Cards Against T.S. Eliot

Cards Against Humanity (CAH) is an incredibly popular card game self-marketed as a “party game for horrible people”. Essentially, you play with a deck consisting of two types of cards, black and white. Each round, one player asks a question from a black card, and everyone else answers with their funniest white card. It’s like bite sized MadLibs.

 

Anyway, CAH is so popular that people are marketing their own versions. As it is the original has a variety of add-ons and alternative packs but people have leapt onto that winning formula to make Cards Against Muggles/Potter and Cards Against Disney.

 

And, that’s what I’m doing. I’m not trying to make money or anything like that. Actually, I’m making it for my year 12s. I’ve blogged before that I invent and play games in the classroom and that I’ll do things that are designed to make learning memorable and this is no different. My students are studying Eliot’s poetry and I want them to be able to remember quotes from the poems as well as contextual information so it helps them with their exams. More importantly, I want them to have fun with his words and enjoy his poetry.

I’m hoping this helps.

 

Anyway, in the link below you’ll find the cards (apologies in advance if you’re fixated on the colour and shape of the original – I’ve taken some liberties). Feel free to download it, try it, and/or offer suggestions for additional cards.

 

Cards Against Eliot – link

 

 

The Magic of Teaching

Everyone acknowledges that teaching is not what it used to be. There’s a lot more pressure on educators today than there has ever been. We all know the comic strip:

parents-yelling-at-teachers

 

Back in the day, teachers were respected by students (at least to their face) or the student faced the consequences – corporal punishment kept kids in line. Nowadays, teachers are meant to be engaging and innovative. Punishments appear to have limited impact and the only way to prevent behavioural issues is by providing an environment where students are actively involved in whatever activities the teacher is running. 

 

So, how do you do this? Teaching is often likened to acting. To quote (out of context) T.S. Eliot, we “prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet”. However, it is probably more accurate to say teachers are like magicians. Not sold? Check out the following list of terminology associated with magic and how these terms apply to the classroom. 

 

  • Ditch – to secretly get rid of an object or gimmick.

Teachers have to be flexible. You can have the best lesson preparation in the world but if you are determined to follow that plan regardless of the students’ mindset then you are going to struggle. Things happen. Students might have issues going on at home, they may have just run a 3k time trial in Phys Ed, there might’ve been a fight at recess, they might be tired, they might be hyperactive, etc. 

If you can’t recognise the mood of your students and modify your plans to suit then you’re not going to have success. It doesn’t matter how finely tuned your lesson plan is, if the kids aren’t receptive to it (for whatever reason) you’ll be ice-skating up hill for the whole period. You need to be able to change things up on the fly in order to have the most success. 

 

  • Force – where a card or other object is made to be selected by the spectator, despite the appearance of a free choice.

Modern students like to be involved in the lesson design. It’s why PBL is so successful, because students get to make a choice about what they do in a system that is generally too rigid to allow that to happen. Sometimes in the classroom you get the ability to incorporate choices in to the lesson, other times you fake it. 

You might hold votes on when assignments are due or what text you analyse. You might get groups to choose their presentation topic. You might even get students to choose what happens in a period. However, often you will modify the conditions so the choice they make is what you intended from the get go BUT, because they were involved in the decision, they feel more invested in the outcome. 

 

  • Impromptu – a trick that can be performed at a moment’s notice, usually with everyday objects and little or no preparation.

Be flexible! Remember? Sometimes you’ll find yourself with 10 minutes of unplanned class time. You might finish an activity early or you might have to wait in your classroom until it’s time to go to an assembly. Whatever the case might be, sometimes you have time to kill. 

I like to have a few activities up my sleeve that I pull out in these instances. My go-to, and one I often use at the start of a lesson to keep students occupied while I take the roll, is the 9 letter word puzzle. I’ll choose a word connected to our current topic and have the students see how many words they can come up with using those letters. I’ll award some sort of prize for the kid/s who finish with the most words. 

9

Having these sorts of things handy, that only need a whiteboard marker and/or pen and paper, can be the difference between calm and chaos. 

 

  • Misdirection – psychological techniques for controlling attention.

This! In any given classroom there are a thousand distractions. Being able to redirect students’ attention from potential distraction is an art form. 

 

  • Patter – The dialogue used in the performance of an effect. Patter styles may differ from magicians to magicians – some prefer a serious patter, while others opt for a light hearted humorous patter to relax the audience and try to catch them off guard.

Some teachers are super serious, others are lighthearted larrikins. Whatever persona people adopt in the classroom, they do so because it suits their character and they’ve determined it works for them. For some teachers, their demeanour depends on the class’ age and academic ability. 

 

  • Sleight – a secret move or technique.

Despite the fact that classrooms are public spaces, not everything that happens needs to be public knowledge. Confronting a student about their misbehaviour can often occur as a private conversation, preventing it from escalating into something much larger than it needs to be. Printing materials on coloured paper for the class can allow you to cater for a dyslexic student without drawing attention to their disability. And… education doesn’t have to be overt. Games and interactive activities can be used to teach concepts without bogging students down in book learning or ‘chalk and talk’. 

hogwarts staff

^ these aren’t the teachers I was meaning when I said that educators are magic but you see it now, right?

Professional Poet

They say ‘write what you know’. Well, what I know is teaching.

 

In a poetry workshop on Thursday I was talking about T.S. Eliot and how his life, and changes therein, are clearly evident in his verse. As part of that conversation I mentioned that when I look back on my poetry there is a clear motif: teaching.

 

Poems about teachers, students and classrooms are also among my most popular (if Facebook likes are anything to go by) so I thought I’d collate some of them here. Where possible, I also thought I’d share some bits and pieces about when/if these poems were published and what inspired them.

 

The Teacher

 

He sits and surveys his environment;

An empty classroom with messy desk and

messier floor. He takes some chalk in hand,

breathes in, and releases some of his pent

 

up anger on an unsuspecting door.

For every hour in which he looks

up teaching tools in scholar’s books

he spends another hour, maybe more,

 

questioning why some students seem as though

they don’t care about their education.

He was never short of motivation and drive,

whether teacher or parent stood as his foe.

But now, when asked of his vocation

he whispers, “They have eaten me alive.”

 

This poem is the first one I wrote about the profession. It was inspired by Gwen Harwood’s “In The Park” and is a reflection of the feelings that sometimes plague teachers of apathetic adolescents. Like the next three poems presented here, it was first published in my collection, If God is a Poet.

 

Chalkie

 

Oh, I’m sorry. Was it not clear enough? Did you not hear enough to know what to do? Where does the blame fall; is it on me or you?

 

Cause I’m standing up here at the front of the class, busting my arse to get you to pass but, then, you don’t do the work.

And, you might think I’m a jerk, because I shout once in a while and I refuse to smile on the day an assignment’s due. Well, that’s bloody hard to do when I’m disappointed in what I get back because you’re too slack to do it. You say, ‘screw it’.

 

But I’ve sat too many hours working at home; telling my wife and kid to leave me alone because I’m thinking of you and what you want to be.

Well, what about me? Can’t you see things from my point of view?

This is not what I wanted to do.

I wanted to sculpt minds like an artist does with clay.

I chose this career to make a difference every day,

Not to baby-sit some little shit who’d rather spit on me than listen to what I say.

 

Yet, I wake every morn just after dawn;

Shower and dress for school,

Because I’m desperate to find that jewel,

That’s inside each kid,

That pearl of wisdom that’s hid deep down inside –

Trying to hide from the taunts of peers.

Because, its all between our ears,

These fears that hurt out chest,

As we hide the best of us from the rest of us,

And as each day goes by,

All I can do is try,

Because I know,

That when these kids grow,

They’ll look back and say,

‘He made a difference that day’.

 

This is the first poem I ever performed at a poetry slam. It was written in two sittings with the first being at the end of a long and frustrating day and the second being the next morning when I had had an opportunity to calm down.

 

Ch!ld K!ller

 

Armed to the teeth I stand,

a sea of students before me.

Some chatter,

Some stand,

Others throw projectiles across the room.

 

I strike!

But no holy water

nor silver bullet

will work against these beasts.

 

Cornered, a light bulb springs from the top of my head…

 

I cage one like a canary.

In the mine that is society,

I hang Him.

His death, barely noticed,

is mourned by few

whose white masks muffle their warnings.

 

The End is broadcast on TV news,

missed by the comatose on the couch.

 

This poem is a bit Roger McGough in tone and has a title that, in hindsight, is probably not what a teacher wants associated with them.

 

A Lesson

 

“T’was brillig and the slithy toves…”

 

What’s a fucking brillig?

 

I said when we started that all you need to do

is listen;

and that sort of language has no place here.

 

Now…

 

“T’was brillig and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.”

 

They’re not real words.

You’re making this shit up.

 

Just listen, please.

I am reading it

Exactly as it is on the page.

 

“All mimsy were…”

 

This is gay.

 

I can only assume you mean ‘fun’

As inanimate objects cannot be homosexual.

Now, I apologise.

I chose this poem as it is one of my favourites

but perhaps I aimed too high.

Here’s one that might be more appropriate…

 

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”

 

 

Again, teenagers can be frustrating. But, it was an ex-student who exposed me to the poem alluded to in the last line.

 

These Kids

 

I know these girls who wouldn’t recognise themselves if they looked at their body through my eyes.

This isn’t limited to body image and the constant corrosion of natural beauty, this is an acknowledgment of the limitations of their self-worth.

I know these girls who are so caught up in their own imperfections they don’t know how perfect they are. These are the girls who apologise for having emotions; girls who apologise to inanimate objects; girls who apologise for needing help. These are the same girls who display extraordinary skill, girls whose compassion is like hot cocoa on rainy days, girls who light up a room just by being there.

I know these girls that are so down on themselves they can’t fathom how I hold them in high esteem. I know these girls I wish my daughter could grow to be like and yet they don’t like themselves.

I know these girls.

 

I know these boys who think the only way they’ll be accepted is if they’re tough. These boys who beat down on each other; boys who punch and push, cheat and steal; boys who find fault in others to mask their own flaws.

I know these boys who sandpaper their sensitivities. These boys who resort to attacking because they don’t want to be seen as lacking in any way, shape or form.

I see these boys who are confused. They are tethered to the horses of society that are dragging them this way and that, threatening to pull them apart. They are told to let it all out, to talk, to cry. They are told to hold it all in, keep quiet, bottle it all up. They are told to write, paint, sing. They are told to work, run, fight.

I know these boys I don’t want my son to become but it’s the world that needs to change, faster than it already is. When the world becomes tolerant and accepting, so too will our boys – my boy among them.

I know these boys who don’t yet know themselves.

I know these boys.

 

This poem was not, as you might expect, inspired by students. One of the “girls” referenced is actually a friend of mine at work who has been merged here into a bigger observation that encompasses a number of people I have had the pleasure of teaching and working with. Neither this one nor the next three have been sent off for possible publication.

 

Hello everyone,

Welcome to English.

I know you want to pass

and in order to get there you’ll want feedback but this is how it works in my class:

see three, then me.

This isn’t some sort of work avoidance policy on my part,

it is simply something put in place to help you recognise that education is a privilege not a right.

You can – and will – have my help,

but ‘work’ in my classroom is a two way street and you have to meet me in the middle.

I will not spoon-feed you.

I will not coddle you.

I will not strap you to a chair and forcibly move your hand until your pencil draws recognisable letters on your page – even though for some of you it feels like that’s what it would take.

No, if you choose to be academically inactive,

that’s a choice you make.

It’s a choice you have the ability to make and you do so, ignorant of the number of people worldwide for whom education is denied.

You; (predominantly) white, middle class male.

This world is yours yet you pollute it with bad decisions.

Poor choice after poor choice – I walked in your shoes for a while before finding a better path.

At least for me, as it is for you, there is a path.

Be thankful for that, there are many who would die for the opportunities afforded you.

So, before we move on,

are there any questions?

 

This as yet untitled poem continues that theme of teenage apathy but gives reference to two personal situations. The first is an acknowledgement of my own misdeeds as a student, the second is an allusion to my school’s (forcibly) cancelled attempt at supporting the “Do It In A Dress” charity to raise money for girls in Africa to get an education.

 

Lit 2016

I wrote a poem for last year’s class and so I’ve set myself the task of writing one for you, but I suck at goodbyes and I’ve already had three tries at writing this and nothing feels quite right. I guess what I want to say is you’ve got this but the trick is to maintain your grip because the last thing you want is to let slip the opportunity you’ve spent years working towards. You see, the future is yours but it doesn’t come for free – work smart, study hard. Not that exam results are an indicator for later success, just that there’s little point putting yourself through all this stress only to stumble and fall when it matters most. T.S. Eliot said “there will be time” but that time is better spent on revision rather than indecision – that can come later, you have your whole life ahead of you. Most importantly, before you leave, I just want to say that I believe in you. You are each far more capable than you give yourself credit for and one day, when you’re thinking about who you are and what you want to be, I hope you see in yourself what I see when I’m looking at you: endless possibility.

 

FAITH (Lit 2015)

Some of you haven’t always liked me. Some of you might not like me now. Some of you don’t “get” poetry and you might be asking how or why I would ever want to write a poem about us. But, then, that’s not what this poem will do because every time I mention me it’ll be more as a reflection of you. You make me, distort me, reshape me to be the person you need me to be. At times, for some of you, all you’ve needed is an ear – someone to hear the rumble of your world shaking or the crack of your heart breaking or something far less severe. Perhaps it is my calm demeanour that encourages you to open up to me but there have been plenty of times I’ve been meaner than I need to be because that’s what you’ve required. It’s not me, it’s you. And the reversal of that tired old cliché seems like the most honest thing I can say in a situation that feels a lot like we’re breaking up.* We’re heading in different directions and you’ve outgrown me. Some of you will probably disown me while others will insist “we can still be friends” on Facebook as long as I don’t make you face another book you’d rather burn than analyse. God, I suck at goodbyes. I guess all I really want to say is… in Chapter 10 of The Handmaid’s Tale Offred sat at the window seat and imagined throwing something at the Commander and we, as readers, understand this to be an act of passive rebellion brought about by a cushion in her room that has writing on it despite the fact it is illegal for her to read. Whether you’ve noticed it or not, in the time I have taught you, I have rebelled (passively and aggressively) for much the same reason as Offred. You see, FAITH is what the cushion read and both in my heart and in my head I have faith. Success will come, perhaps earlier for some, but I have faith in all of you. Timbuktu; kangaroo; yabbadabbadoo.

 

These two poems, not necessarily presented here as they were initially intended, were written for students. They were, in a way, a thank you gift for their hard work and dedication throughout their final year of high school. Both reference texts we studied during the year.

 

This is not a test

 

Where are all the standardised people?

Row by row they sit,

minute by minute the clock ticks

their life away.

 

Shade in the bubble –

A

C

B

A

Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start.

A round peg will fit

in a square hole

if you plane down the edges.

 

Where are all the standardised people?

The uniformity of boys

grown into men in suits,

pleated girls who’ve become

pencil-skirted women –

all clad in 2B or HB grey.

 

Where are all the standardised people?

You make love

with military precision,

timetabled

according to ovulation.

In, out, in, out –

a seed is sown,

a child begins to sprout

and in nine months

it makes its scheduled appearance.

Crying controlled,

toilet trained,

bred to fit the mould.

 

Where are all the standardised people?

Clock in

for your accepted activities,

normalised notions

of right and wrong.

You drive between the lines

you once strived to colour inside.

Clock out.

 

Where are all the standardised people?

 

Finally, this poem began as criticism of standardised testing but developed into a critique of society in general. It was published recently by Other Terrain Journal.

 

Anyway, that’s enough. I won’t burden you any further.

 

 

 

Drowning at work

The problem with people is that we are human. Humanity has one great design flaw that makes us as equally capable of destruction as we are of creation. That is, we are driven by our emotions.

Our thoughts and feelings drive our actions but we are, unfortunately, affected by a negativity bias.

When thinking of metaphors to explain this I first thought of an anchor but it’s not an accurate symbol for what negativity does. Negative thoughts and comments don’t just weigh down an individual, they have an impact on those around them. Negative people have their own gravitational pull, sucking others into their conversations and behaviours. It has a snowballing effect, where the negativity grows with each new comment and complaint.

 
I hate my office at the moment. I love the people but the vibe between those four walls is cancerous and black. When your job is teaching teenagers, the office is often an oasis – a paradise amidst the harsh desert of the classroom. When the ‘perfect’ lesson doesn’t go to plan, when the apathy is insurmountable, when ‘that’ kid is in a mood, you take solace in the company of your colleagues who are all in the same boat. But it’s hard to enjoy the ride when people are drilling holes in the hull.

 
I’m tired of trying to keep us all afloat. Each effort made to raise morale seems to be undercut – the negative undercurrent is too strong. So I’m going to don a life jacket and float away for a while.

Banksy: the people’s protestor

My year 10 students are studying texts as vehicles of protest and I’m trying to expose them to a wide variety of visual, written and aural works but we’ve hit a wall. This isn’t a bad thing because Banksy has hit the same wall and we’re finding his art to be rich media for discussion. We’ve unpacked pictures of stuffed animals being transported to their eventual slaughter, lovers fixated with their mobile phones, kissing coppers, children interacting with or acting as soldiers, people (including Jesus) reluctant to let go of their shopping, heart-shaped balloons, bouquets of flowers, and a number of other powerful protests that critique aspects of our political, social, and economic zeitgeist.

 

Currently I’m asking them to write Short Answer Responses – a bizarre new text type that has been born out of a perceived need to have students analyse more without increasing the marking load of teachers and examiners. Each of the samples I’m providing below are individual pieces, so ignore the fact that I’ve rehashed the same topic sentence/thesis statement across all three. Next week I’m going to show them how, with a little bit of tweaking, we can turn these responses into a comprehensive 5 paragraph essay.

 

Why am I sharing this here? In studying/teaching Banksy’s art I have come to really appreciate the technique, aesthetic and depth of his work. Why wouldn’t I share this with that in mind? So, here you go. Below are three pieces and the sample responses I’ve written as exemplars for my students to follow.

Happy reading!

 

banksy-trouble

The provided image is of a stencilled piece of artwork by political activist and graffiti artist, Banksy. It can be read as a political protest that encourages anarchism through its symbolism, composition and epigram. The salient part of the image is the familial relationship depicted on the right hand side. Here we see a young man in stereotypical punk garb being doted on by his mother, a conventional housewife. The man’s costuming includes a Mohawk styled as liberty spikes. This particular hair style alludes to the Statue of Liberty which is a famous symbol of freedom and acceptance suggesting these are the ideals the man is fighting for. Furthermore, the pole for the anarchist flag he carries points at the lunch his mother has prepared for him (which consists of a flask, bag and green apple). It is a lunch one might take to work and it is this connotation, and the symbolism of the apple, that suggests rebellion is not only natural but is our responsibility. Reinforcing this is the epigram on the left hand side. The black and red colour scheme connects the young man to this message and is used to signify both power and danger. These words belong to the mother and express her maternal instincts with the instruction to “Eat Your Lunch” as well as the encouragement to “Make Some Trouble” in his fight for his rights and freedom. Most prominent in this text is the message to rebel as the bright red stands out against the dull colours and provides a connection with the man’s bandana. This, then, guides the viewers’ gaze back to the mother who straightens this mask the way she might fix a tie, thus reinforcing the theme of the image – that it is our responsibility to stand up against governmental oppression.

 

banksy_cctv

The provided image is of a stencilled piece of artwork by political activist and graffiti artist, Banksy. It can be read as a political protest that encourages passers-by to question the nature of surveillance through its composition, epigram and symbolism. People walking along the footpath might first notice the policeman and his canine companion who are at street level, they will then follow their gaze (and the angle of the dog’s body) which point to the large white writing and the child ‘painting’ it. This message written here states “ONE NATION UNDER CCTV” which is an allusion to the Pledge of Allegiance but with references to God replaced with CCTV. One reading of this is that people used to modify their own behaviours because they were trying to please an omnipotent deity but now they do so because they fear that they are being watched by a government that uses surveillance cameras to monitor their every move. This is reinforced with the stencilled policeman holding a camera and the strategic placement of this graffiti next to a surveillance camera. Furthermore, despite his apparent criminal activity, the child in the image maintains their innocence. This is, in part, because they are youthful (young age being synonymous with innocence and naivety) but also by interpreting their red hoodie as an intertextual nod to Red Riding Hood – a tale that includes a naïve child stalked by a murderous wolf. This, then, puts the government in the position of the antagonist. By combining these elements, audiences can determine that Banksy’s artwork is an homage to the themes in George Orwell’s 1984 and, as such, is critical of the government’s access to information about its citizens.

 

bansky-smiley-face-police-angels

The provided image is a photograph of a gallery piece by political activist and graffiti artist, Banksy. It can be read as a political protest that uses symbolism, juxtaposition and irony to warn viewers of governmental oppression. Foregrounded in this image is a figure in riot gear hanging from the rafters of a building with an indeterminable number of similar figures hanging around them. The costuming immediately identifies these characters as representative of law and order with the dull colours and assault rifle connoting blind uniformity and violence. This is juxtaposed against the bright colours of the angel wings and smiley faces that have been superimposed onto the stencilled figures. Both of these additions signify ‘goodness’ through the associations developed from their use in popular culture and social media. One reading of this piece, then, is that police and armed forces do God’s work for the benefit of society. However, as Banksy is known to criticize the government and law enforcement in his other works this depiction is most likely satirical. The more cartoony elements are then presumed to be used ironically, and therefore assume greater importance in producing meaning. This is reinforced through the vectors in the composition as the butt of the gun points to the wings and the curve of these wings, as well as the figures’ shoulders, point to the smiley faces. An alternate reading, then, regards these smiley faces in a similar vein to how it has been subverted in Punk music iconography and the comic, Watchmen, where it is worn by a corrupt and violent superhero. As such, it can be assumed that Banksy has used symbolism, juxtaposition and irony in this piece to suggest that police and other authority figures hide their corruption and oppression behind a facade of wholesomeness and protection.

 

When the master becomes the… spectator

A lot of teaching is about control. Or at least it seems so.

First of all you have to control student behaviours. Gone are the days where you can expect students to respect you or do as you’ve asked simply because you occupy an authoritarian position, today’s teachers are taught and re-taught behaviour management strategies throughout their degrees and their career.

Then there is the expectation that we are controllers of content, keepers of knowledge. This stereotype is one born out of traditional practice and perpetuated through years of ‘chalk and talk’.

There are a number of teaching strategies that are currently popular that involve giving up some of this control, an exercise which frightens some teachers both old and new/experienced and inexperienced. These methods include flipped learning, SOLE and PBL among others.

I’m about to walk this path. Again.

A few years back I was a lot more proactive in this space. A colleague and I pushed each other to continually provide students with authentic learning experiences. We ran TEDx events, we had students create film trailers that were commented on by professional film-makers, we published student creative writing, we collaborated with other schools, we entered students in competitions, we had students perform poetry to each other and also in a public forum; we went beyond the four walls of our classroom and the learning experiences were richer for it.

Unfortunately, the school climate changed and we lost our mojo.

So why am I back trying it again? Mostly it’s because I’m going on long service leave and will only have my students for two weeks. In trying to come up with something ‘cool’ that could be completed in this short time-frame I remembered the work of Bianca Hewes, who I used to follow closely on Twitter when I was more engaged in this space.

One of her blog posts was about a class coming together to collaboratively write a novella and I was considering following this line of thinking, scouring NaNoWriMo resources and the Write-a-book-in-a-day website, but we’ve already done creative writing recently and I didn’t want to drag the students through something. What I wanted, was for them to take control of their own learning.

So, I came up with this – https://goo.gl/SIH1sV

I’m not certain how it’s going to go.

The hardest part will not be behaviour management. I have a few strategies and tactics up my sleeve to monitor student progress. I’ll use exit tickets, planning and reflection documents, inside-outside circles, value lines, and other methods to measure their success. This will ensure their accountability. Beyond that, I’ll use the usual CMS strategies to keep the kids in check.

The hardest part will not be relinquishing my position as the custodian of knowledge. I don’t pretend to know everything anyway.

The hardest part will be keeping myself in check. Each time I’ve done something like this in the past I’ve gone a little stir crazy. It’s the same with supervising exams and tests. I will be there, providing duty of care, but for the most part I will just be holding myself back and trying not to intervene (or annoy).

Wish me luck.

 

 

Teachers With Teeth

I was a teenage dirtbag and people have often suggested that I must be a brilliant teacher because there’s nothing the students can do that I haven’t seen or done before. If you add to that the fact that EVERY teacher I ever had said that I had the brains to be so much more then what you have is a recipe for… something.

If I knew cookery better then I’d offer a more precise metaphor but picture something that is potentially perfect but easy to mess up, prone to disastrous results. I want to say soufflé but I’m not sure if that’s right.

Anyway… what I’m really trying to get at is that I’ve walked the walk of a disengaged, disruptive teenager before and I can still talk the talk quite fluently. I match their criticism with witticism, their talk down with talk back. They bring the sass? Myeh, I’m a Sasquatch.

I don’t know what it is but students seem to respond to that as though they respect a bit of attitude. Maybe it’s just that they like teachers who show a bit of personality and humour.

There are 2 problems here.

  1. These retorts need to be immediate to be effective, thinking time decreases their effect and, so, you’re not always censoring yourself as much as you normally would. When shooting your mouth in this manner it’s possible that you’re firing live bullets.
  2. Mental health issues, depression and teen suicide are too real to ignore in today’s day and age.

I know I’ve overstepped the line before. I am truly apologetic for the words that have come out of my mouth in times where I haven’t considered their impact and I wish I could take some of those hurtful things back. But I can’t. So, I’m doing the next best thing – I’m trying to create a more supportive, positive vibe in my classrooms.

It’s not easy. This sort of thing doesn’t come naturally to me. But I’m trying. One of the things I’ve tried to encourage is the students complimenting each other. That way, when my feedback or comments are negativity geared they can pump each other up.

That’s why, when I read this poem recently, it was everything I felt but never expressed. It was as though someone was telling my life through verse and had gotten my gender wrong.

That’s why I asked them if I could share it here. It wasn’t titled where I read it so I’m going to call it “Miss Roast”. It’s by fellow WA based teacher/poet, Elise Kelly.

 

They call me Miss Roast at school

It is a title of respect that crowns my head, put there by adolescent fingers

Shouted in open school halls like a student catcall or a grudging fanfare

Every day in class I read my students a Shakespearean insult

Though they can not sift through the Bard’s English, the cloaked insult is a language they understand

And breathe it like oxygen

There is no higher art form to them than invectives injected like venom into another’s tender skin

They roast their friends and foes over the same fire and feast on the spitting crackle, hoping they will not be burned in turn

Their favourite sport is the back-and-forth banter, the tennis-match rally of roasting and boasting

And although there is room for wit, they have no time for it

Their words are crude and cruel and so naive in their poison

But they call me Miss Roast because I can speak with their forked tongue

Relief teachers get a lot of shit, and I have learned to clapback and smackdown their jibes

I have clothed myself with comebacks and stood armed with retorts like they were a shield

But I fear they have become bullets that plant guns in their half-grown hands

They call me Miss Roast, because I can leave a student who gives me lip lying in the dust after the lick of my whip-like tongue

Hold my own against the sass of asshole dropkicks

But I wonder if I should be proud of the title

Rap for them comes only in battle form

Poetry to them is uncool until it is in a slam

My words are most worth their respect when I make them weapons, and I did not mean for this to happen

Why do I teach them an insult a day when I could teach them to be kind

Fill their ears with the music of Shakespeare’s sonnets of love

Teach them the ancient art of compliments where no one is the opponent, and victory comes from raising each other up instead of breaking each other down

They call me Miss Roast

A stamp of youthful approval for the fire in my breath, leaving the ground scorched

But I would rather be the warm sun helping these little buds to bloom

I’ve got the music in me

My year 12 General class have a really naff task to complete that has great potential. Basically, they have to demonstrate how 5 songs connect to their life/experiences. Currently it is neither an autobiographical task nor a song analysis one but it could be great as both. Oh well, there’s always next year.

 

Anyway, as is often the case, I’ve created an example they can follow. Here it is:

 

cover

Cover design.
 
Because this CD task is somewhat autobiographical, I decided to blend photos of me doing two things I love: teaching and footy. My ‘band name’ is something I’ve used as a moniker in video games and is based off the band Run DMC (who feature on one of the tracks). While the album’s title, RONception, is based off the film Inception and plays on the idea of the image (the Ron inside a Ron), the font style and colour is reminiscent of the 1980s which represents my childhood. 
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Track listing
 
1. It’s Tricky – Run DMC
Key lyric:
“One thing I know is that life is short
So listen up homeboy, give this a thought
The next time someone’s teaching why don’t you get taught?
It’s like that (what?) and that’s the way it is.”
 
The third line of this verse is something that I’ve considered getting put onto a hoodie. Mostly, this is because I’m a teacher and I’ve had to deal with the frustration of students not listening or not retaining information. The rest of the song serves as a reminder that life is hard and we need to do as much as possible to create opportunities for success and to maintain our mental health. 
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2. Re-Arranged – Limp Bizkit
Key lyric:
“Life is overwhelming
Heavy is the head that wears the crown

I’d love to be the one to disappoint you when I don’t fall down.”
 
When I was in year 10 I told my course counsellor that I wanted to be an English teacher and she laughed at me. Since then, I’ve had similar experiences where people have belittled me and underestimated my abilities. I’ve used this as motivation and have taken great pleasure in proving people wrong. Furthermore, Limp Bizkit was one of the bands I loved when I was in my late teens/early twenties. This is a great time of angst and aggression which is fits the style and tone of Limp Bizkit’s work.
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3. Swear Jar – Illy
Key lyric:
“Now ladies and gentleman I know I’m not perfect, hell
I’m probably guilty of this shit myself
But I’ve tried, oh I try not to put myself above nobody”
 
I come from a family that has struggled with many issues and this has made me humble to the extent that I’ve always struggled with the notion that some people are incredibly arrogant. I can list dozens of people who are better poets/teachers/fathers/friends than me. That said, I do rile people up on purpose so I can see how some people might assume that I think I’m their better but I honestly don’t believe I am superior to anyone. While I admit to being racist and sexist in my adolescence, I am an advocate for human rights now that I’ve matured. 
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4. It’s Only Rock and Roll – The Rolling Stones
Key lyric:
“If I could stick my pen in my heart
And spill it all over the stage
Would it satisfy ya, would it slide on by ya
Would you think the boy is strange?”
 
Mick Jagger has said that the inspiration for this song comes from critics and journalists commenting that the Rolling Stones’ new tracks and albums were not as good as their old ones. He exaggerates the lengths the band must go to in order to appease people in the industry. Aside from feelings of inadequacy that I’ve experienced in my life, I also resonate with these lyrics and their imagery. I often write poems expressing my emotions (“stick my pen in my heart”) but I’ve got a growing rejection list from publishers. 
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5. Lean on Me – Bill Withers
Key lyric: 
“You just call on me brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on.”
 
This song is hugely significant for me. My best friend quoted these lyrics as part of his Best Man speech at my wedding and it brought me to tears. I never had a lot of emotional support growing up so this was a very touching moment. Since then I’ve become quite empathetic. I’m generally good at reading other people’s emotions and am actually the person most people at work come to when they need a hug.
back-cover
 
 

Othello – the untold story

My year 10s are tasked with transforming an act or scene from Othello into another text type and, as I was explaining the assignment to them today, I mentioned that you could play around with genre as well as form. So, in preparation for tomorrow’s lesson I thought I’d provide a brief example of what they are expected to do – it’s rushed and imperfect but it’ll do.

Here it is, a twisted take on Act 5, Scene 2 re-imagined as part hard boiled detective story, part satire:

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She was dead. That much was obvious. In fact, those present at the scene of the crime swear that she came back to life briefly just to say “A guiltless death I die” before passing away again. That raised a few eyebrows but what mattered most to Emilia Watson was finding the guilty party before they could kill again.

Certain that the immediate surroundings were bound to contain clues, Emilia searched the bedroom. The bed itself was draped in silken sheets generally reserved for weddings and other special occasions. Tangled in the linen was the victim herself, a wad of fabric stuffed into her mouth. The exact cause of death was unknown; there was no bloodshed so it wasn’t a stabbing, and the foul stench associated with common poisons was nowhere to be smelled.

‘Perhaps,’ thought Emilia, ‘I should have had some training before opening up my own detective agency.’

Not one to give up at the slightest sign of trouble, she continued her search. Not far from the bed Emilia found a dark skinned man hunched in a ball on the floor.

‘Strange. Why didn’t I notice him before?’ She pondered this as she inspected his appearance.

She followed the tears from his eyes, down his cheeks and onto his neck. Nothing unusual there, that’s the direction tears normally take. Further down she noticed scratch marks on his arms – that was unusual. Most strange, however, were the words spewing from his mouth. Emilia knelt down to listen closely.

“O, she was foul! Whose breath, indeed, these hands have newly stopp’d: I know this act shows horrible and grim.”

The man was clearly upset but, as Emilia didn’t speak Shakespearean, nothing he said made sense. As he continued to mumble away, the only words she understood were handkerchief and whore which she doubted were useful in helping her crack this case. No, this man would only sidetrack her from the task at hand.

Emilia continued to search the room but the interior decorator was clearly a minimalist. Fortunately, the lack of clues was offset by the arrival of her husband and some other men. For the most part, Emilia decided that most of these men weren’t worthy of her attention (although one was a bit of a spunk). That said, the smile on her husband’s face was a bit disconcerting.

“Iago,” she questioned. “Why do you smirk?”

“Smirk? I do not smirk.”

“You do, and you are.”

“Perhaps I am just happy to see you,” he replied.

“Unlikely,” she retorted but checked his crotch anyway. Indeed, he was not happy to see her. As she eyed him off further she noticed characteristics she hadn’t paid attention to before; among these were his elongated chin, pencil moustache and penchant for black clothing.

“Why do you look at me so, woman?”

“I’m starting to think you are not what you are.”

“Are you saying, then, I am the villain?”

Iago seemed quite shocked at this accusation but Emilia was certain he was up to no good. It was then she found her biggest clue:

“What is that bag you are holding, husband? Why is it marked with a large dollar sign?”

Iago neared. “It is Roderigo’s fortune. I have acquired it from him.”

“Really? Well then, if we are now rich I don’t need to work anymore.” And, with that, Emilia threw her empty notepad aside and strolled from the room dragging her husband behind her. “Come,” she said. “We have shopping to do.”

“What about the murder you were trying to solve?”

“Oh, I’ve got no idea who did it. I’m as confused about it now as I was when I started.”

Iago smiled.

‘Shocking’ classroom behaviour

I’ve got this theory that if you make one lesson stand out (like, really stand out) then the content associated with that lesson will be more memorable and thus more beneficial to the students and their future exam success.

 

Two years ago I ran a revision session using games typically associated with kids’ parties, such as pass-the-parcel. Last year I did something similar but with more ‘mature’ games – while studying Nick Enright’s Blackrock we played spin-the-bottle and beer pong (but with study questions NOT alcohol).

 

Today… the students walked into the classroom to see craft materials laid out for them and their teacher in a lab coat. Why? Well it all stemmed from this:

 

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That’s the opening of chapter 2 in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. In that section of the novel a group of students are being walked through the facilities where they grow and train the future citizens of the world state. Rather than provide my students with real flowers (and picture books), I gave them the resources to make their own.

 

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I figured we could make flash cards in the shape of roses, telling the class that many students praise the use of flash cards in helping them learn content for other subjects.

 

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As for the picture books, I thought they’d be good ‘study guides’. I told the students that memorable passages or important lines could be paired with images of their construction and that this may help them remember them in the exam. It sounds legit… right?

 

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Anyway, IN THE NOVEL, the beautiful display of flowers and bright, glossy pages is essentially a trap designed to encourage children away from an interest in nature and knowledge. Just as the children begin to enjoy these treats a loud siren blares and they receive a mild electric shock.

 

So… I pre-prepared a water pistol and hid it in the drawer closest to the television. I then set an alarm on my iPad and connected it to the tv with the volume as loud as it would go. Just as the students began to enjoy their craft lesson, a loud siren blared. I apologised for the ‘accident’ and went to turn it off, retrieving the water pistol as I did. After spraying everyone with a jet of water from my gun, we had a giggle and then got back to work.

 

THAT’s what I call a lesson they won’t forget in a hurry.

 

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* I should also point out that I’ve also had some poorly planned, terribly managed lessons of late too – but that’s something for another post.