Category Archives: Vision

The Origin of the Species: What is an English Teacher?

“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are.”

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

One of the first tasks undertaken by the English trainees during the first week of subject knowledge enhancement and professional development seminars at university was a character exploration of the thriving organism identified as English Teacher. We each asked two people for two words they thought described an English teacher. The words I collected were “nitpicker”, “creative”, “feminine” and “sweet”. The following morning, we drew around our colleagues and cut out the outline of their bodies to produce a paper representation of these collocated words. One body outline incorporated the public perception of English teachers and the other body outlines were words we, as student English teachers, had chosen to describe and represent ourselves, the attributes and the personae of those in our soon-to-be profession.

Public perceptions of an English teacher

Public perceptions of an English teacher

Vs

Cohort perceptions of an English teacher

Reflecting on the public perceptions of an English teacher is a fascinating activity. However, mentality attempting to arrange the adjectives and associated nouns in order along the ‘Adjective Garden of Good to Evil’ continuum, I find myself experiencing difficulty in the positioning of “leather elbow patches” and some others in this series. Perhaps this shows my maturity – and by maturity I mean my age and thus acknowledge that I have reached a point in my life where I secretly covet leather elbow patches when once I loathed them and considered them the aesthetic embodiment of dusty boredom and irrelevance. Opinions change given time and experience. I believe myself to be comfortably reconciled with this development, but this trivial example of a seemingly inconsequential preference makes me aware and uncertain of how perceptions of me might effect my ability, performance, and influence as an English teacher, my interactions with young people in my care, my colleagues in the English department, cross-curricula collaborations, school life, and the pedagogical preferences I employ.

There are big questions to contemplate. What do I consider my role to be? What do others (the government, the media, taxpayers, parents, young people, members of the community in the school’s location) consider my role to be? How might these preconceptions – or deeply established assumptions – effect or shape my training and development, my subject knowledge, my professional development? What is “English” as a subject? What is meant by the term “secondary English teaching“? Do I believe, as journalist Melanie Phillips asserts, that English  is “the subject at the heart of our definition of national cultural identity” and therefore  consider the teachers of English to be the “chief custodians” of that identity? Her words bestow upon every English teacher in the country a tremendous  power and weighty responsibility. However, further questions arise about the definition of “national cultural identity”, which naturally provoke comparisons with my own negotiation of cultural identity(/ies). We all bring with us, to any endeavour, our backgrounds and experiences that inform our thinking, choices made, critical analyses, and participation as members of communities. I believe sincerely that this is an enriching benefit, but perhaps there might be anxiety expressed by some if I were perceived as a “caretaker” of national culture…

So many questions. Some answers, but the answers provoke more questions and a desire to research further into the origins of our species, our subject, and our pedagogical preferences as English teachers.

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The Importance of Being Earnest: Considering Classroom Codes of Conduct

“Love all, trust a few. Do wrong to none.”

― William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well

Observing lessons this morning and listening to staff and students discuss barriers to learning was invaluable and does require time for more in-depth personal processing and reflection during the course of this week. However, what I would like to mention today was that I loved working with Paula, Katie, Jacqueline, and Emma in the afternoon and that, possibly as a result of recently being bombarded with an abundance of acronyms in education, we collaborated fabulously by creating a ‘Classroom Codes of Conduct’ acronym so potentially powerful that would make Aretha Franklin as proud as a peacock and as pleased as punch (- and like many more celebrated similes, I’m certain of it)!

Drum roll, please……………………

“In the classroom, we will all be R.E.S.P.E.C.T.E.D!”

Originally, we had thought of the ‘S’ as “Self-Evaluation” – and, of course, it still could be, but I wondered whether or not it was too similar to “Reflective”. There was also an abundance of important concepts beginning with ‘E’ and perhaps Effort and Encouragement might seem crowded together on the same line, but I think they also compliment each other strongly… It’s still a work in progress with lots of room for negotiation and personalisation, but working together was a positive and fun end to a busy day.

Great Expectations: An Emergent Classroom Manifesto in Eight Adjectives

‘The Poet Dreams of the Classroom’

I dreamed
I stood up in class
and I said aloud:
 
Teacher,
why is algebra important?
 
Sit down, he said.
 
Then I dreamed
I stood up
and I said:
 
Teacher, I’m weary of the turkeys
that we have to draw every fall.
May I draw a fox, instead?
 
Sit down, he said.
 
Then I dreamed
I stood up once more and said:
 
Teacher, my heart is falling asleep
and it wants to wake up.
It needs to be outside.
 
Sit down, he said.
 
Mary Oliver, Swan.

We were asked to think about and write down our personal “classroom vision” – a mini manifesto consisting of a few sentences describing how we would like our lessons to be. Here goes the first draft:

“In my lessons, I hope to create an engaging, open, fun, interactive, comfortable and safe environment where everyone feels valued, included and respected equally as unique and creative individuals within the group in order to encourage enjoyment and passion for learning and the development and support of students so they can achieve their best.

I wonder how much my vision will change with experience this year…

In addition to the classroom vision, we had to create five pre-placement A targets.

  1. Develop the areas highlighted for improvement on my emotional intelligence audit (empathy, developing others, and adaptability).
  2. Re-explore poetic devices and poetry analysis, as I still feel I need more confidence in this area.
  3. Consider and create my personal “Code of Conduct” in classrooms and explore methods of introducing this in classes with students using some activities.
  4. Update my Magic Box of Tricks ( – invaluable when teaching in Japan, I always carried a box full of different 10-minute activities, worksheets, board games, questions, starters that also included props – just in case I had extra time in the lesson or if I was covering another lesson and there was no lesson plan available).
  5. Be prepared and plan.