S p r i n g
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A TRIBUTE TO JOHN DEVITT In His Own Words John Devitt
Odi et Amo Larry Cotter
A Witness to truth and Beauty Breda O Brien
Quitting Time Seamus Heaney
Interview with Jude Collins
Reading Right Jude Collins
Write a Poem Competition 2008
Interview with Frances Rocks
Margaret Keating on Teaching in the European Schools
Teaching English Magazine Crossword
Cover image: Pieter Brueghel the Elder , Netherlandish Proverbs. 1559. Oil on oak panel.
IN MEMORY OF JOHN DEVITT John Devitt died in June 2007. He was Head of English at Mater Dei Institute of Education and was recognised, far and wide, as an outstanding educationalist, literary critic and film and theatre reviewer. John began his career as a secondary teacher and taught for many years in St Josephs CBS Fairview. He was a founder member of the Association of Teachers of English. This issue of the teaching English magazine is dedicated to his memory. In his own words In July 2006 John was Andy OMahonys guest on the RTE´ radio programme Dialogue. Here are the some of the highlights of that broadcast. On the vocation to teach I began thinking about teaching when I was still at school, partly because I was thrilled, electrified, penetrated by certain poems and plays and I thought it would be great to stay close to work like this and share my pleasure and maybe deepen my understanding. The first day I ever went into a class I was teaching Grays Elegy in a Country Churchyard … the class lapped it up; they were really interested, really receptive and I thought, Christ, this is something I can do well, Ill get good at this. It was literally the first day in a classroom that my sense of vocation was confirmed its a big word, vocation and I dont want to lean too heavily on it but it was an extraordinary moment and I remember it vividly ... It was a road to Damascus type of experience ... and Ive been teaching now for well over forty years.
On spontaneity I knew that spontaneity was highly desirable but I knew also that it had to be carefully rehearsed. … I would never go anywhere near a class, a lecture or a tutorial without fifteen hundred or two thousand written words. I didnt necessarily cling to them I would be free to depart from them but if I didnt have them, I couldnt function. On the physical demands of teaching Theres more to teaching than the work of preparation theres the actual delivery itself. Teaching is a performative art and anyone who performs before an audience knows how draining that is. Young teachers take a while to realise what teaching is doing to them but at my age you certainly know that teaching is seriously tiring if you are at all conscientious and if you give it your best … In spite of all the years Im teaching, Im very nervous about it, very nervous going into class. … I have this tension … I want to stay focused, I want to be concentrated on what Im doing … On the examination system If teachers submit to the exam system completely, if they surrender to it, then it does a lot of harm … It ultimately comes down to whether you focus exclusively on the exams or whether you aim a bit higher. If you aim higher they exams neednt kill the soul. On students today and students twenty five years ago The students I encountered in Mater Dei twenty five years ago would have been well
accustomed to a tentative kind of reading of literary texts; they would have been patient readers; they would have been more reflexive as readers and this would have been something that was part and parcel of their school experience, so you had a different starting point. Now, students are much more impatient; they want to know the what and they want to know it immediately. They dont realise that the pleasure of reading a literary text is not the pleasure of having read it, but the pleasure of engaging with its multiple possibilities … Reading for its own sake is becoming now very much an acquired taste. … On the other hand, these students are very much more confident, very much more vocal and much more at ease with authority such authority as I wield, anyway and thats a good thing. On On the Waterfront On the Waterfront was the film that opened my eyes to the possibility of the medium. On reading Literature is a conjuring with possibility; its reading and re-reading. Reading really is rereading. If a thing is worth reading, its essential that you re-read it and consider other possible ways of reading it. On justifying the humanities In third level theres no obvious way in which research in the humanities can improve the economy and I hate to see the Symphony Orchestra, the Abbey Theatre, the National Library justifying themselves in terms of the number of visitors from abroad who come and how much they spend … In the 1950s a lot of things were free … you had the Radio E´ireann Repertory Players … you had free
concerts in the Phoenix Hall, off Dame Street, given by the Symphony Orchestra; the museums were expanding. When we hadnt any money we were still investing in culture without apology. Now that were rolling in money, everything is required to justify itself. It seems to me insane to ask that the study of poetry, the study of music, the study of history justify itself. Arent we human? Arent we curious? Arent we imaginative? Dont we want to speculate? Dont we want to know? On the marks of an educated person A certain good manners. Good manners in disagreement; the ability to firmly argue a case and the willingness to hear the other case; not foreclosing on options; a flexibility of mind; a mobility of intelligence. Colleagues … who have these qualities are such a pleasure to engage with. Id say they are the marks of a really educated person … One of the main troubles with English in the curriculum has been that it seems to encourage people to make premature judgements and to offer, sometimes, very bogus reasons for them, second-hand reasons. Lets postpone judgement for as long as possible but when we do enter judgement … and we have to, lets do so politely and respectfully and as forcefully as possible. On dialogue I think the ability to enter into dialogue is tremendously important. These excerpts from Dialogue are used with the kind permission of RTE´. The full transcript of the Dialogue programme is reproduced in Michael Hinds et al eds The Irish Reader: Essays for John Devitt 2007. 4
ODI ET AMO A Tribute to John Devitt Larry Cotter, a teacher of English in St Kierans College, Kilkenny, remembers John Devitts benign influence. When I first encountered John Devitt it was a sort of test. As a fledgling student in Mater Dei Institute I had to choose an elective subject to study alongside Religion and Education. The History and English faculties offered a series of open lectures so that ditherers like me could make an informed choice. I really enjoyed the History lesson given by Brendan McDonald but nothing could have prepared me for the whirlwind performance that was Johns introductory lesson. He was learned, passionate and more than a little intimidating. Since I heard of his death, fragments of the time in college keep coming back to me, moments of richness that typify the quality of his benign influence. I will never forget the day we listened as John revealed to us the brilliance of Keats ode To Autumn. He was explaining the effect of the enjambment Keats used in the lines And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep Steady thy laden head across a brook. John became the gleaner. In a graceful, comical movement he tiptoed across the make-believe stepping-stones of Keats fantastic brook. As he teetered he was careful not to spill the bundle balanced precariously on top of his head. And as he walked, he spoke the words for us, hesitating with a wobble at the word keep. Today, when I think of run on lines, it is Johns image I see, John, the personification of Autumn, gingerly crossing that stream. Another striking female persona that John
adopted was that of Cleopatra, the heroine of Shakespeares tragic play, Antony and Cleopatra. Keen to impress on us the importance of a healthy sense of fun, even in the midst of passionate lovemaking, he assumed the role of the Egyptian heroine with her lover Antony. This time he had us students picture the elegant queen dressed up in her lovers armour waving his sword above her head. His illustration of the playful intimacy of the scene was audacious and typical of the lengths John would go to in order to help us, his students, appreciate a text. It was around this time that John recommended us to read Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga, a name I remember because of its exotic sound. Twenty years later, I finally searched it out and now it is top of my must read list. The same energy was on display when John demonstrated to us the rhythm of Tennysons
The Charge of the Light Brigade. Galloping across the lecture theatre, with sabre held aloft, he chanted the mantra Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. These were all vivid moments of learning. John Devitt was not simply breaking open texts for us, he was also showing us how to teach with sublime style and I use the word sublime advisedly. Being a student in Johns class was truly sublime. There were times of excitement and wonder and, equally, there were occasions of real terror. The unlucky student, who turned up ten minutes late for a lecture on Swifts Gullivers Travels, had to endure a painful
silence and Johns glare as he searched for the one vacant seat in the lecture theatre. Once he was settled, John resumed the interrupted sentence without comment. Similarly, one always submitted essays with a combination of hope and dread. If he liked it, the praise was treasured like a precious gem; if you had fallen wide of the mark, then his criticism was precise, clear and devastating. Tutorials could also be intense, none more so than the day he read Miltons sonnet Methought I saw my late espoused saint. It is a poem in which delight and pain are mingled. The blind poet dreams of his deceased wife only to find both she and his eyesight vanish as he wakes. John loved Miltons poetry, but this poem had a particular value for him. When he was still a young man Johns first wife died and to hear him read the sonnet, in the light of his own loss, was moving and memorable
Grotto di Catullo
Recently, at Sirmione, on the shores of Lake Garda, I looked up at Grotto di Catullo, the ruined home of the famous Roman poet, and thought of Odi et Amo the only Latin I know, a poem taught to me by John Devitt.
Long Days Journey into Night
John used Catulluss best known lyric as an epigraph for Eugene ONeills Long Days Journey into Night. The speaker admits to being tortured by his complex feelings for his lover: Odi et amo. Quare id faciam, fortasse requiris? Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior. I hate and love. Perhaps youre asking why? I dont know, but I feel it happening and Im tormented. It is difficult to imagine a better expression of the ambiguous pleasure of being in love and this conflict is at the heart of ONeills great drama, one of Johns favourite plays. I was a
year too late for Latin in St. Marys College in Dundalk but thanks to John a little of the magic of the classics became available to me. Johns influence extended beyond the limits of the degree course in Mater Dei. He was generous with practical advice we were all urged to join teachers unions and encouraged to undertake post-graduate studies. I wrote to him when I was about to begin a Masters degree in English. His phone call was typically enthusiastic, practical and supportive. When he overheard my children playing his comment was Tell them they must be quiet and let you read! It reminded me of those times in college when we met at coffee or dinner and his first question was, invariably, What are you reading at the moment? He wanted to know how we responded to stories, poems and plays. Our personal response was important. He taught us that. That sampler class in Mater Dei was indeed a test. It was, of course, infinitely more challenging for the students than it was for the teacher. John Devitt set a very high standard for other teachers to emulate. We observed him deriving great pleasure from literature even as he sought to teach us about it. The desire to achieve this magical blend is Johns legacy to the many student teachers he inspired. In her final moments. Shakespeares Cleopatra memorably says, Give me my robes, put on my crown, I have immortal longings in me. Whenever and wherever teachers and students discover their immortal longings through literature, the spirit that animated John Devitt is at work in the classroom.
A WITNESS TO TRUTH AND BEAUTY In April 2007, Mater Dei Institute, in association with Trinity College, published The Irish Reader: Essays for John Devitt. The teacher and Irish Times journalist, Breda OBrien, wrote a column on the launch of the book.
tutorial his arms would flail, he would march up and down, and in the very first lecture I ever attended with him he did a rather convincing impression of what Jesus must have experienced while being crucified, accompanied by the alarming vision of the big man hanging out of the mobile chalkboard to illustrate his point.
John Devitt was a bloody marvellous master, according to the poet and publisher Peter Fallon, who was also a former pupil of his in Glenstal. In The Irish Reader, an eclectic and absorbing book of essays published last week in honour of John, Seamus Heaney repeats the phrase in his dedication of a previously unpublished poem to him. John Devitt was a teacher for forty-four years, first at second level, and then for nearly three decades as Head of English in Mater Dei Institute of Education. And what a teacher he was.
I could feel the tears threatening last Monday, seeing him struggle with ill-health, and especially when he spoke of these being his last thoughts on teaching. Yet I was comforted by the realisation that he taught every class as if it were his last. Hours of preparation preceded a passionate delivery designed to communicate love: love of a text, love of learning, love of beauty, and love of that uncharted territory which is a students mind, where he always anticipated the surprise of a marvellous discovery found and shared. Occasionally his anticipation was rewarded. More often, I suspect, it was not, but John Devitt is a testament to the sustaining power of hope.
At the launch of The Irish Reader, John, now retired, asked his audience to take his remarks as his last thoughts on teaching. It was indescribably moving to hear him say that his deepest conviction about teaching is a moral one: a teacher is first and foremost a witness to the truth and beauty of what he professes to teach. Why bother with texts that are not beautiful? Odd how courageous it seemed to be to speak of truth, beauty and education in the same breath. What has happened, he asked, that you are more likely to hear a cricket or hurling commentator use the word beautiful than an educator? He also spoke of the beauty of what goes on in a tutorial, the discovery process and heightened awareness that emerges when ten or twelve students attend to a text. I used to be one of those students. He was a man who fizzed with energy. In a lecture or
Mater Dei at the time was becoming a National University of Ireland college, and was loading its students with punishing levels of work. When John innocently handed us an assignment one day, I exploded. Its all very well for you, I ranted. All you have to do is sit around and read books all day. He was hurt, deeply hurt. The moment the words were out of my mouth, I knew I had attacked the wrong target, but it is only now, having taught for years myself, that I appreciate the hours decades? of work that went into making every lecture seem as effortless as an ad-lib. Perhaps what I have just revealed confirms the truism that education is wasted on the
young. Yet nothing would persuade me to exchange the experience of being taught by John Devitt while still young enough to be filled with the inchoate longings for meaning and truth that we become too hardened to admit even to ourselves as we grow older. I went to Mater Dei, a teacher training college for religious education teachers, expecting to find the most meaning in the theology lectures. Despite the presence of gifted theologians, the light shone brightest in the
English lectures and tutorials given by John. Some of the characters he introduced me to will live with me always, like Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch, faced with the hollowness of her own marriage but also with an opportunity to help others: What should I do how should I act now, this very day if I could clutch my own pain, and compel it to silence, and think of those three! At the launch of the Irish Reader Professor Declan Kiberd, in his warm and appreciative speech declared John to be the most dialogic of teachers. I think what he meant was that you were never safe from a mind-opening conversation with John: not even in the lunch queue, under the sceptical eye of Jo Kirwan who presided over the Mater Dei canteen. More importantly, he meant that, for John, the sheer love of teaching and communicating took precedence over the kind of intellectual 9
territorial claims that plague academia. Perhaps it is just as well that John Devitt has retired, because the educational system has become obsessed with quantifying everything in a way that is inimical to the patient, tentative, exploratory style of his teaching. I never heard him express contempt for a human being, but last week he expressed contempt for the direction which education is taking. The tendency to use terms like estimated learning time appals him. Faced with a form that asked him to estimate the learning time required for his current text, which happened to be Shakespeares Antony and Cleopatra, his beloved wife Irene told me that he suggested to her that forty years might be appropriate. Worse still for him is the habit of describing courses in literature in thematic terms King Lear in a course on male authoritarian figures, for instance. He almost spat that students will dutifully learn to produce whatever political or sociological drivel is required. A third level system dominated by a marketdriven model of education horrifies him. In an interview with Andy OMahony in The Irish Reader, he declares the hallmarks of a good education to be a certain good manners in disagreement, the willingness to firmly argue a case but also to hear the other side, a flexibility of mind and mobility of intelligence. In an era where teachers often feel battered and a bit war weary, he is an inspiration. Waves of affection for him flowed from everyone from internationally recognised scholars to his most recent students, evidence that the technocratic approach to education will never succeed in eliminating the profound need for the bloody marvellous teacher. Reproduced by kind permission of The Irish Times. Breda OBrien teaches English and Religious Education in Muckross Park College, Dublin.
Seamus Heaney has kindly allowed the Teaching English magazine to publish Quitting Time in honour of his friend, the late John Devitt. From District and Circle, 2006, Faber and Faber.
Quitting Time The hosed-down chamfered concrete pleases him. Hell wait a while before he kills the light On the cleaned-up yard, its pails and farrowing crate, And the cast-iron pump immobile as a herm Upstanding elsewhere, in another time. More and more this last look at the wet Shine of the place is what means most to him And to repeat the phrase, My head is light, Because it often is as he reaches back And switches off, a home-based man at home In the end with little. Except this same Night after nightness, redding up the work, The song of a tubular steel gate in the dark As he pulls it to and starts his uphill trek.
JUDE COLLINS Kevin Mc Dermott of the Teaching English magazine went to Belfast to meet Jude Collins. Jude is Course Director of the Post Graduate Certificate in Education PGCE for English with Drama and Media Studies at the University of Ulster. Apart from his teaching and academic career, Jude is a well-known journalist and novelist.
KMcD What do you think makes a really good teacher of English? JC I think really good teachers have a kind of hinterland that acts as a backdrop to their teaching and the boys and girls in their class are quite aware of that. They have other or expanded interests beyond the classroom. One of the things I say to the student teachers is If youre reading a book, tell the kids youre reading it. I think school students warm very much to that sense of a fuller person rather than just a person who is doing a job; a person who can pull in confidently that wider sense of themselves into the classroom.
KMcD In your first session with students on the PGCE course, what do you say to them about being an English teacher? JC I talk about my own experience and one of the first things I say is that teaching English is enormous fun and theres great satisfaction in it. That sometimes gets forgotten. There are difficulties, but the highs are enormous and thats one reason for becoming an English teacher. Secondly, you are working with people and influencing them for a lifetime. Many of the student teachers nod in recognition when I say this, because they had that English teacher, who pushed them in the direction they are now following. You can influence people. Youre working with young people who are enthusiastic or, at least, young and alive, and that tends to keep you young and vital. I start with that.
Young teachers I admire are ones who are highly organised as well as being highly enthusiastic, possibly because I am highly disorganised myself. I am not sure, though, if that necessarily makes them the best teachers of English. When I think back on the English teachers who really influenced me, and when I talk to other people about English teachers who really influenced them, very often its the bumbling enthusiasm of some teachers that was loveable and infectious. So while I do admire the students who have that quality of being highly organised, I am not sure it is absolutely necessary to be a good English teacher.
Then, of course, youre working with a subject that you love in the first place, reading poetry, reading novels and talking about them. If youve fallen in love with literature, its great to be able to hang around it for the rest of your life and get paid for doing it.
I think a good English teacher is someone who has an interest in reading and writing. The graduate students coming into our course are better year after year, no question, but some of them are not as good in reading and writing as I think they should be. Some of them have all the qualities to become really good teachers magnetism, energy, a passion for what they are doing but their handling of the language is not as good as I would like it to be.
But its not enough that you love literature. You have to be comfortable in the company of young people.
But to be quite honest I would tend to emphasise more how important it is to get kids writing, where they realise that writing links to experience and gives them a control over that experience.
KMcD Do you put an emphasis on the student teachers becoming writers? JC I encourage them to write. I dont talk about them becoming writers in the sense of producing finished pieces, but I do emphasise that writing is something which helps you to understand things, as distinct from an act of communication. I encourage the trainee teachers to give time to writing for exploratory purposes, to take five minutes at the beginning of a class, where the class writes and where the teacher writes.
Im always giving out about imaginative writing. The metaphor I use is of a flower which has to have its roots in the muck. And likewise Im convinced that imagination has to have its roots in the lived reality, the lived experience. There isnt a writer born whose work, no matter how far removed from personal experience, hasnt got its roots in that experience. You have to start with that and kids have no problem in developing on from there through an imaginative stage. But if you start with the so-called imaginative and ignore the lived experience, you get the most appalling drivel. So I push very hard the idea that writing comes out of lived experience and that writing, even in unfinished form, gives you control and helps you understand better.
When I taught in Canada, I encouraged my students to keep a writing journal and I gave marks to the students for filling two pages every week. In the beginning some kids would write their name over and over, but they soon tired of that and began to write about their lives. And they discovered that writing had meaning for them. I certainly encourage this kind of writing but not, necessarily, writing for a wider audience. One of the activities we do is looking at different genre and looking at the classical structure of a short story, or a narrative of any kind: orientation, complication, crisis, resolution and coda. Working in groups of four or five, I ask all the students on the course to write the orientation of a story and then this is passed to another group who write the complication, and so on. Its something they all enjoy doing. Theyre quite alert to the different genre but theyre not as familiar or they havent consciously looked at the shape of a story. When they do, theyre very responsive.
I think the problem is that we sometimes go straight to the genre, straight to the narrative structure, straight to types of nonfiction and make the kids practice in those forms. I dont think this works without convincing them first that writing makes sense, and letting them discover for themselves, the thrill of putting words on experience. If they get that conviction, then everything else is so much easier. I think the student teachers are receptive to this view. I tell them 12
I left St Columbs I was light-headed with delight for about three days. I couldnt believe I was actually out of it.
when I was a kid, I used to write letters all the time, and if something really good happened, I used to write to my friends and tell them about it and when something embarrassing happened, usually involving girls, I would write about it and make myself seem more foolish in the letters than I had been in reality, and the pain would ease. And the student teachers are sympathetic to this account.
KMcD What about the teaching of English and literature in St Columbs? JC Certainly there were people there who taught me and were very influential. Two teachers come to mind. One is Father Willie McElhinney, to whom I dedicated one of my books. On Saturday mornings, he would bring in The Irish Independent and read John D. Sheridans column and he took real delight in it. That was the hinterland at work. Here was a man who was interested in things beyond the classroom and who delighted in them. We were only second years but we loved it. It was a column for adults but we used to howl with laughter. He was also encouraging and he responded well to my writing and he read out my stories sometimes and that was a great feeling. I used to argue with him about things. I remember I started an essay with Clang! Clang! Clang! The clang of the bell woke me and he didnt think this was the right way to start the piece. But I stuck to my guns. It was one of the few times in my life I felt a sense of artistic commitment. The poor man died at an early age of a heart condition. He was very impressive.
Having said all that I dont have any inflated idea about the extent to which my influence will be an abiding one. KMcD You attended St Columbs College in Derry, a very famous school, with noted students, including Seamus Heaney and John Hume. How did you find it? JC I detested it, by and large. None of the guys I hung around with would have described it as a great place. Certainly the boarders longed to get out. That said, I got a lot of material for my writing out of that time. My imagination is still obsessed with the place! The college recently celebrated 125 years in Derry and there was a publication to mark it. One of the people who remembered his time in St Columbs was Eddie Daly, the Bishop who came to prominence on Bloody Sunday. He was critical of the college, much a man after my own heart. He said he felt lonely, he felt hungry and he thought the teachers were very hard. And he mentioned some of the priests who had taught there and later become bishops and were still bishops when he became one, but they never mentioned St Columbs. Another person who wrote about the school was Eddie Mahon famous, among other things, for playing in goal for Derry City. He was the same year as myself and Eamonn McCann. Eamonn McCann wrote of Eddie that he was the only goalkeeper in the FAI who was a fluent speaker of ancient Greek! Eddie said he wept with sorrow when he left St Columbs. When
The other person that everyone talks about was Sean B. OKelly and I had him in my first year and in my final year for A levels. He later became a senior inspector. He was a tremendous teacher. I never saw him as a particularly organised teacher and as a disciplinarian he wasnt very good. Eamonn McCann used to drive him mad. When hed talk about Henry James, Eamonn would pretend he thought he was talking about Harry James, the trumpeter! The thing I remember about him was his passion for the subject. Hed say things like, You know, 13
literature. After Maynooth, I went to UCD.
boys, books are one of the things that make life worth living. And hed bring in other books, not on the course. I remember him bringing F.R. Leaviss Revaluation. I didnt know quite what it was about but I was impressed by the fact that he brought it in to broaden our experience of literature. We knew he was a terribly cultured, literary man. I remember one of the students asking him, Sir, would you not write poetry? and he said, Ah no, I havent the creative gift.
KMcD As a teacher would you hope to have warmth, enthusiasm and passion? JC Absolutely a passion for the subject and a passion for the people you are teaching. Both of these obtained with Fr McElhinney and Sean B. OKelly. They were warm individuals and this means a lot to you when you are a youngster.
We felt that literature was right at the heart of his life and everything else made sense to him in the light of that. He was a dedicated teacher and I was almost shocked when later he left St Columbs and became a principal of a secondary school. What was really impressive was his total commitment to literature. He was a sympathetic man. He wouldnt punish you for getting things wrong, though he might have gotten exasperated. He rarely would have strapped people though most of the other teachers would have done. So there was the love of literature and you felt he had a love of you as well. I remember on once occasion he encouraged a number of us to enter a writing competition. There were only two entries per school but he didnt want to tell us which ones hed selected in case wed feel bad. And that was unusual for teachers at that time they didnt worry too much about boys sensibilities.
KMcD Youre a native of Omagh, home of Ben Kiely. JC Yes. I never really took to the novels that Ben wrote. Some of the short stories are very good and his journalism is excellent. But he was interesting for me. In fact, I was fascinated that the early books were set in Omagh, and he was describing places where I walked every day. That was important and very encouraging and you begin to think that your experiences could be the stuff of books, too. Kiely taught you to respect your experience and that is true at all sorts of levels. Sometimes when Im doing media studies with the student teachers and we discuss newspapers, there is a tendency to skip to the Sun as the tabloid and The Times as the broadsheet. You have a job to get them to go back. Is there a paper called The Newsletter? Is there a paper called The Irish News? Is there a paper called The Belfast Telegraph? It shows you the strength of the English culture here. Many of them think the newspapers that are here are not worthy of respect, not worth talking about. I think that comes out of a tendency, at least until Heaney came along, to devalue your own experience, your own community, the place where you live.
KMcD Where did you go after St Columbs? JC I went to Maynooth for two years. I remember the two men who taught English. Interestingly, one of them championed the writing of Edna OBrien at a time when it was neither profitable nor popular to do so. The other man was not suited to teaching English. There was a coldness and arrogance about him and a dismissal of anything that didnt reach his standards of canonical
KMcD Do English teachers have a role in helping students achieve a sense of identity? 14
vision that is more enlightened than simply ticking the boxes, but I do think that the student teachers ideas about how to organise a class, about the things that matter in writing and the things that matter in reading, do tend to come from how they were taught themselves and, after that, from the teachers in the English Department in the school where they are teaching.
JC Theres an article by Andrew Wilkinson about talking and writing with parents and grandparents. Its that notion of understanding yourself as a member of a family and a wider community, and setting yourself in a wider time frame than your own personal time frame. I urge the students to avail of all that wonderful material, that is there waiting for them. I want the kids to see themselves as part of a family network and beyond that you very quickly go.
What we try to provide in the university is something between undiluted theory and undiluted practice, but Im not sure if we have the balance right. Real learning comes through experience but it has to be filtered through reflection. When youre starting off, teaching is a treadmill and your main concern is to stay on the bloody thing and Im not sure if we are providing the young teachers with enough time to stand back from it and make sense of it.
Im very keen on interviewing people generally. There is any number of interesting people just up the street from any school. In my experience, people are more than willing to talk about their experiences and their lives. Here, in the North, there is a strong drive, at official level, to encourage kids to explore cross-community. I think you have to understand your own community for that cross-community exploration to be effective.
You find teachers who have a passion for the subject and a compassion for the student teacher, as well as for their pupils, so their natural instinct is to help the student teacher and talk to them about the work and reflect on it and that makes all the difference. But schools are not paid to take teachers so there isnt a system of in-school mentoring its just luck.
KMcD What helps to form an English teachers identity? JC How they were taught themselves. When I go out to see the students on teaching practice, I find, in their fear, they have reverted to teaching in the same way they were taught. Its like parenting. When my kids arrived, I found myself saying things and Id ask myself, Where did that come from? It was my fathers voice. So, maybe when youre under pressure you revert to the experiences you had. Thats what shapes people. That makes me quite humble in terms of the influence I might have had upon the students on the PGCE course. I do the best I can and I try to argue a case for something with a broad
Being in schools has an electrifying effect on the student teachers, its an overwhelming effect. It changes everything. When they come back to the university, they are glad to be off the merry-go-round, but they feel this is a pale imitation of life. I think thats the truth and I understand it perfectly. It 15
often the weaker the pupils in a school, the better the teachers. I see that all the time. And they are not just good teachers, but compassionate people who are encouraging to our students. All the things youd want are very often coming from teachers who teach pupils who are very difficult.
conforms to my own philosophy: make the thing real and it transforms and galvanises it. The trick is to make that real thing really productive and I dont think it is as productive as it could be. KMcD If you could change how teachers of English are educated, what would you do?
KMcD What are the elements of the PGCE course that you most enjoy teaching?
JC The first thing I would do is to make it twice as long. You cant even begin to get a teacher ready in a year. You need longer to be eased into this world of teaching. Even working on a half timetable is pretty overwhelming. The students need longer periods for reflection. And it should be a post graduate two year programme, not a reversion to the B Ed programme. Because that narrows people down and you lose the hinterland.
JC For years in the BBC in Belfast, I used to get up at 4.45 am, look over fifteen morning papers, write a review that lasted 2 minutes 30 seconds and read it live on air, all in the space of 90 minutes. It was a frightening experience and it was exhilarating. So, every year, I give the students one of those scripts and we look at the language, the sentence structure, the vocabulary, the links, the conventions, and the students identify all the features of that style of broadcast writing: the and finally; the short sentences; the sparing use of adjectives and adverbs, and so on.
There is also an argument for teaching schools in the way that we have teaching hospitals, where you could feel confident that the student teachers will be given the best experience of teaching English. The school where you do your teaching practice has a very strong formative effect. Even the student who is most open to things that we discuss here in the university, once he or she goes in to a school, begins to see what we say here in a different light. Nothing helps you to understand more than lived experience, and all our talk here in the university isnt the real thing. So you want them to experience the best when they go into a school. When the students say to themselves, So this is what teaching is really like you want to be sure that what they have experienced is high quality, and it should be possible to do that. There are wonderful teachers out in our schools, who are really supportive. Very
Then the students work in pairs and they do a review of one section the sports page; the feature pages, the letter page and so on across about eight or ten newspapers and they work under the same time constraints as I did. And then we videotape the students. The students both love it and become totally absorbed by it. Its an example of using real media forms to develop a whole range of skills that you want to develop in the English curriculum. And I think that, as English teachers, we dont begin to use enough realmedia-world material to deliver the curriculum. The average English classroom is far more likely to use drama than media. Through one simple exercise the students get a notion of style and genre; the difference between writing for reading and writing for 16
speaking. They learn the different parts of the newspaper. Theyre talking in a very purposeful way and listening very carefully when the others students are reading their scripts. They learn to skim, to comprehend, to summarise. Talking and listening is one of the primary things in the curriculum, but you see very little of this kind of work in classrooms. The very fact that the exercise comes from a real situation excites the students.
poem integrated with a selection of images.
Another thing I like is to send the students off to do a This Place. You take half an hour somewhere, you sit and you take notes. Along with that you make notes of the thoughts and feelings that come to you in that place; what memories link into the scene youre now looking at. For example, Im looking at a radiator here beside me and that reminds me of a radiator in St Columbs in 1957. Then the students write up a piece of about 200 words and we videotape them reading that piece. Last year one of the students said to me That was the most incredible thing I have ever done because all the writing Ive been asked to do up to this has been literary criticism and I didnt realise you could write like this and link it to your experience. If you write and link it to your experience, you suddenly realise how powerful writing can be.
Bring that into school and you could do it on anything. You could do a profile of the shops down the street. You can imagine the pupils writing links and doing a little introduction; asking the questions; deciding what to include and leave out; editing; deciding on an appropriate closing; filtering in music and deciding where the music should be filtered in. There are so many judgements there. And you can download software for nothing for really quality radio work.
If I had two years with the students there are loads of other things Id like to do. For example I use to do a little thing for Radio Five once a week. It was very simple. Wed take a topic. Wed interview some experts or people on the street. Id write some links and wed add music. The whole thing lasted about three minutes.
KMcD A last word? JC I think Im a bit of an anarchist. Im not sure if Im a responsible person to be advising anyone, thats the truth! For example, I was reading about sharing learning outcomes for the revised curriculum, this morning. In a general way I subscribe to the notion that you should work co-operatively with kids but the mechanistic notion that at the beginning of every class you should write the learning outcomes for that class on the blackboard â€Ś do we want to kill any love of spontaneity in learning? There are some cases where to tell the learning outcomes might be the worst thing you could do. And it might be arrogant, even stupid to do so. Learning is a very mysterious thing. Elliott Eisner talked about how confining learning objectives can be and he also spoke of dangers of having no aims. He encouraged a middle way, what he calls flexible purposing which exploits surprise and excitement. And I agree with that.
I also introduce the students to a range of strategies for classroom drama and show them how these can be related to the traditional concerns of the English curriculum understanding literature, developing writing, talking and listening. Im talking about things like freeze-frame; hot seating and things like that, and I want the student teachers to understand that these strategies will help the kids they teach understand poetry, for example. Increasingly I ask the students to create a media text that will integrate with the literature curriculum. It can be a reading of a 17
READING RIGHT The Tory leader this week declares that in power, his party will focus on having every child reading by six years of age, providing theyre not acute Special Needs. Either Smooth Dave knows this is a stupid and cruel plan, in which case he makes the Wicked Witch of the West look like Mary Poppins, or he doesnt know this is a stupid and cruel plan, in which case he shouldnt be let ride a bicycle, let alone lead a political party.
In November 2007, David Cameron, leader of the Tory party, published a policy proposal to introduce compulsory reading tests for six year olds. In an article for the Belfast Telegraph, Jude Collins reacted to Camerons proposal. Since your eye is presently running along the words of this sentence its a safe bet you can read. So tell me this: how did you manage to master this tremendously complex activity? Think about it. Somebody has a series of thoughts and s/he makes a series of squiggles on a page. A day, a week, ten years, a hundred years later, somebody else comes along, unfreezes the squiggles, releases the thoughts embedded in them, and lets them flow into his/her brain and adds them to his/her own. Amazing. Miraculous. Totally brilliant. But youd never guess it, if you listen to David Cameron.
How is Smooth Daves latest vote-seeking wheeze stupid and cruel, you ask? Let me count the ways. 1. Peoples mental abilities develop at different rates. Its like physical growth. At six, some are taller than others, some broader, some fatter, some stronger, some wait until theyre eight or ten or fourteen before putting on a growth spurt. So to say youll have all six-year-olds reading by six is like saying youll have everyone five feet tall by ten. Some master reading early, some master it late. Zenna Atkins, the chair of the schools inspection authority Ofsted, which operates in England, couldnt read the back of a cornflakes packet until she was twelve. 2. The more tests you put children through, the more you block genuine learning. Were familiar here with the way the Eleven Plus dominates the curriculum from the beginning of Year 6 until half-way through Year 7. Teachers, keen to get good results for their school, drill and drill and drill again. No learning happens. Daves reading wheeze would move the malaise of the Eleven Plus back 18
great escape-tunnel. Theyll indicate in a thousand ways that reading works in the other direction too: it provides a miraculous route not just out of life but into it as well. You discover through reading what being alive is all about, and what makes you the way you are, and how you are like and at the same time unlike other people and how complex and exhilarating other human beings and you yourself are.
five years. Teaching to the reading test would begin before the little tykes bums had touched their seats, the first day at school. 3. Sitting reading tests at six wouldnt just mean little or no true learning would happen in that crucial first year. For a lot of youngsters the ones who failed to read by six itd mean a minimum of learning for the rest of their time in education. Failure is painful at any stage of our lives. At the tender age of six, the impact on learning potential could be terminal.
If parents and teachers can convey that, and make attractive books for reading readily available, theyd have to nail shut all the book cupboards to stop youngsters learning to read. Whereas if you stick with the synthetic phonics thing and grind the children through reading exercises, the whole experience will become so unappetizing, lots of children will never learn to read and of those that do, lots will never voluntarily crack a book for the rest of their lives.
4. In Scandinavian countries, they START teaching children to read at six. So do their little people lag behind? Uh-uh. Before you can say The cat sat on the mat, Scandinavian children leave many of their European counterparts floundering in their wake. 5. Reading is a stunningly complex skill and helping bring it about requires getting a lot of things right on a lot of fronts. Smooth Dave and the Tories are putting their money on a system called synthetic phonics. In brief it means you get the kids to sound out the different parts of the word when they read. Nothing wrong with that. Probably helps quite a bit. But if you really want to teach someone how to read, and in a way that ensures theyll go on reading and loving reading for the rest of their lives, you have to make it something youngsters want to do.
Try bringing back hanging, Dave. Itd do less damage.
Jude Collins is the author of two collections of short stories and three novels. His most recent novel is Leave of Absence Town House
Because you learn to read, as you learn to do most things, by practising the skill. For that to happen, you need to surround pupils with reading materials theyll be interested in exploring. You also need to surround pupils with adults parents as well as teachers who indicate in all sorts of unspoken ways that this reading thing is a wonderful treat, a sure-fire way to escape from boring or unattractive surroundings, a 19
Teaching English Magazine
POETRY COMPETITION All entries must be sent to Esther Herlihy, English Administrator, SLSS, Navan Education Centre, Athlumney, Navan, Co. Meath.
Write a Poem Competition 2008. Last Year, the Teaching English Magazine Poetry Competition attracted over 800 entries. This year the Teaching English magazine is again inviting students to Write a Poem. There are two categories: Junior Cycle and Senior Cycle. We hope that the competition will encourage young writers to compose poetry and encourage teachers to support the writing of poetry.
Please note that entrants should keep a copy of their poems, as no poems will be returned. PRIZES For the Writers The winning poets in each section will receive a cash prize, a commemorative plaque and their poem will be printed in the Winter 2008 issue of the Teaching English Magazine.
Rules of the Competition Each entrant may submit one poem. Each entry must be typed or written clearly in legible handwriting Each entry must contain:
Prizes will be presented at an award ceremony organised in association with Laois Education Centre.
The Title of the Poem. The Name of the Entrant, The Name and Address of the School. The Category.
For the Teachers The teacher of the winning entrant, in each section, will receive a copy of Pat Borans The Portable Creative Writing Workshop Dublin: New Island, 2005
Each entry must be stamped by the school or signed by an English Teacher.
For the Schools The school of the first and second place winning poets, in each section, will be invited to participate in Poetry Irelands Writer-inResidence Scheme.
Where an entry is modelled on, or written in response to, a poem, the name of the poem and the poet must be clearly stated on the entry and, where possible, a copy of the original poem should be enclosed.
Closing date for receipt of entries is Friday, 11th April, 2008.
2007 WINNERS It was only during the dinner That I heard the echo, Of her daughter, Telling her mother Her shoes are gay.
Senior Lost in Translation A late Friday night On a forty-five Going out to Bray For an end of mocks Celebratory dinner, We sat huddled together Laughing in whispers, Under the dim flash Of passing lights Through the condensationCovered window.
Junior Joint 1st Place
I watched her face come And go With the passing cars And got lost In the silence When I kissed her.
The Table The table in my Dads studio Had layer upon layer of thick, glutinous oil paint, An explosion of pigments Swirling and blending with each other Like a vibrant landscape, The bright sun shining in Making each colour sparkle a different diamond.
We were on the bus Just twenty minutes When they got on A gang of four, Old ladies, Effen and blinden, Laughing and joking, Senses excited and aroused, Ready for a night out. They sat down in front of us And painted the silence.
Fresh mountains of paint, Sticky and soft and screaming to be used, Old mounds of dry encrusted paint Slumped to the side. When touched it was like finding a rock among soil, Some jaggedy and some smooth, all different.
It was only as our carriage Entered Bray that I began To listen: My daughter doesnt like Me wearing these shoes, She says theyre lesbian shoes
The table in my Dads studio was cluttered: Empty jars and broken pots, faded photographs which once owned colour, Countless squeezed-out tubes of paint Piled into the shape of a pyramid.
And at the time I really thought nothing Of it. 21
I was never allowed to touch the paintings Only stare and dare to imagine what colour hed use next. When Id wake up in the morning Id sit and watch him paint Listen to him humming a tune Or inhale the linseed and turps aroma That lay heavily in the air. And when I wasnt observing the changes on the canvas I was observing the changes on the table. Rebekah Mooney
Joint 1st Place
Tempo Music is my life, Rhythm flows deep within me, Never-ending notes! Raggedy cloths hung on hooks on the table, The creases cemented by dried-up paint. The splashing of paint, splattered and scattered on the floor, Had been there since the beginning. Coffee mugs of different shapes and sizes, Old and new, made up a private collection
Old paint brushes long past their use, With hair thinning and tips splayed, Were kept as keepsakes, Each with its own individual texture and history. The new brushes waited in their pristine condition, A velvety softness against my skin, Each one proudly awaiting its destiny.
IN PROFILE: FRANCES ROCKS Kevin Mc Dermott of the Teaching English magazine meets Frances Rocks from St Vincents Secondary School, Dundalk, County Louth.
town came to us. The business had a good reputation and all the meat was made on the premises. At that time the railway was probably the biggest employer in Dundalk and the railway employees came in on Friday for their weekly shopping. My father, Patrick, insisted that we treat everyone the same. It was a terrific start in life and I enjoyed it immensely. You got to know people and you learned to be comfortable with them. My maternal grandfather was head of the union in the railway. On my fathers side, the family was involved in importing and exporting cattle and pigs. In a way the wheel has come full circle because Im now a member of the Dundalk Port Authority.
When we met, Frances was just coming from a second year class, where she had been teaching the structure of a short story. On teaching writing, Frances says: I really believe that English teaches our students marvellous skills and teaches them to be aware; to be watching and looking and seeing, not just being passive. When the students are really involved, they become alive in the classroom. The students need to be shown or given a structure and from that they can branch out and find their own way.
Given her family history it is not surprising that Frances sees a connection between cultural life and economic activity and the interdependence of the two. If I wasnt in teaching, I would have had my own business. In a way, teaching is like business, youre selling the subject to the students and you hope they profit from it. Becoming involved in educational publishing was the next best thing to running my own business. I wanted to create books that were almost like magazines, that the students could flick through and the book would read itself. I also wanted the books to appeal to their interests. And thats part of the business side of me and the family tradition. Growing up, Frances received every encouragement and support from her parents. The attitude of my parents was that you could do whatever you wanted and there was always a great feel for books. We all went to the library once a week. My mother, Kathleen, is a great story teller and told us stories of past times. There was always talk and storytelling in the house and a respect
Frances was born and raised in Dundalk and the familys association with the town goes back generations. The family had a pork butchers business and I worked there during the summer holidays. Nearly everyone in the
encouragement. I loved reading and from that you wanted to write yourself. I did quite a bit of short story writing for school magazines and things like that. Teachers read out her work or the work of other students and its a practice she continues in her classroom. When you get that soft silence in a class, something marvellous is happening, real learning is going on. When you look around the faces, when someone is reading out a childs work, and see how much they are listening, its really a lovely moment in a classroom.
for education. Both of my brothers became teachers, though one has now moved into the family meat business. Frances is proud of Dundalk: I think the great thing about Dundalk is that you neither look to Dublin or to Belfast. Youre yourself and youre independent. I think people from Dundalk are prepared to take a chance and have a go at things and thats the way youd like your pupils to be. You want them to be confident. Primary school was St Malachys national school. Above all else, Frances remembers the encouragement to read from her time in the school. There was also a culture of prizegiving a medal awarded each week on the basis of the results of class tests and the student who did best wore the medal for the week. Frances believes there is not enough praise and prize-giving in schools today, not enough affirmation of students. Group work is one of the means Frances employs to create a culture of praise in her classroom, where the students read each others work and then decide which piece is best. Its much better than giving seven out of ten and the poor student wondering why she didnt get the other three. The first year students in St Vincents are compiling autobiographies and there will be a prize for the best, not necessarily the most literate but the one that shows most thought and effort. Francess belief in praise and encouragement can be traced back to her time in St Malachys and the influence of teachers like Miss McCourt. Music also played a big part in her life in primary school and continues to do so. Frances recalls the many feiseanna and fleadhs she attended as a student and the fun and excitement that surrounded them.
Frances recalls the school principal in St Louiss with affection: Sister Giovanni was terrific. She had a great sense of humour and was a good storyteller. There was really a lot of affirmation in school and the emphasis was on what you could do as opposed to what was wrong. At the same time, the standards were high. They expected excellence and you didnt get away with second-rate work. When Frances arrived in Dublin to attend college in the 1970s, she felt equal to the task because of the grounding she had received and the high standards and the high expectations the schools had for their students. Frances loved her time in UCD. She stayed in Loreto Hall on St Stephens Green and travelled out to Belfield. In first year she took English, Latin and Music. I think its a shame that Classical Studies is not more widely taught. Latin gives you a real sense of the line of language, where things came from. In studying classical drama, you see where Shakespeare got his structure. I think thats where I formed the notion that is central to my teaching that if you give pupils the structure they can go on from there and add and adapt it to suit their own purpose.
Secondary school was St Louiss in Dundalk. As in St Malachys, there was an emphasis on music and a similar culture of
Courses on the American novel and Middle English in UCD introduced new worlds. 24
From an early age, Frances knew she wanted to teach. I love being with young people. They teach you as much as you teach them. You have to be open; you have to stand back and let them explain the world as they see it. So, just as much as youre changing their perspective on things, theyre changing yours. Thats a great thing. Something similar happens when you correct the Leaving Certificate Examinations. You get a real insight into the current generation how theyre thinking and what theyre feeling, especially in the short story or the personal opinion essay. In those two, the students are writing from the heart and I dont ever get fed up with that. Its the same in the classroom. I was talking about point-of-view in class yesterday and one of the students asked me had I seen the film Ratatouille and she told me that everything in the film was from the point of view of Remy the little rat who wants to be a chef. That kind of interaction is great and thats why I went into teaching. Liking young people and loving your subject the two of those have to be together in teaching. It cant be just subject-based.
However, Frances regretted the absence of a creative element to the degree n English: I thought it was a shame that there was no creative element to our study. It was all critical analysis and there werent really outlets for your own writing. Frances debated in the L & H where those debating with her included Adrian Hardimann and Michael McDowell. After her degree Frances did the Higher Diploma in Education in Maynooth and then came back to Dundalk to teach in St Vincents. Her time in Maynooth coincided with the rise of folk music in the Catholic Church and the decline of classical music in church ceremonies. She saw it as the loss of a rich musical heritage and its replacement with three-cord tricks. What she took from her Dip was the concept of child-centred education and she remembers how a series of lectures on Rousseau struck a chord with her. Frances was happy to come home to Dundalk. Having spent her teaching career in St Vincents, the school means a great deal to her now. She admires the tradition of the Mercy Sisters which seeks to provide education for all. She regards Dundalk as a terrific town which has a great deal going on. She also admires the attitude of the young people who see themselves as the equal of anyone else. Frances sees this confidence as a product of the education theyve received and the changes in education in Ireland in the last twenty-five years.
Frances Rocks on: Marking LC English When I went to the marking conference for Leaving Certificate examiners, for the first time, I was really impressed by the determination of all involved that the students sitting the examination would get a
fair crack of the whip. In my experience, all the teachers involved in the state examinations want the students to do as well as they possibly can. Thats one of the reasons why we have the Celtic Tiger: teachers who care so much about the next generation. What makes a really good teacher A sound knowledge of your subject and a willingness to listen to students. But you also have to have a passion for your subject. When you love English, the subject takes flight across the class and catches the imagination and the interest of the students. Being a reader Many students today dont have the physical experience of handling books, of holding a book in their hand. Books are not as much part of the furniture in some students homes as wed like them to be so the more we get students with the book in their hands the better. Photocopying and interactive boards are fine but they dont substitute for books. And thank God for J.K. Rowling and the Richard and Judy bookclub, which have made books fashionable. One of the great pleasures of life is to immerse yourself in a book. The students today are more visually literate than they are word literate. If you think about the computer screen, it only shows you whats contained within a small frame, it doesnt allow you to see the full content, or give you a sense of that content. Its an apt metaphor for people who dont have access to books they have a narrow or limited view of the world.
Reading Shakespeare, and reading literature generally, can make you a more compassionate person. It certainly broadens your horizons; it alerts you to the fact that many of the issues facing us today have occurred before. I think literature is proof against people becoming too fundamentalist in outlook; it teaches you that there are lots of different ways of getting to the same place. There is a danger that we will retreat behind the barricades and not be open to one another: I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Thank God we have the peace process in the North, because it can be too easy to be totally way one. Literature opens you, deepens your awareness of other people. Books today serve the same purpose as theatre in Ancient Greece: they allow us to experience what we might not otherwise have access to. The revised LC English syllabus A terrific success. The comparative section encourages the students to look at texts through different coloured lenses. The students have to be able to juggle a variety of skills on the day of the exams and I think thats a good thing it raises the bar. The introduction of film has been great. Its a real way of connecting with the students. In fact,
What I most enjoy teaching Shakespeare. What I like about him is the shade and shadows. I think he has an awful lot to say to us. Even in the detail of where Antonios ships were in danger on the Kentish coast, Shakespeare is still relevant with flood warnings on that same coast. 26
class and creates a poster for display in the classroom. Students have to hear the sound of their own voice in the class.
the students are more visually sophisticated than the vast majority of teachers, myself included. Film is their medium. And we still have our set text, we still have Shakesepare. I also love the fact that we have the creative element on the first paper and there is a great big smacking 100 marks for it.
Sharing plans with students I think it is just a matter of respect to tell the students how you intend to use their time.
Her favourite LC poet Kavanagh. Definitely. Because he makes you realise that it is ordinary life that is important. It is the ordinary life that holds everything together and keeps it steady. And he really transfers across countries and cultures and generations. I love the fact that Charles Haughey read Raglan Road, the poem that Kavanagh had written about Hilda Moriarty, into the record of the DaÂ´il, on the morning of her burial. Kavanaghs poetry reverberates in your head, in some way. A favourite line might be: And the newness that was in every stale thing When we looked at it as children.
Homework I believe in giving tests and the homework dovetails in with the tests. I set two or three homeworks which build up towards a class test. This gives a clear sense of purpose to the homework. When I give back the tests I give the students time to write up what they have learned from the exercise before we move on to the next thing. Feedback to the students is important and you have to praise what deserves to be praised. The Junior Certificate English course Id love to see a radical overhaul. The paradox is that what started out as an open course has become narrow. Even if we had ten prescribed texts every year, we would extend the range of material that is being covered. As things stand, people get stuck on Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Goodnight Mr Tom or To Kill a Mockingbird. I think the marks in the examination are skewed and there are too many marks for unseen material. Id also like to see some kind of poetry anthology and an opportunity for students to study the works of an author and not just one book, so the student shave an idea of a body of work. As things stand they dissect one book into little pieces. Its more like science than English.
Classroom talk Students have to be actively involved in the class. I love the idea of students listening attentively to one of their classmates talking. The students can learn a great deal from each other and you can build this into your teaching. I ask the students to do some research before we start reading Shakespeare and each group presents their findings in
Frances Rocks has co-authored a number of books with her colleague, Martin Kieran. The titles include: Headstart; The Write Stuff, Shortcuts to Success, English: Essay Writing for the Leaving Cert and Shortcuts to Success, English: The Comparative Study. All are published by Gill and Macmillan. 27
IFCO The website of the Irish Film Censors Office is a terrific resource for teachers, students and parents. Check it out at www.ifco.ie
TEACHING ENGLISH IN EUROPEAN Germany, Mol Belgium and Varese Italy. Further details may be found on the website of the European Schools, www.eursc.org Each year the Department of Education and Science arranges for the secondment of teachers from Ireland to fill positions in the European Schools. At present, there are 44 Irish second-level teachers seconded in the system, of whom over 20 are teachers of English, either as first or second language. Are you interested in a job in Europe? Seconded teachers receive a European salary in addition to their Irish salary, and an expatriation allowance equal to 16% of the basic salary, plus household and dependent child allowances.
Would you like to work in an interesting international school system, sharing experience with colleagues from other European Member States? The European Schools are a system of nursery, primary and secondary schools which serve the needs of children whose parents are officials of the EU Commission, European Parliament and other official European institutions.
Advertisements for positions will appear in the national press and on the website of the Department of Education and Science early in February. If you would like to receive information on vacancies, please email your details to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Eileen McGuire, International Section, Department of Education and Science, Marlborough Street, Dublin 1.
The schools are located in Brussels four schools, Luxembourg two schools, Bergen the Netherlands, Alicante Spain, Culham UK, Frankfurt, Karlsruhe and Munich 28
MARGARET KEATING MK At the time, over 20 years ago, it was very, very different from our own Leaving Cert. I suppose, in simple terms, there was little or no learning off. The Poem given on the examination paper was unseen and the student had to draw on their learning or knowledge of similar poets in a particular genre, period and so on. Personal response was one part of the requirement but applying ones knowledge of poetry was the main part. The same was true of the Prose question. Themes or Period were set and one could teach ones own selection-within reason. I found this fascinating no prescribed syllabi. It meant a great deal of preparation and reading but I learnt a lot from it. For example, the Theme could be The Child in Literature from 1800-1950 or The 20th Century American Novel. You discussed the set theme with your colleagues and submitted the texts and writers you had chosen to study to the Board of Inspectors.
Margaret Keating, a guidance counsellor in Malahide Community School, talks to Kevin Mc Dermott of the Teaching English magazine about her experience of teaching English in the European Schools network. KMcD What schools did you teach in? MK Culham, which is near Oxford; Varese in Italy and Bergen in Holland. KMcD How did you find the experience? MK Overall, it was a very positive experience challenging, interesting, stimulating. At the time, in the early 1980s, it was very different from what I was used to: the variety of nationalities, languages, and the backgrounds of the students who attended the schools. Being very curious about the world and life in general, I was fascinated by the whole thing.
KMcD What differences, if any, did you find between the students in the European schools and those you taught in Ireland?
KMcD What subjects did you teach? MK English as a Mother Tongue L1, English as a Foreign Language L2 and some Irish L3 at Culham.
MK Without doubt, the students were the best part of the experience. With L2 students English as a foreign language I got to recognise quite early on the difficulties a Danish student or an Italian student would be likely to encounter or the mistakes they were likely to make. At first they seemed almost too confident in comparison to the
KMcD Tell me a little about the Baccalaureate course for Language 1 English as a mother tongue how does it differ from the LC course?
KMcD Did you enjoy living in Oxford, Varese and Bergen?
MK Yes, all three. I especially liked Italy: the climate, culture, the way of life; the possibility to learn a new language. Amsterdam offered the best a city can offer and at very affordable prices: Public transport, music, cinema and so on. KMcD Would you recommend the experience to teachers currently working in Irish schools? students I had been used to. I soon learned to appreciate that this was the European way. Students expected to discuss and challenge ideas. When I found my feet I loved it.
MK Id highly recommend it. The experience of exchanging ideas with teachers from fifteen or twenty or twenty countries has enormous potential. Teachers of English work in the English language section with colleagues from England, Ireland and Scotland. That in itself is interesting. And then theres the chance to live in a different country, and theres the attractive salary. In the end, I suppose it depends on your own personality â€Ś
Now that Im home in Ireland, I do some Baccalaureate examination work in the summer, just to keep in touch with the schools and the students. There is an oral exam for all language students. And its the contact with the students that I most enjoy. They are confident; they have opinions; many have experience of at least one other culture. KMcD What do you think could we in Ireland learn from the European schools or they learn from us?
MK Its difficult to do a general comparison. It depends on what your aim and remit is. Now I am working as a Guidance Counsellor in a large community school and I have different priorities from the ones I had when I was English teacher, or when I was working in the European schools. In each case you do your best for the students. However, I would like if we in Ireland could be less authoritarian in our approach and more democratic. I can sense people going mad! If situations permit I think we should encourage more independent thought. I sometimes think we are obsessed with putting people in their place, and that includes teachers, too â€Ś
31 Across: 1 Malaga, 4 MacMahon, 9 Ducats, 10 Staccato, 12 Irene, 13 Raconteur, 15 Rye, 16 Heidi, 17 Cubism, 22 Agatha, 24 Rhode, 27 The, 28 Amy Dorrit, 31 Error, 32 De Valera, 33 OCasey, 34 Nonsense, 35 Brandt. Down: 1 Midnight, 2 Lucrezia, 3 Gathering, 5 Attic, 6 Macon, 7 Heaney, 8 No oars, 11 Brecht, 14 Obi, 18 Beatty, 19 Streetcar, 20 Morrison, 21 Peer Gynt, 23 Ayr, 25 Madden, 26 Sylvan, 29, Ollie, 30 Ro-ros.
Solutions Take some time out of your busy day to relax with a cup of tea and our crossword... M
The Teaching English magazine is published by the Second Level Support Service. Co-ordinator of English: Dr Kevin Mc Dermott Navan Education Centre, Athlumney, Navan, Co. Meath. Phone: 046 907 8382 Fax: 046 907 8385 Mobile: 087 293 7302 Email: email@example.com Administrative Officer: Esther Herlihy SLSS Regional Development Officers: Della Meade Mobile: 087 293 7311 Pauline Kelly Mobile: 087 293 7293
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