Monday, 4 July 2016

Striking out

I love where I work. It is a simply incredible school with brilliant children, amazing colleagues and a wonderfully supportive management. In under three weeks time, I am moving to pastures new, which is very exciting but, after seven and a half happy years, will be tinged with sadness. I am keen to make the most of my time left, and the days that remain will soon be in single figures.

Despite this, I am not going in to school tomorrow. I am going to stand with my colleagues and stand up against what I believe is a deeply flawed way of governing education in this country.

The headlines say “Pay and Conditions”. We aren’t allowed to strike on any other terms.

For me, it has very little to do with pay. It has a lot to do with conditions.

The condition of some teachers, left at their wits end by a baffling series of over-complicated hoops to jump through, needless work to complete, that takes them away from their class for long periods, robbing their class of a qualified, enthusiastic and passionate practitioner.

The condition of our curriculum, stuffed full of antiquated, 1950s grammar school objectives, full of ‘knowledge’ and ‘facts’, but limited in skills and free thinking. An over-crammed Maths and English syllabus leaving less room for Art, Music and Drama. A pub quiz history curriculum full of dates, but lacking in evaluative critique of sources and deep discussion of reasons.

The condition of the English language, where grammar has to have ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers, when in fact there are several ways to express things. It is a beautiful and diverse language, full of creativity. It can’t be summarised by a tick or a cross. Where ‘good reading’ is how fast you read, not how much you understand or infer from a text. Where ‘good writing’ need not be imaginative, interesting or thought-provoking, so long as it is punctuated correctly, spelt perfectly and every letter is joined to the next one in the ‘right’ way.

The condition of schools who may be struggling for all kinds of reasons, forced into privatisation, where men in suits dictate their every move, with very little evidence this improves things. Where qualified teacher status is a preference, not a requirement and pay is no longer secure.

And most importantly, the condition of our children. Those amazingly creative, imaginative and hard-working young lives that we have the privilege of working with every day. Children as young as seven (7!) having sleepless nights about how many ‘fronted adverbials’ they used the previous day. As they grow older, the stakes increase, as does the stress and worry for them and all who care for them. Children being labelled as ‘failing’ all to make a political point.



A ‘minister’ is meant to serve. To listen carefully to those who they lead or are above. I see very little evidence of that. No doubt tomorrow will be arrogantly shrugged off as ‘whinging’ or worse criticised for ‘damaging children’s education’. They consistently refuse to listen to reason. Not standing up now is the same as saying ‘I am happy with how things are.’

For me, it isn’t really about pay. I am paid well, although I worry what the future holds in that regard. But yes, it is definitely all about conditions.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Time to learn to stop and look.



This week we took my class and the year below to see Matilda in London. They loved it, obviously. It is a show of exceptional quality in every detail. I was fascinated to find out what they particularly enjoyed. So this morning, I asked them to write a ‘review’, giving prompts such as acting, singing, dancing, script, props and set design and how it made them feel. What I got back was interesting as well as slightly disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong, they laughed at the funny bits were moved by the sad bits and excited by the surprising bits. But just look at this stage.


Incredible. What it doesn’t show is the desks that come out of the floor, gates and swings that appear, libraries and classrooms that materialise seamlessly. I loved the small details. The ‘shhh’ written in the bookcases of the library and ‘soot’ in the fireplace. Hidden words everywhere, references, jokes and hand-crafted detail.

Did any child comment on these things? Not one. They just didn’t seem to notice, well at least not enough to write about it with great enthusiasm.

I fear a wider problem. Children are not allowed time to stop. Stop and look at the view. Really look. Properly. An over-crammed curriculum, (both during and after school), combined with iPad-length attention span make it increasingly difficult for them to appreciate incredible art, architecture, music and design. They need to be free, to have time to explore, ask questions and discuss these things at length.

There are many teachers who would love to teach like this (myself included), but we can’t. A philosophy of ‘secondary-ready children’ where each must be ‘equipped’ with the same standard set of ‘knowledge’. Let’s ignore that children are all different, equipped with different strengths, weaknesses, interests and experiences. One single child will not become Bill Gates, Jane Austen, David Beckham, Richard Rogers, Beethoven and Archimedes. But one child might be a Bill Gates, another David Beckham, another could be a Beethoven… you get the idea.

I’m not advocating an abandonment of the basic arithmetic and literacy skills. By no means. I am a self-confessed, fully paid up member of the grammar police. (Please do not judge this rambled venting!) I hate that my local Supermarket has ’10 items or less’, and I fight the urge to write ‘fewer’ over the top of it in big red pen along with ‘see me’. However, we need to balance correctness and creativity.

Partly, parents need to facilitate some of this ‘looking’ more deeply. Many do, and I applaud and respect them. Many others have my sympathy, with a culture of ‘working all the hours God sends’.
Technology is great, it can be creative and exciting. But children need to be excited by a box of Meccano, K’nex or Lego. What can I make? How can I use my hands to build? Not just virtually, but in the real world. They must learn to love the smell of a book, not just an e-book. They must learn to evaluate what others create and welcome discussion of their own work.

 ‘Fewer things in greater depth’ we were promised. More things in greater depth is the reality. The greater the number of things, the less time we have to look in depth. Returning to Matilda, the draconian Trunchbull dictatorship acts as a coincidental metaphor for the public school agenda being forced on our children. Not anywhere near as cruel, obviously, but rigid, inflexible, and at times extremely unimaginative.


 Am I expecting too much of a 7-10 year old? I don’t think so. I hasten to add I am not attempting to force my own specific agenda, but simply the idea that we allow room for children to explore, question and think more deeply than our technology-dominated, high-speed curriculum allows. Let’s really get off that ladder, look at the detail, ask questions and let all of our imaginations run riot.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

'Frozen' - My verdict

So this weekend I finally caved into the relentless pressure and actually sat and watched 'Frozen'.
                                          

"Up there with the Disney masterpieces of the early 90s" I heard from more than one place. Hmmm, that would take some doing. Any comparison with the Holy Trinity of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King is high praise indeed. I was sceptical to say the least.

My verdict? It is a very well made film. It looks incredible. A little too incredible, actually, which put me off. Everything is so beautifully perfect and computer generated that it actually feels soul-less. Call me old fashioned, but I like the hand drawn feel of the old cartoons. (Don't get me wrong, this is not a dig at Pixar because they're a different category, and all their films are very good).

And the music. Well, it's pretty much musical by numbers, and most songs were pretty forgettable, except two. One of which it would seem... well it is impossible to 'Let it go' out of your head. That one and 'Do you want to build a snowman?' do seem to refuse to leave the consciousness without a fight (or possibly a good dose of Foo Fighters).

However, again, like the over perfect animation, the entire score and every song, along with the choreography of the characters seems to be designed with the idea that this will be adapted into a west end/broadway musical within the next couple of years, if not sooner. I'd be very surprised if it doesn't end up on stage. As a result, it again lacked any heart or soul, and felt like I was watching a performance on stage, which limited my ability to enter the world they created.

I enjoyed the second half more than the first, but plot twists were fairly predictable. (Spoiler alert) Why didn't they both meet their true love at the end? Poor Elsa.


Oh and that snowman was so irritating. These films can hang on the quirky characters. Get a Rafiki or a Timon and Pumba and you're onto a winner, but get it wrong, disaster. Disney don't often get it wrong, and I'm sure kids love him, but I just wanted him to melt in a volcano somewhere.

So, a fairly good film... but up with the Disney masterpieces of 20 years ago? Absolutely nowhere near.


Monday, 21 January 2013

Where are all the thinkers?


Where are all the thinkers?

Where are all the thinkers?
Attention spans face cuts
Where are all the artists?
Stylus over brush.
Where are all the writers?
They r bzi sndng txts
Where are the designers?
Trial and error? (Hush hush!)


What have we become?
A generation pawing at a screen
Flooded with each other’s inanity
Isolation hidden behind the ‘global dream’.


Where are the musicians?
They’re playing a plastic tune…

Where are conversationalists?
Discussion halted … (unwelcome bleep).

Where are all the builders?
Instructions printed in a yellow egg…
Where are the campaigners?
They’re far too scared to look that deep.
 
What have we become?
Selling unreachable and unfulfilling dreams
Everyone and everything must be judged
No time to appreciate things at length it seems

Where are all the scientists?
Force fed ideas from a limited kit.

Where are archaeologists?
They’ve completely lost the will to dig…

Where are all the dreamers?
Force fed an underwhelming meal.
Where are the believers?
Sadly, cynicism now leads the way…


Where is hope to be found in this mess?
In lengthy walks in beautiful countryside.
Quality time given to friends both old and new
In encouragement of dreams, talents and ambitions.
And enjoyment of good food, art, music and writing.

In selflessly spending time, not always money on your children.
In listening more than talking,

Remembering what others have going on,
And asking them how it went.

And hope most of all dwells in a cold empty cave,

Clothes neatly folded, a sign of what was briefly there.
But there no longer!
Released to be the source of all that we hope in and enjoy.

 
Tim De Marco, Copyright 2013

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The Hobbit - An unexpected journey. An undeniable triumph.

It was 3 and a half years ago when I sat in a planning meeting at school working out topics for the following year. We decided the opening topic would be based around a well-loved children's story/author. The neighbouring Year 3 class would do Roald Dahl and we came up with some ideas for a 'Harry Potter' topic in Year 4. Later, I felt uneasy. Firstly, it was such a huge set of books, plus in a C of E school, there may be parents who wouldn't be keen. As I sat on the train, my mind suddenly leapt to 'The Hobbit'. Hmmm I thought. I think I read that a few years ago, but I'd have to read it again. Maybe it would be a possibility. (Turns out I read the beginning but must have given up).

Upon reading the first two or three pages, I remember thinking 'YES!' The first page alone yielded 2 or 3 possible strong ideas. I was hooked. I then had to remember that if we were to read this as an ongoing class book, I'd have to work out how long it would take. So I timed myself reading it aloud (a process which felt slightly odd at first). 2 minutes per page. 5 pages in a 10 minute story slot. 250+ pages meant 50+ days oh my. I set about 'editing' great paragraphs of long description (in the end I cut out about 1/3 of the whole text).

The topic (which I did for 2 years running) was a great success and the 'Hobbit Days' (including some very imaginative costumes) will always live long in my memory.

What I am trying to say is... I have a very strong connection with this book, and I felt nervous and excited about the prospect of the film. "Peter Jackson knows what he's doing" I told myself. Every new announcement would bring either excitement or anxiety. Excitement at the prospect of 2 films, anxiety at a trilogy. Really?

Inevitably, it has been greeted with a fair amount of 'backlash'. Not slating it outright, but lots of unhelpful (yet inevitable) comparisons to LOTR, and saying it was too long and drawn out. This was something I expected seeing as this film was covering only 6 chapters of the book.

So I approached the film slightly expecting possible disappointment. I also worried (as I do in any film like this) that certain casting wouldn't be quite right.

Without giving too much away, one character says to another near the end of this film something along the lines of:

"I didn't think you were right for this journey. I thought you were unsuitable. I have never been more wrong."

Which is a pleasing parallel to my own expectations. My fears could not have been more misplaced.

It was sensational.

How anyone could be 'disappointed' or think it 'wasn't epic enough' is beyond me. It had everything. A variety of characters, situations, action, fantastic scenery and some amazing stunts and set pieces, beyond anything seen in LOTR. What it also added, which goes along with the book, is humour.

All the way through the film there are moments that make you laugh, a little light relief amidst the seriousness of the story. Gollum's scene in particular was extremely well done; the film playing with his double personality and Bilbo's initial lack of awareness of this very effectively.

As Bilbo, Martin Freeman was better than I could have hoped for. Funny without being over the top, a very dry humour, typically English, just right for Bilbo.

Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries and Richard Armitage step into their roles superbly, as do all of the dwarves. As Thorin, Richard Armitage balanced Thorin's pride and deep hatred of certain people/characters with a vulnerability and compassion that made us back him all the way. Returning characters were also excellent, with Christopher Lee playing a pre-turning Saruman very well, showing little hints of what is to come for his character.

My only (slight) gripe is that in some of the additions, Jackson has gone a bit over the top. The need to create an 'enemy' for Thorin, just to have a 'bad guy' in this film seems a bit unneccessary, although it is used well in the final climactic event of this film. Also, I am a little unsure of the 48 frames per second look. It looked too real, but maybe I need to get used to this.

Finally, I can honestly say that it didn't feel like 2  3/4 hours long. I was gripped from start to finish. A criticism has been that it was too 'drawn out'. To those people I (politely) say "Improve your attention span!" I worry that in this 'instant' generation, many people (myself definitely included) expect everything immediately, and have lost the art of enjoying something slowly.

What Jackson has done in this first film is lay out many seeds that will be watered in the next two films. When people have seen all three, they will watch this opening segment and a lot will make sense.

So, in summary, a truly brilliant film, one of the best I have ever seen, and worthy to sit alongside the LOTR trilogy. It's a different beast to them, though. The Hobbit is a children's book after all, and the tone is lighter. The quality remains outstanding. Bring on the next film!

Friday, 3 August 2012

Poems

I have recently started to gather ideas for some prose poems and intend to start writing them soon. In the meantime, here are a couple from a few years back. One hopefully more amusing, and one more serious.

A visit to the Library

I visited the Library the other day,

The smart newly built Library in town.

Magnificent building all made of glass,

But inside the shelves look tatty;

Like they're temporary; waiting for new shelves,

But I don't think they are.

There are computers everywhere.

Some to work on,

Some to tell you stuff like how many books you have,

When to bring them back,

And in my case, how much your fines come to.


Sometimes they let you off the fines.

If no-one else is waiting for the book

Or it doesn't come to very much.

Last year I forgot a book

Left it under my bed

And I got a whopper of a fine.

Won't do that again.


I find the computer that helps me find the book I want.

It isn't very helpful.

Ah... Three Copies in.

None reserved.

Excellent.

Go to shelf ... nowhere in sight.

All the books are out of order, so I end up checking every one.

Twice.


Surely there's no way that three people took the same book out in the time it took me to get from the computer to the shelf?

Hmmm.


Another visit to the computer

And I notice a 'more info' button

Which tells me exactly where the three books have got to.


One is out?

But, none reserved!

Oh reserved. Silly me.

So some one has it, but no one is waiting for it.

Ok.


And the other two?

Miles away in other Libraries the other side of town.

What's the point in telling me what other Libraries have?

I want to know what I can get here.


One of the Libraries isn't too far,

And I can get there on one bus,

So I decide to go.


First of all, I need to take out 2 other books I have.


You don't need to speak to anyone,

It's amazing.

No wonder people don't talk to each other nowadays.

All computers fault.

I put my books neatly together

On the shelf in front of the screen

And swipe my card.


This is where the fun begins.


Forwards,

Backwards,

Upside down forwards,

Upside down backwards.

S l o w l y

Quickly


I must look a right idiot,

I'm glad there's no one behind me.

They'd be tapping their feet,

Making impatient noises by now.

After the computer gives up on me twice

Because it thinks there is no one there

It works.

Suddenly.

And the full details of the books

Appear on the screen.

Magic.

Can someone please explain how they do that?

" Errr magnets and lasers and stuff..."

One of my friends explained vaguely

When I expressed this amazement to them.


I get on the bus and go to the other Library.

Despite being refurbished

This Library still has that proper Library smell

Like old schools

Where Stern divorced female teachers in their fifties

With a chip on their shoulder

(Probably about 'Men'?)

Look over their glasses and

Bark at children all day long.


I find the book

Eventually.

Here they have better card scanners

Like in shops

Where you pass the card underneath.

One second

Beep

Done


They should get those at the other Library






An interruption


I had it all planned out
What I was going to do with my afternoon.
Asked if I could do a favour
I said yes
Begrudgingly.
"Ok...
As long as it doesn't take too long.
I have all this stuff to do, after all.
Let's go now
So I can get back quickly."

Just as
We're about to leave
The phone rings.

Grrrrrr
Why does the phone
Always
Ring
At moments like this?



Five minutes later,
I hear the phonecall end.



Friend of the family lost her baby 8 months along.

Why does the world

Stand



Still

At moments like this?







Saturday, 21 August 2010

Board or Screen?

It has come to my attention that a lot of my recent posts have had a financial theme, so I will postpone one thought in my head until a future day and talk about something else instead.

For many years, I have enjoyed playing games. It started in my childhood (obviously) with games like Perfection, Twister (my Dad's friend showing me the rude noise the box made as you closed it is a fond memory) and Ker-Plunk. I graduated as I got older to be a very competitive Monopoly player (competitive as in I wanted to win, not that I often did). As a family, weplayed certain games a lot. Yahtzee was one such game, which we played until several scorepads had been expired. Yahtzee was quick to set up and quick to play, and also highly addictive.

Card games were popular, especially Rummy and Canasta (Rummy on speed). A few years ago, a German friend of ours taught us 'Golf', which we have gone on to teach every foreign student since, and it must be all over Switzerland by now).

In recent years, the universal joy of UNO has dominated the horizon, amongst many of my friends it is wonderfully enjoyed and I have spent several nights until the small hours cursing the silent 7 rule and arguing whether +4s can go on +2s.

It strikes me as interesting that the games most often played now are those which are quick to set up and play in a few minutes - a sign of the times perhaps? Ker-plunk, with its fiddly stick insertion antics is gathering dust somewhere in the loft...

Anyway, recently, I have discovered a new joy. My Ipod Touch has numerous 'apps' to download, and most of the time I download...games. So when I have no friends to play with, I can play.... UNO, Yahtzee, Backgammon, Pass the Pigs, Mastermind, Othello, Air Hockey, Worms etc by myself.

In my recent Summer Holiday, I have had much more time on my hands than usual, and many tedious bus journeys have been greatly improved by destroying a CPU opponent at one of the afformentioned games.

One of the great attractions I have come to realise is that with a screen based version, there is so little effort involved. I don't have to set up, deal out cards, open a box, and when the game is finished, another is instantly set up for me. This awakes a naural laziness in me that frankly doesn't need any encouragement.

It slightly disturbs me though that what used to be a shared social interaction can now be a solitary occupation. Yes, the techies will argue that 'peer to peer' games allow people to play against each other, but having played Backgammon in this way, I would argue that it doesn't completely.

Again, a sign of the times perhaps, but I hope we (and I) don't abandon completely the social interaction that can be enjoyed playing board games with fellow human beings.