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.
2016

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. 

2017

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. 

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.