teaching unplugged – in brief

Archive for Inspirations

Who are you?

I once spent a day at mum’s secondary school when I was on half term. When a girl came up and asked: ‘Who are you?’, I said cautiously that I was Mrs Meddings’s son. ‘You poor sod’, she replied.

Mum was passionate about education, from its capacity to train the mind and liberate the heart to its role in social mobility; from the value of the arts to the iniquity of SATS.

Teaching does seem to run in families, almost in spite of ourselves. Scott dedicated Teaching Unplugged to the memory of his grandfather, also a teacher. I had to word my dedication carefully – dad had died four years before, and mum was already ill – so I dedicated it to ‘two lovers of language’. I’m so glad she lived to see it.

And I never felt like a poor sod.

Photo: Richard Swales


The space race

Kieran Long’s Evening Standard piece on the newly listed buildings of London’s Brixton Market struck an immediate chord (listing buildings in Britain makes it harder for developers to spoil them).

The buildings of Brixton Market are awkward, idiomatic, the wrong shape for modern retail. But public spaces, Long argues, ‘should lead people to discover things about their town, allow the city to speak.’ He contrasts this with the ubiquitous shopping mall, which is ‘more about choreographing our experience of the city.’

The analogy with teaching is irresistible: it’s easy to ‘choreograph’ our classes too much, whatever tools we have at our disposal. Publishers, like developers, have an interest in monetising (classroom) space – and as teachers we should resist this. We can do so by managing lessons that lead people to discover things about language, by allowing them to speak.

Beyond onefortywords…

For another take on space, check out Rob Jacob’s post on Teaching In The White Spaces – thanks to Chris Cattaneo for tweeting this.

Teacher Training Unplugged

After reading Anthony Gaughan and Izzy Orde’s blog posts, Scott and myself were really looking forward to their IATEFL talk, and it didn’t disappoint.

Dramatising key moments in dialogue form, they explained how and why they rewrote a successful CELTA course to reflect dogme principles.

Their story was an object lesson in having the courage of one’s convictions. It helps when the institution you work for is understanding; it helps when the team is small. But it takes real nerve to put your work on the line, real determination to realise the possibilities and convince the assessors.

When Tessa Woodward talked about teachers tweaking their classroom practice, she didn’t mention the half of it: these guys tore up the template and rewrote the book in two hours, with nothing but tea to keep them going. I bet it wasn’t herbal.

Gdansk for the memories

Chain bookstores like Waterstones (the others have all gone bust) seem designed to put you off reading. Smaller bookstores can throw up surprises, like Mercedes-Benz by Gdansk-born Pawel Huelle. It’s a novel about conversation, in which a series of driving lessons becomes a winding route through one family’s – and a whole country’s – history. In one passage, the narrator reflects that ‘the relationship between instructor and student doesn’t rely on simple instruction or commonplace teaching, but on telling each other beautiful stories, on the sort of verbal communion that brings people together over and above gender, politics and origin.’ Classroom stories aren’t always beautiful, but the process of sharing them can be. Huelle’s narrative carries distant echoes of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire as it explores the gaps in time, employing a distinctly Polish unmagic realism: humorous, sardonic and wise.