Monday, 1 September 2008

Those who can't do, teach; and those who can't teach, teach gym

Another extended absence from me, another apology, but this time I feel that I will definitely be able to begin posting more regularly, mainly because I will have more to post about now that I've started my new job. Which leads me neatly on to why I haven't been seen here recently. Since my last entry, I have moved out of my parents' house in London roughly 160 miles north to Stafford. I now have a rented one bedroom flat to call my home. It's not huge, but it's not pokey and I've already managed to make it pretty cosy, despite still having a few boxes and bags hanging around waiting to be stored away somewhere.

I have also today started my new job as a secondary school English teacher. Today was an inset day, as is tomorrow, but from Wednesday I will be embarking on teaching my own classes, for whose progress and achievement I am responsible. Scary stuff in some ways, but I'm really looking forward to getting going again after the two-month break since the end of my PGCE course. I'm teaching a nice range of classes and abilities, and I also have A Level English Language classes which, whilst daunting in some ways (I still feel like I only did A Levels myself a little while ago...), I am eager to get stuck into post-16 teaching as it's something I'm very interested in.

So yeah, what with moving, preparing for and starting my new job, and sporadic internet access (I now have broadband installed in my flat, but before that could only really access the internet from my girlfriend Hayley's house when I was there) I've not really had a chance to post here or do much other 'net stuff. But I'm back now. Hurrah.

Just to finish off, I thought I'd mention something that came up today during an English department meeting. Carol Ann Duffy's poems have been used for a long while in the AQA English Language GCSE syllabus, at least since I did my GCSEs several years ago. One poem - Education For Leisure - describes in a satirical, tongue-in-cheek fashion a person killing and destroying things, ending on an ambiguous cliffhanger where the person might be about to stab someone. This poem has now been removed from the syllabus, apparently because some teachers might be uncomfortable teaching a poem about stabbing. I don't believe that explanation for one second. It's the powers that be getting scared of including something with a current and controversial issue. They don't want to be seen to be putting the idea of stabbing people into the heads of today's youth. Firstly, isn't the best way to get young people to consider the issues surrounding knife crime to present them with material that will provoke discussion? I certainly think so. And secondly, I'm pretty sure a disaffected youth won't decide to go and stab someone after reading a poem in an English lesson.

Surely if this is the case we need to remove any texts that have stabbing in them. Romeo & Juliet has just been put back on the Key Stage 3 syllabus, and that does more than suggest stabbing, it contains both murders and suicides. So why not get rid of it? Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, Richard III and many other Shakespeare plays taught in schools and colleges are pretty much bloodbaths in terms of the amount of deaths, so why haven't they been mentioned? Unfortunately I can't find any internet links about the removal of the poem, or to a text of the poem itself, but I still wanted to write something about it as I just think it's a great shame when things like this happen, and I hope that enough English teachers show their disagreement with this decision that it is reversed or changed in some way. I'd be interested to hear anyone else's views on this as, being both an English graduate and English teacher my opinion is bound to be biased in some way.


TheTelf said...

I agree that it seems odd to remove a poem including a potential stabbing just because teachers might be uncomfortable with it - would this not have been an issue before? Why has knife crime suddenly becauome a touchy subject? Surely the line taken by the national curriculum, the school and the teachers in this matter should not have changed, despite the supposed increase in frequency? And if it's because people are scared about bringing up a controversial and current topic of discussion in schools, then I find that even more bizarre - what are kids meant to be debating and discussing, if not current, controversial and youth-oriented points?

The response to "problem" kids is often that they don't learn the correct standards of behavior, either at home, or at school. And is it any wonder, if we're deliberately avoiding ringing up topics that might allow these kinds of messages to be passed over.

So, yes, I agree. Can you teach outside the syllabus at all? As in, could you bring up the poem in a lesson to have just such a discussion (and maybe a discussion of whether or not it is appropriate to teach it), or is it outsiide your remit, and is there no time for that kind of thing with the rest of the syllabus to cover?

And congrats on the move - hope to see the new flat at some point. :D

The Big LeBamski said...

Here's a link to The Guardian's coverage of the poem's removal:

I would be allowed to teach the poem in a lesson if I wanted to. However, it's been removed from the AQA GCSE exam, which means that pupils won't be able to answer questions on it or refer to it. So any teaching of it would be purely my own choice and would be simply to demonstrate a poem. But seeing as there are several other Duffy poems that will come up in the exam (and also because I'm not the biggest fan of Duffy's work, although in this context that's beside the point) I doubt I will ever choose to teach it.