Category: teaching

The Best Years?

This post concerns a dream I had the night after publishing my previous post. I’m sure there was a connection because the dream was about school life. Another possible trigger was that I had just visited a couple who live in a rough neighbourhood and they became annoyed at a group of teenagers hanging around outside – I suggested a calm, polite approach might work and it did.

I still have occasional dreams about teaching, despite not having been in a classroom for several years. Before I tell the dream (and lose a reader, Henry James warned) here is a potted scholastic history. I did well at school despite an anxiety block about arithmetic. I rarely got into trouble because I liked praise and didn’t want to upset my parents. Many people go into teaching because of teachers who inspired them; I went in because I felt I could do a better job than the rather lazy and dull pedagogues at my grammar school – they taught bright kids and were therefore able to coast without much effort, I always thought.

Anyway, the dream, exactly as I wrote it down on waking …

3 kids in my tutor set, who lived in a gloomy housing complex overshadowing the school, had been withdrawn from lessons for ‘counselling’ on the say-so of a shadowy religious order – nuns, somebody told me. Their classmates were upset, telling me they’d seen these kids in and out of school in hysterical states.

I tried to find out what was going on but things started to unravel, as often happens in dreams. I was also being chased by people. Somebody accused me of not setting enough homework or else failing to get children to distinguish between classwork and homework in their exercise books. I started to forget where I’d put things, couldn’t remember names, worried I was losing my grip. The paperwork from the religious order explaining why they’d withdrawn the kids went missing – easy to put stuff down in a staffroom and have it covered over and picked up by another teacher, of course, but I felt very uneasy.

In the end I sat down with the other kids in my tutor set to ask for their help. For some reason I asked whether they were being bullied or haunted. Several of them began to cry …

At this point I woke suddenly, in quite a sweat but somewhat relieved to be out of my increasingly Kafkaesque dream. I wrote the above and read it over, unable to decide whether it was amusing or just bemusing.

It would be interesting to hear what other people think …


Work is a Four-Letter Word


Thought I’d begin my rant on the subject with this little film. It’s only a few minutes long but makes its point so eloquently I almost don’t want to add anything else.

In a way, my job is done. So I’ve just fired myself.

Ha, that’s better! The burden of having to fulminate against such an obvious target was beginning to weigh heavy. Who doesn’t curse their job several times a day? And who needs an old codger like me, long-since retired from the wearisome world of work, to kick against the pricks he no longer has to suffer?

Don’t get me wrong. I liked teaching … whenever I had the time and energy to do it properly. Teaching is simple. You choose a topic that interests and perhaps even excites you, organise the lesson carefully (leaving as little to chance as possible while making sure you can take advantage of any unexpected developments) and then engage with the students proactively to stimulate an active response which keeps the inquiry going into future lessons and down avenues where you will learn as much as they do.

Most of your energy should go into three tasks: prepare, teach, mark. Instead you are dragged into a hundred and one side-tracks devised by people who are not practising teachers yet think they know better than dedicated professionals what needs to be done. And on top of all this unnecessary office work you have to try and keep the kids on task. Result: an exhausted profession and a big recruitment problem.

Teachers in the UK aren’t badly paid but a job that takes up so much of your time should be rewarding in every way. Teaching should be the best job in the world. Nothing demoralises you more quickly than realising that for no fault of your own you’re not really getting to grips with what needs to be done. And meaningless work is soul-destroying, as the cartoon so clearly demonstrates.

Hmm, thought I’d sacked myself …


Images: and

The Lessons of Dreams


The novelist Henry James once said, “Tell a dream and lose a reader.” Perhaps he’d have sold more books if he’d ignored his own advice, to judge from the success of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol and Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories. And think of the impact Martin Luther King made with I had a dream

For what it’s worth, then, here’s one I dreamed last night. I was taking a class of Year 8 youngsters on a country ramble – something I used to do in reality when the school where I taught had an outward-bound centre in the Peak District. There’s nothing like a long walk for getting to know the kids in your tutor set and my dream was completely faithful to life in that respect.

We end up on a railway station platform. It’s dusk and the lights are coming on – ornate, old-fashioned Victorian lamps – while trains with brightly-lit carriages lumber slowly past us on either side in both directions. I ask the class to get into groups of 3,4 or 5. They disperse into waiting rooms and other nooks and crannies. I go in search and find they’re all in groups apart from 3 kids – 2 who want to work together and 1 nobody else wants. After some gentle diplomacy, I fit these into other groups and bring the class together to explain the task – not easy above the racket of trains and station announcements.

I’m just getting going when something bumps me sharply from the side and an eccentric figure runs past in Dickensian gear – top hat, cream-coloured coat and long leather boots.  Just before disappearing round the corner of a station building, coat-tails flapping like the White Rabbit, he turns to me with a mischievous look and I see a face that resembles Robin Williams …

I’m awake. My wife has nudged me in the ribs. It’s 3.33 am. The cat is scratching at the bedroom door. I stumble downstairs to the kitchen and point the sleepy animal at the dried food still in his bowl. I go into the lounge and scribble down the main points of my dream.

Back in bed I lie awake, words of explanation to my dream class forming effortlessly in my mind. Turns out I want them to come up with creative responses to school life – they’re already experts on that subject, with more than 100 years of experience between them – working together to fashion poems, improvised drama, scripts, stories, letters, cartoons, research projects, you name it … and I fall asleep practising my speech in the hope that we are just about to meet up again.

There are many things I could say about dreams (and just as many about teaching) but I am curious to know what other people think. Do you have any observations to make? I would be very interested to read them.







A moment of calm … my grandchild asleep in her pushchair, sunlight pouring through the back windows, Gregorian Chant low in the background … what more could I want?

When I was teaching, a favourite lesson was to ask the class to sit in silence and write down anything that came into their heads – observations, stray thoughts, whatever – and then to turn the notes into a poem called Now. I would work alongside them on my own poem, which gave a valid reason for silence – teacher at work, do not disturb! I would encourage them to read their own poems by reading mine, first or last depending on their response. Private reading in the library only worked when I was reading too and could glare balefully at them over my glasses for disturbing me …