teachers and then I got home and published it online. Someone posted it on facebook and then it all kicked off. Enjoyed every minute of it.

Man-Flu

Yesterday, I took the day off sick. I’d vomited twice, my head felt like a squishy breeze-block, and cold sweats meant I got through two lots of bed sheets in one night.

I dealt with it. I’ve been ill before and I’ll be ill again. What I did struggle with, however, was being unable to kiss and cuddle my baby daughter. She’s nearly six  months old and she’s everything. Honestly, sometimes I cry for love of her. 

Since coming back to work, six people have asked me about my ‘man-flu’. All in the usual jeering, mocking tones I’ve come to expect from women who delight in the use of the term. After all, men can’t genuinely be ill can they? Not when they’re supposed to be so strong and tough. 

Today, when I think of the little girl-my little girl- who hasn’t had a kiss from her Dad, female trivialisation of my illness doesn’t seem so funny. 

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 (normally female) 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. Teach 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 femal 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.

A Compendium of Explanations

Solid explanations are the foundations of teaching. And yet, rarely do I talk with other teachers about how they explain tricky-or even simple- literary and linguistic concepts. And it’s to the detriment of my students. Take Onomatopoeia for example. Here’s my explanation of it:

It’s where words sound like what they describe. You know? Bang? It’s word that describes a sound and the word sounds like that sound?

Perplexed looks all round.

So, in this post, I will begin to compile a list of explanations, mini-narratives and anecdotes that teachers all over the land use to help elucidate and illuminate those slippery concepts that underpin English teaching. I’ll start us off:

METAPHOR

  • A beautifully simplistic explanation of metaphor, that may appeal to the more logical students in the room, runs thus: X = Y (via @PositivTeacha)

ONOMATOPOEIA

  • Rember to spell it with ‘Ono-Mari-peeing on everyone is awful.’
  • And then read this: http://buff.ly/2f9hWXQ

RHETORICAL QUESTIONS

  • If anybody has ever told you rhetorical questions don’t require an answer, they were lying to you. Every question requires an answer; otherwise, why ask them? I prefer to think of rhetorical questions as questions designed to make someone think of an answer  rather than give it literally. For example, if you tell me the dog has eaten your homework and I ask, “Do I look stupid to you?”, my intention isn’t that you reply “Yes.” Rather, I want you to think “Er…actually that does seem a bit lame. Perhaps I should tell the truth here.” Or take this example: if you walk past a bus stop and there’s a poster asking, HAVE YOU HAD YOUR SNICKERS TODAY?, you’re not expected to rush home and bang out an email or a letter to the Snickers factory explaining “No, sorry”, or “Yes, it was lovely thanks.” But, you are expected to think “I haven’t- maybe I should buy one” or “Yes and it was lovely. I should buy one more.” (via @PositivTeacha)

THEMES

  •  Topic- what’s the poem about? Theme – what’s the poem *really* about? (via @MrStavely)
  •  if a story or novel was talking to you, what subjects would it be covering or discussing? (Via @msfrielvarndean)

Your turn. Any concept you like!

To put forward an explanation for this post, please add to the comments section, or get in touch via Twitter at @positivteacha

Shakespeare and Meaning from Mono-Syllabic Words. 

Coming from a lady who, four acts previously, proudly boasts about the ‘valour of [her] tongue’, the following lines from a Lady Macbeth, now in her pitiful descent into madness, are startling in their violent prosaicness:

Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One: two: why,then, ’tis time to do’t.–Hell is murky!–Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?–Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him.

(Act 5, scene 1)



Of the 56 words in this statement, 50 of them are mono-syllabic. That is, there are 50 words of just one syllable. Compare this to 56 words elsewhere in Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy, act 1 scene 7-a scene  in which Lady Macbeth is positively frightening in her chastisement of her husband:

We fail! 

But screw your courage to the sticking-place, 

And we’ll not fail. When Duncan is asleep,– 

Whereto the rather shall his day’s hard journey 

Soundly invite him, his two chamberlains 

Will I with wine and wassail so convince 

That memory, the warder of the brain, 

Shall be a fume, and the receipt of reason

(Act 1, scene 7)

56 words again. Only this time, only 42 words are mono-syllabic. That’s 75% against 89% from act 5 scene 1. That’s a significant (but not the biggest) increase/decrease, depending on your stance, in the usage of mono-syllabic words. The fact is, in Act 5, overcome by guilt for her part in Duncan’s murder, Lady Macbeth has regressed to a child- like state in which vulnerability, fear, and guilt consume her. The increase in mono-syllabic splutterings reflects this.

Look at the following from Macduff, upon hearing of the slaughter of his ‘wife and babes’:

He has no children. All my pretty ones?

Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?

What, all my pretty chickens and their dam

At one fell swoop?

Choose 28 other words from Macduff elsewhere in the play and get your students to count the mono-syllabic words. Help them to explore for themselves,  Shakespeare’s genius in employing mono-syllabic words to heart-breaking effect.