Saturday, 27 December 2008

Here Endeth the Lesson

I personally thought the Royle Family were the stars of TV Christmas but then I must admit I'm somewhat biased.
My youngest daughter teaches in a reasonably sedate infant and junior school with no male staff. The other teachers maintained there are no families remotely like the Royle Family, my daughter Alison put them right. "You haven't met my dad" she announced in a staffroom discussion and I must admit, reluctantly I can see what she means. For, like Jim Royale, I too am bearded, not over involved with domesticity and 'carried' to a large extent by my long suffering, though usually willing wife. But it was Jim's wife Barbara who particularly caught my eye, and ear this Christmas. Definitely aspiring to better things, her appreciation of Denise's 'fire retarded settee' was a brilliant observation of the limitations of so many of the working class in Britain today. (No accusations of snobbery etc, please, I too consider myself working class and speak with a northern accent, but try not to speak in grunts or lace every other sentence with f*** this or f*** that.)
I spent many years trying to teach secondary school pupils many skills, including a grasp of basic English. Make no mistake, for some education and a reasonable vocabulary were the means of escape from a hum-drum, low paid, monotonous existence. Surely an admirable goal and we had many successes I am pleased to say. But boy, was it hard work.
For mastering the English language figured low on the list priorities of many Noel Baker Comprehensive pupils.
Try teaching the delights of English Literature on a Monday morning when fifteen year olds Marge and Belinda are more interested in their sexual adventures in step-mum's caravan at Mablethorpe or step-dad's blue movies over the weekend. So much of life in school was not designed to widen a pupils grasp and appreciation of the English language in all its glory.
I suppose letters from home telling us that Adam was off school because 'Mum has been under the doctor again' was at least understandable. (It was difficult to talk to mum on Parents Evening when you have this image in mind.) At least she attended the meeting. Likewise the mother who wrote 'I think Mary's had the flu, even her dad was hot last night.' Though I never did meet the lady who wrote me an indignant letter after I suggested Brenda was apathetic. "How dare you suggest there is madness in our family" she lamented. This from a generation that could sometimes be excused as many missed out on a decent education.
Many of the children I taught were not particulary privileged. Monosyllables at home were often the order of the day plus a fair bit of cussing. I managed to raise the tone a little by banning swearing in the classroom, myself included. Which I suspect increased the swearing in the yard at break fourfold.
We looked at Shakespeare, John Donne and Roger McGough. We cried at Of Mice and Men and laughed at the Reverend Spooner. 'Let us glase our asses and toast the queer dean.'
I tried not to patronise the pupils and we had weekly sessions where words we had come across had to be deciphered as homeworks. Not all had access to dictionaries at home therefore the results varied. Alice suggested a pessimist was something her mother bought from the chemist whilst Thomas decided that an enigma was something you put up your bottom. (Were they both told answers by adults.)
If it was difficult then, I feel for modern teachers. There was no texting in my day, surely a large part of the problem. Who needs a vocabulary; why bother with spelling 'wen U don't nede 2.' Alas, I fear the problem will get worse. A general fall in standards is at best a shame, at worst a crime. Barbara, sail on in blissful ignorance. I'm off to practice 'Yer what' and 'Yer know' in case I ever meet any of my footballing heroes. Hundred thousand a week and not a GCSE in sight. Who's the mug, lads. Spare a quid or two for your old teacher.
( Some of you might like blog dated 25th April, Happy Days but not for Everyone. The material for Early Retirement was based on seventeen years teaching at Noel Baker.)


Yorkshire Pudding said...

See penultimate paragraph. You should have written "practise" (the verb) not "practice" (the noun). I am sick and tired of seeing this error but to see it in the writing of a former English teacher is utterly mind-boggling! Six of the best for you my lad!

Grumpy Old Ken said...

Correct. I blame the TGA. (See blog dated 18 May.) Quite depressing really, wonder whether I should call it a day. There again I never was considered pedantic so there's hope for me yet.
ps How did Hull go on Boxing Day. Pleased to see Fagan back on the field.

Anonymous said...

I think u r gr8t! U need sum mor lovin is all!

Stinking Billy said...

Ken, the more I read about your teaching days the more certain I am that I would not have made a good schoolteacher. Good post.

® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

Great post full of teaching memories Ken!

I can certainly relate to a lot of it as I teach English here in Brazil and even though the culture is so different the same problems exist...
Leading up to Christmas I had to confiscate someone's "i-Phone thingy" as she was busy filming me and showing the rest of the class her new documentary.
I constantly have to yell at the top of my voice for everyone to shut up and face the front with eyes and ears open and books and mouths closed!
It certainly is hard work but every once in a while I get rewarded in finding a student who really does want to learn and hear about life in England!
But I do try to only teach adults.

All the best Ken and I hope you had a nice Christmas!

Grumpy Old Ken said...

Ta I reckon you're modern enough to tex yourself. I haven't even got a moblle phone!
Thanks. I'm not renouned for having patience but you adjust. And I've never caned a pupil in my life.Who said 'more's the pity.
The Brit
Love the I phone bit. There's no hiding in teaching is there. I bet you are better at it than you think.
Lovely Christmas thanks.

Daphne said...

Oh yes, that rings true of my teaching experience too, in a school in one of the most "deprived" areas of Leeds - - and I too was teaching English. Loved the Christmas Royle Family (that's the correct spelling - now you can hate me as well as hating Mr Pudding!) I'm glad I'm not teaching now because any mobile phone that rang in my lesson would be out of the window and hang the consequences (unless it was mine, obviously).

Grumpy Old Ken said...

How could I hate anyone who writes lovely blogs like yours. New to this blogging lark. Decided to try to speak ill of no man, but speak all the good I know of everybody. Well, almost! (Franklin of course.)Also try not to commit the crime of,what do they call it, cyber pollution? So only blog twice a week. Sometimes I feel we need a national blog free day! Only blog when I feel, hopefully I have something to say. Re Yorkshire, at least four I follow are Yorkshire or ex-Yorkshire and, boy, don't they feel they have to tell you!
See a lot of the Dales etc on our motorhome travels. Delightful area
and people.Even write about it for a motorhome mag sometimes.
Love your moving picture in your latest blog. Ifs its SIMPLE could you teach me how to put a CD on
my next blog if you have time.
ps Do you remember those watches with alarms the kids wore in the seventies. I got to taking a fire bucket of water into lessons. It cured the problem. You'd probably get the sack nowadays!

Daphne said...

Hi Ken, thank you! It's easy to put music on (from Youtube) or photos - - and other things too - - please let me have more details of what you want to put on and I'll do my best to help!
I blog every day (okay, very nearly!) because if I waited until I have something to say it'd be a looong wait sometimes and I enjoy the discipline of writing something every day. I'm enjoying your blog very much.