Top 10: Things Teachers Can Learn From DJs

I used to DJ quite a lot. It got me into music, scratching, hiphop and ultimately, teaching. Well, not quite, but it got me into rapping. And I rap about teaching.

Anyway, I’ve always thought that the psychology of DJing is something to be considered by anyone who has to interact with large groups of people. DJing is an art, yes, but it’s also a kind of public service.

So, in my current incarnation as a public serving teacher of young minds, it makes sense to consider what we, as teachers, can learn from the DJ. Presenting, the Top 10 Things Teachers Can Learn From DJs. Insert duvva duvva pullback sound.

 

1. Meet the audience where they are

Nothing is as irritating as the DJ who plays for himself. Part of the real skill of DJing is being able to read a crowd and work out what will get them on the dancefloor. I remember playing a party with crates of hiphop records in tow, but the crowd were into party pop, so I had to improvise. I ended up raiding an old record collection for some 80s pop compilations and jacking in my ipod for some dance.

The same logic must apply to teaching. The teacher shouldn’t pander to a class, but it is imperative that we appeal to their preferences and tastes. This is where the Relatedness strand of Self Determination theory comes into its own. Feed off the energy off the crowd, don’t self obsess and make their fun, your fun.

2. Know your crates

For anyone out there who doesn’t know what a vinyl record is, crates refers to the crates a DJ would carry their records in, back in ‘the day’. Anyway, the good DJ MUST have a detailed working knowledge of a lot of music, not least of all the music he actually owns. you’v got to be mercurial in knowing what goes with what, what should follow who, how to start a set, bpms, locations of songs on albums, etc etc.

In teaching, same thing. Some people call it a ‘toolkit’, some call it ‘experience’. Either way, that working knowledge of your own practice is the difference between a busy dancefloor and a dimly lit wasteland.

 

3. LISTEN

A good DJ has to listen, carefully, to everything. In fact, the good DJ has to listen to many different things at the same time, make sense of it, and create something harmonious out of audio chaos. Beat-matching involves queuing up one song in headphones whilst another song plays out to the crowd, which forces you to single out a rhythm in a mess of pulses.

A good teacher has to do the exact same thing: make sense of a disparate collection of individuals working at different tempos and synthesise it into a classroom experience. This takes skill, patience and an ‘ear’ for music. Furthermore, we need to hear the political mood music and negotiate it all, be it changes to assessment, local authority structures or government educational policy.

4. Smooth transitions

Don’t jar. Songs should mix and blend into one another seamlessly, so that the crowd doesn’t even realise they’re still dancing despite a change in song/ artist/ tempo/ etc. Teaching should be equally smooth, with topics and units eliding into each other. I did this particularly successfully with a unit of work on World War 1 which I merged into a unit on London, via Dizzee Rascal and the theme of conflict.

 

5. Be aware of pace!

Peaks and troughs, people, peaks and troughs. 180bpm electro for 4 hours straight WILL clear the dancefloor. ‘Right then!” Do Nows and continual 5 minute blasts of learning WILL exhaust your students. Mix it up.

 

6. Play the background

Ofsted recently announced that they are no longer grading lessons. Which, I feel, is a huge step forward. Recently, I underwent an Ofsted inspection during which the inspector came into my room, and we chatted to and with kids for 20 minutes, while the class got on with a project based essay. In comparison to a few years ago, during an Ofsted inspection where I ‘performed’ at the front of the class, this was a breath of fresh, cliched, air.

Despite the rise of the ‘superstar’ DJ, I firmly believe that the DJ is best left as a party technician, quietly working magic for the benefit of others. Teachers, similarly, should be a quiet force of change in the lives of their students. Besides, most of what we do happens outside of the stage of the classroom, in planning, assessment, curriculum design and so on.

 

7. Format = irrelevant

I know I’ve already WAXED lyrical (pun intended) about the virtues of vinyl, but, let’s face it, the format upon which music is played is pretty much irrelevant. I’ve DJd parties with the following media

  • Vinyl records and two turntables
  • CDs
  • Two ipods
  • One ipod
  • Youtube
  • One record player and a looping pedal

The simple truth is that selection is everything. Play it on what you can. Teaching, I feel can learn from this – pen and paper, Harness debates, ICT projects, booklets and worksheets: all different routes to the same goal. Party on.

 

8. Clean living, clear head

I once DJd a party fuelled by nothing other than cups of tea and words of encouragement. While the revellers revelled on, I stayed calm and cool, doing my job.

Teachers, take note: Keep sober, sleep right, eat well and look after yourself.

9. Be prepared

If I DJ a party, I need to take:

  • Technics 1200 turntable x2
  • Vestax PMC 06 Pro two channel mixer
  • Amp
  • Jamo floor speakers x2
  • Various phono stereo connector cables
  • Speaker wire
  • Cartridges x2
  • Slipmats
  • 200 – 300 records in bags and flight cases
  • ipod
  • stereo to phono cable
  • car to transport this stuff in

As a teacher I need:

 

10. Stay ’til the end

The party ends when the music stops. The learning ends when the teacher drops.

Yep.

 

-Unseen Flirtations
TES Teaching Resources

Advertisements

Top 20: Things Rappers Brag About (part 1)

Introduction: Why Do Rappers Even Brag In The First Place?

Quick history lesson. A major aspect of hiphop, as a culture, is self-expression, be it through dance (Breakdancing), visual art (Graffiti), creation of music (DJing) or the spoken word (Rapping). And you can throw fashion in there too. Now, if you don’t know, rap as a distinct artform can be traced back to party-rocking MCs who would ‘toast’ over music to keep the party moving. One of the first acknowledged people to do this was Jamaican-born American DJ Kool Herc, back in the early 1970s. Of course, MCs had been doing this kind of thing in the West Indies long before the culture flourished in New York, and the concept of rhythmic spoken word poetry reaches back deep into the travelling griots of West Africa and beyond.

Now, the precise purpose of rap is an interesting debate. Part storytelling, part party rocking, part teaching, and part self-aggrandising, it’s a pretty complex mesh of purposes. What we can say for certain is that rappers, for better or for worse, have evolved into a breed of artists who are almost pathologically concerned with bigging themselves up. Inherent in the DNA of rap is a confidence that gives way to arrogance, a culture of self-promotion that should probably be repulsive, but is actually incredibly seductive. Not only do we tolerate these people who can’t stop talking about how amazing they are, but we actually encourage them to do so by buying, listening and sharing their records.

Now, permit me to state the obvious:

Rappers talk about themselves. A lot.

In the grand scheme of things, there are a great deal of topics to discuss in this world, and naturally, rappers do so. But they usually use themselves as the predominant lens through which to discuss the world at large, meaning that the focus is never that far away from themselves at all. This much is pretty simple, but where it gets interesting is in considering why rappers can’t seem to get over themselves, and indeed, why they feel the need to validate their existences so aggressively, through bragging. What are the psychological roots of all this boasting? Well, there are a few obvious (ish) reasons:

Competition: Hiphop is a culture rooted in healthy competition. It’s a celebration of expression, yes, but also a test of skill, with individuals or groups pitted against eachother to win plaudits and the respect of peers. Every time you stand up to spit a verse, you are entering an arena of lyrical battle. So you’d better be good.

Grandstanding: What better way to prove your superiority than displaying all the evidence of your successes? I’m better than you! How do I know? Well I’ve got a bigger car and more jewellery, obviously.

Insecurity: We all know that the most outwardly confident people are most likely harbouring deep-seated internal conflicts and self-deficiencies, hence the front they put up. They aren’t convincing us with all that big-talk, they’re convincing themselves! Ostentation is a mark of insecurity.

Pride: One of the Deadly Sins, yes, but a fair enough reason to shout about your achievements. Who else is going to do it? And coupled with the insecurity mentioned above you can see why someone might be likely to shout about their achievements. Like a toddler looking for parental approval.

Anyway, cod psychology aside, I now present the Top 20 Things That Rappers Brag About (In No Particular Order).

Enjoy.

Top 20: Things That Rappers Brag About (In No Particular Order)

1: The Gold Chain

If rapping was a job, a gold chain would be the uniform. From the earliest days of hiphop, rappers have adorned themselves in gold chains of various shapes and sizes up to and including thick gold ropes. The gold chain is the quintessential hiphop status symbol. It connotes wealth in an obvious, direct and indisputable manner; a physical display of wealth. Jewellery serves no purpose other than to signify wealth and look pretty, and to flaunt it is to flaunt one’s financial power.

Beyond this, there is something undeniably regal about gold. Rappers assert their authority and status not simply through wealth, but through specific trappings of wealth that might better befit a monarch.

Kanye shoutout: Mr West takes this to extremes both physically and conceptually in the line ‘Bought the chain that always give me back pain‘ (Monster), suggesting serious weight that is too heavy to handle. Here, it’s worth noting links to Ancient Egyptian culture (as you can see in the photo below). Arguably, gold symbolises an Afro-centric wealth that circumvents Western notions of wealth and kingship. Rappers, being born of migrant peoples, may well find allure in these ancient codes of prosperity.

Slick Rick, one of the most notorious wearers of gold in the game, calls himself ‘The Ruler’ and goes as far as donning a crown to complement the chains. He literally decks himself out in the garb of a king. Is this purely pantomime, or psychological self-aggrandisement?

One final WARNING from Lupe Fiasco though: ‘the crown don’t make you king…‘ Wise words Mr Fiasco, wise words…

2: The Watch

Similar to above, the watch (particularly the gold watch) is a staple hiphop status symbol. The difference between a fancy watch and a gold chain, however, is that a watch connotes a certain level of ‘class’, in a very Western perspective. The watch is a symbol of male sophistication and socio-cultural awareness. It’s the accessory of corporate success. Businessmen don’t bowl around in gold chains, but they damn sure have their Rolex sitting at the end of a well-tailored cuff.

Unsurprisingly, the Rolex (a long-accepted standard of timepiece excellence) has been the rapper’s watch of choice. In the 90s, Biggie asked us to ‘wave our Rollies in the sky‘ as a decadent variation of “wave your hands in the air”, and the Game recently announced the launch of a record label called ‘Rolex Records’.

Jay-Z, arguably one of the most successful (in financial terms and in regards to mainstream acceptance) rappers of our age, has taken his watch game to crazy heights. ‘Otis’ saw him announce new additions to the watch roster, including the brands Hublot and Audemar Piquet. Why? Because he wants to prove his ever growing sophistication, as symbolised by refined, obscure and expensive timepieces. Ironically, the excessive nature of these boasts could be said to detract from the sophistication being sought, especially in lines that compare a rapper to an Octopus (‘So many watches I need eight arms…‘). Not very classy, but you can see why a rapper might say such a thing in the first place.

3. Fashion

It’s no accident that rappers brag about what they wear, the reason being that what you wear says a lot about who you are (and what you want to be). Brand worship is one of the most obvious watermarks of rap in particular (not hiphop in general) and it’s not simply because the ability to purchase lots of clothes suggests a healthy bank account. That’s part of it, but just a small part. The real reason rappers talk clothes is because clothes denote culture and style, as well as wealth. Fine clothes  = refined living, be it RUN DMC bragging about unlimited supplies of Adidas, Biggie’s Coogi sweaters and Versace glasses, Meek Mill’s “fly as hell YSL“, Theophilus London’s “$900 Givenchy jeans“, Tyler the Creator’s affinity for SUPREME, Nas’ declaration of ‘never wearing less than Guess‘, Kanye West’s excursions into Martin Margiela or having ‘more clothes than Muhammad Ali’, almost every rapper has a fashion preference. Even when being ANTI-fashion, rappers can still find themselves name dropping, as in Roscoe P Coldchain’s assertion that he prefers Dickies workwear and Timbaland boots to flashy outfits.

Why? Because clothing is branding and rappers are masters of self promotion. It is perhaps unsurprising that many rappers have dabbled (with varying degrees of success) in clothing ranges. Notable examples include Jay-Z’s Roc-a-Wear, Pharrell Williams’ Billionaire Boys Club and (Kanye shoutout!) Kanye West’s excursions with Louis Vuitton. The clothes maketh the man…

Worth noting that even relatively modest brands can be worthy of bragging, if they are the accepted mark of style. Case in point, Timbaland boots, which stomped all over 90s hiphop, and hiphop’s ongoing love affair with NIKE, ostensibly a mass-produced sportswear brand. We can all afford this stuff.

4. Cars

Hiphop does NOT mess about when it comes to materialism. In the world at large, cars are an obvious and ubiquitous status symbol, so it makes sense that rappers park their self-esteem in automobiles. That said, there are deeper resonances to the significance of the car. In the US, cars are a powerful symbolism of freedom and driving harks back to the pioneering spirit of the USA’s forefathers. Getting a car is a major US rite of passage and to own cars is akin to owning your own freedom. It makes sense that a rapper might boast about having wheels.

In this, the marginalised status of minority peoples cannot be ignored; having access to personal transport is highly self-affirming. Of course, the more prestigious the brand of car the better, hence why Rick Ross has (somewhat perversely) named his music ’empire’ after the Maybach automobile company. Some rappers, case in point Ludacris, positively evangelise over their cars, as the ode to the automobile ‘Two Miles an Hour‘ attests.

Kanye shoutout: The car as a status symbol has evolved nowadays to include all manner of light aircraft and high-performance water-based vehicles. Kanye says as much in the ‘Otis line’: ‘Can’t you see the private jets flying over you?” and, in ‘Clique’: ‘Speedboat swerve homie, watch out for the waves!’ Wheels are so 20th century…

5. Travel

When, in ‘Big Spender’, Theophilus London (pictured above) states “My nickname international, my accent change by accident” he exemplifies the rapper bragging about being well-travelled. Hiphop, at its core is a local phenomenon, born in ghettoised communities and never really expected to go global. Whenever rappers start bragging about having seen the world, they are effectively celebrating their emancipation. Similarly to ‘Cars’ above, travelling denotes true freedom – an important concept if you were born into socially constrained contexts (such as the ghetto). Furthermore, the well-travelled person is the cultured person. To have seen the world implies a high level of cultural capital that sets you apart from ordinary, home-bound nobodies.

Another Kanye shoutout: In ‘Gone’ Mr West rhetorically muses over how he can be out in Europe living large, having started in Chicago… “How we out in Europe, spending Euros…?”

Ok, so that’s the first five. Phew. Watch this space for numbers six to ten…

Best,

-Unseen Flirtations

Top 10: Things Formal Education Can Learn From Hiphop

So.

March 9th 2013 saw the third UK Hiphop Ed seminar, at which a collection of teachers, poets, artists, thinkers, social workers and general ‘good eggs’ met to share views and ideas on Hiphop culture, pedagogy, philosophy and pretty much everything in between.

For the uninitiated, Hiphop Ed can be summarised as a socio-political movement seeking to actively pursue positive change in education through the tenets of Hiphop culture. It’s no new thing, but the UK ‘movement’ is growing in momentum, making the recent seminar a truly exciting event.

Anyway, my head has only just finished spinning after an afternoon of truly inspiring, often challenging debate. I thought I’d share my personal Top 10 ‘lightbulb’ moments. In no particular order…

1. ‘Reality Pedagogy’ – Keep it real

A new phrase on me, and seems obvious now that I’ve heard it. Basically, ‘reality pedagogy’ refers to the real, actual experiences of kids in education should be used to inform what they learn and how they learn it. With  out this relevance, there is no guarantee that students will ever engage with the educational system they are thrown into, let alone academia at large. Hiphop is rooted in reality. It’s no accident that ‘keep it real’ is a long-standing tenet of the culture.

2. Politicize the present

This came up a lot. Hiphop, at it’s core, is a politicized culture. It is as much a reaction to socio-politics as it is a product of certain political developments, namely the oppression and marginalisation of particular social groups. Education should be similarly political in its outlook, at the very least aware of political and social contexts. Otherwise, those within the system have every reason to conclude that the system has nothing to do with their actual lives. Which, of course, is a problem.

3. Personal problems as a way into public issues

You get this a lot in Hiphop music. Rappers often talk about the minutiae of their own lives to the point of self-obsession, but then they often let these musings drift into wider social critique. This is something educators need to think about. We talk so much about disaffected youth, but so often ignore the very thing that can get them hooked into the world: their lives.

4. Creativity + Reinvention = Evolution

Question: How is it that hiphop, with all its paunchy wealth and commercial success, can still, in 2013, be the freshest thing out? And on the flip side, how can formal education, with generations of development, have become so stale? See, the thing is that Hiphop is rooted in creativity and reinvention. In many ways it is a bastard culture, hammered out of the need to express and challenge by the very people who were denied the ability to express themselves. It made itself up, from the ground up, and continues to do so whenever at threat. Hiphop can’t really die because the manifestations of hiphop are secondary to the creative spark that underpins the culture as a whole.

Education needs to mirror this. It should respond to emergent pressures and thrive off the energies of those who need it most (kids). Education also needs to evolve with every generation, because contexts change. Hiphop has this down to fine art, developing and branching into crazy new areas as and when it needs to, in order to thrive. Policy-makers, take note.

5. Always go against the grain

One of the most appealing aspects of any sub-culture is its challenging of the mainstream. Be it Jazz, Punk, Rock and roll, Grunge, Dubstep, Emo, Goth, Metal, whatever, sub-cultures challenge the status quo and are thus ‘cool’. Hiphop is no exception, but has somehow managed to become THE dominant pop-culture (ask your mum what ‘bling’ means and I bet she can tell you) whilst remaining counter-culture and dangerous. Education, now more than ever, needs to challenge the status quo in this way, because the status quo is so sorely inadequate. The system is failing young people, so it should be challenged, even if that is seen as ‘dangerous’ by the powers-that-be. Simple really.

6. Be AN authority, not IN authority

I can’t remember exactly who said this, but I love the distinction. Being IN authority suggests telling people what to do. Being AN authority suggests having valuable knowledge and experience that can be used to guide future generations. Now, educators far too often set themselves up as being IN authority, which can be confrontational to kids (especially those who are already marginalised). We need to flip this and become guides who don’t worry so much about retaining authority (as a synonym for ‘power’), and use their authority to help nurture the leaders of the future.

7. Shared experience = social cohesion

Hiphop has always been about unity. The culture itself is a unification of very different elements – DJing, Rapping, Breakdancing and Graffitti, bound by the 5th element – Knowledge. The culture is rooted in shared experience, be it a rap ‘cypher’ (circle of rappers rapping together) block party, dance-off or whatever. The power of collaboration can’t be ignored. And at a time when the government is actively seeking to dismantle state education (and thus encourage competition), Education needs to be more collaborative than ever before.

Ironically, even the competitive nature of Hiphop is collaborative, in that it invites participants to come together. Imagine if schools did this actively. Not just sharing ‘best practice’, but working together at the inception stage of planning and development. And imagine if it was standard practice for educators to collaborate with their students, rather than impart knowledge or skills. It’d be like a party whenever work started.

Worth noting how many ’21st century’ organisations such as Google and Apple thrive on collaboration and attribute their successes to this approach. Education needs to Heinz it. (ketch-up. Get it?)

8. Highlight the marginalised

Hiphop is often described as some kind of journalistic medium for marginalised peoples. Crudely speaking, it offers a lens into ghettoised communities, something which can come with controversy. But the benefit of this is that it empowers those same communities. People with no money, social influence or political sway can suddenly reinvent themselves as leaders, experts, masters of craft and part of a heritage. Hiphop never originally sought to appease the mainstream and even when the mainstream tried to appropriate it, the ‘have nots’ still retained overall authority.

Education, I think, needs to realise that kids are the most marginalised stakeholders in the educational system. Their experiences should be at the centre of what we do and we should put the microscope on those experiences above all else.

9. Give ownership to the excluded

Similar to the above. One of our discussions focussed on the use of ‘non-standard English’ and how this can alienate students. It was agreed that students should be offered ownership and autonomy over their language (and, by extension, culture) because a) this empowers them and b) they have it anyway. Hiphop is all about ownership. Anyone into Hiphop feels as though they have a right to it, and you could argue that it is culture that is owned communally. If Education is to be truly inclusive, it must encourage its most marginalised stakeholders (disaffected kids, jaded teachers, disengaged parents…) to feel as though they own it. Otherwise, it will always be Us and Them, and never We.

10. Sample EVERYTHING

I personally came away from the seminar with, what, 5 new ideas for lessons/ activities? And that’s fine. Musically, Hiphop is a sample-based medium, taking the old and flipping it, with heightened creativity, into something new. Educators can learn a lot from this. There is no need to reinvent every wheel, when good ideas already exist, ready to be shaped, flipped, sampled, chopped and scratched into something fresh. Sample. Simple.

That’s it really. I’ve only scratched the surface here, but hopefully, you get an idea of how exciting this ‘movement’ is. And now, a Twitter roll call of some of the excellent individuals I have met on my #hiphoped journey, all forging the way closer towards educational utopia. (Click on the names for links to their pages. Definitely worth an explore when you get a chance.)

Best,

-Unseen Flirtations

@rapclassroom (hosted the seminar!)

@dunfordjames

@mskateryan

@mrbreis

@tymusic

@rapgeniusUK

@awate91

@poetcurious

@chrismentalist

@revealpoison

@KMT_MAY

@angrysampoet

@shayduk

ps: For earlier musings on Hiphoped (and a preamble to my first mixtape) click here.

Top 10: Things That Are Currently Alarming Real Teachers

A rundown of 10 things that are currently putting worry lines into the brows of Real Teachers everywhere. Feel free to frown – it’s grim.

1. Welcome to the Free Market

Quick history lesson. Under the New Labour academies of old, money was thrown at failing schools in a bid to raise attainment. Skip ahead a few years and enter the Coalition with its very own academies initiative, under which outstanding schools are targeted and short-term financial incentives offered to encourage conversion. With the government seeking to ultimately convert all schools, the entire education sector is suddenly looking to become private – each school operating independently.

Teachers, start sweating. If every school operates independently, the very idea of a good local school for every child becomes secondary to the particular aims and ideals of each particular school. Deciding where to work suddenly becomes an exercise in personal politics and if your personal ideals don’t quite correspond with those of your chosen place of work, you may just find your career hanging in the balance. Oh dear.

2. The Production Line

An automatic consequence of this aggressive pursuing of a free market is that the education sector will become subject to market forces. Supply, demand, profit, loss, product, retail, marketing, wholesale: all that good stuff that most teachers physically recoil from. The problem is that schools and teachers don’t actually ‘produce’ anything, do we? Start sweating… In a free market, our ‘product’ is the children in our care, or more specifically the GCSE results we can encourage/ cajole/ drag out of them aged 16.

Michael Gove argues that every child, irrespective of background, should be expected to achieve equally, an ideal which could be dangerously naïve. A brutal truth is that certain socio-economic groups have a better relationship with formal education than others and, in a free market, those kids are preferable because they get the best results. So schools court those families, the post-code apartheid flourishes, and teachers of failing kids become labelled as failing teachers. Welcome to the jungle.

3. Goodbye, Goodwill

Put down that cup of coffee for a second – it gets worse. The local authority model of education actively protected teacher’s pay and conditions, with clearly defined limits and guidelines on issues such as working hours, pay-scales, holiday, maternity arrangements and so on. Get rid of local authorities, get rid of that protection. Your entire working life as a teacher becomes contingent upon the whim and goodwill of your employer. And unfortunately…

4. …We Are Expensive

Yes Real Teachers, I hate to say it, but in these austere times, teachers are drawing increasingly askance looks from policy-makers intent upon finding ways of saving a pound or two. Michael Gove has made it very clear that teachers can and should be doing more, by which he means spending more time at school of an average day, working longer terms during the year and delaying retirement until, well, death.

The result? Heads are being actively encouraged to get more out of already stretched teachers. As stated above, good luck on relying upon goodwill to protect conditions in what is already a seriously demanding profession.

5. Nobody Likes You

For all the talk of how demanding the job actually is, a lot of people will never accept that teaching is anything other than cushy: holiday after holiday, a ‘gold-plated’ pension, six weeks in the summer and a working day that finishes before Countdown begins.

This general belief that teachers have it good is worrying in as far as it undermines the very real grievances we may have against unfair policy changes. Worse still, wider problems are being ignored. 1) Everyone deserves a fair pension – why make it a race to the bottom? 2) The Teachers’ Pension Scheme has been paid into by teachers, not the taxpayer at large – if the government needs to reduce the deficit, why not start with the £28 billion or so worth of unpaid corporation tax? 3) Yes, parents would find it convenient for teachers to have shorter holidays (as Michael Gove has suggested), but why is it that childcare costs in the UK are among the most expensive in the world? Alas, without a starting point of empathy, it is unlikely that our rights (or sanity) will be even considered, let alone protected.

6. Hard Targets

Knock knock? Who’s there? Good teacher? Good teacher who? Good teacher who hasn’t hit their targets.

Not very funny, is it? Despite the fact that much of what happens at school is qualitative (the quality of teaching and well-being of children for starters), there is an assumption that the quality of education and teaching can be defined in strictly quantitative terms. Since the onset of league tables, schools have been bound by targets and results, with pressure on Heads to boost the numbers filtering directly down to classroom teachers and, in turn, children.

This is unfair. Results obsession can turn a good teacher with an underachieving class into a ‘failing’ teacher, when the focus should be upon engagement, creativity and effort. Politicians may call for more engaging lessons, but have they considered how much of a risk that is for teachers who are ultimately tied to cold, hard statistics?

7. The New Broom

Michael Gove recently stated that “more and more of the young teachers coming into the profession do so because they are idealistic” and that “they want to work as long as it takes to help children succeed”.  Ok… The implication here is that older, more experienced teachers (probably including anyone two years or more out of their NQT year) are jaded cynics who are too lazy to “go the extra mile”.

If you have common sense, an opinion and anything less than blind compliance for new policy, consider yourself a Dinosaur. And god help you if you miss a few targets – all it takes is one term and the Head can label you as failing before politely asking you to get lost. It all adds up and believe you me…

8. …you are VERY replaceable

I would not for one moment suggest that teachers should expect a job for life. Standards need to be high and poor teachers must be brought to task. What concerns me is the utter disregard for experience and commitment that seems to characterise current educational policy.

The government proposes that classroom teachers should stay in in the job until 68. In the unlikely event of septuagenarian teachers being physically unable to survive a five-period day of haranguing 21st century teenagers, the alternative will have to be a conveyor belt of wide-eyed young graduates, worked to within an inch of their lives and replaced at regular three-yearly intervals. Because, I assure you, if conditions worsen, they couldn’t stay in the job even if they wanted to.

9. Degrees of Separation

For reasons that will not become fully clear for at least a decade (the time period Mr Gove has outlined for the fruits of his policies to emerge), the TDA is now awarding teacher training bursaries based on degree classification. £20,000 for a First in Physics, Maths, Chemistry or Modern Foreign Languages, £15,000 for a 2:1, £12,000 for a 2:2, et cetera. (With my First in English Lit, I would have got £6,000, but I didn’t have to pay £9,000 to do the PGCE in the first place).

The logical outcome of this strangely elitist move is a kind of results hierarchy whereby academically successful teachers will be scouted by the ‘best’ schools whilst everybody else ends up elsewhere. The worst part of all this is that there is no direct link between one’s degree classification and one’s skill as a teacher, the job being so much more than having subject knowledge (as anyone who saw Jamie’s Dream School can attest). Also ‘good’ schools (probably populated by a certain demographic of child) will end up being populated by a certain type of teacher. It’s a dystopia in the making and it’s starting now.

10. The Blame Game

Ultimately, all any Real Teacher such as myself wants is to be able to point at someone and say ‘I told you so’, but I honestly don’t know who I’ll be pointing at. By dismantling state education and formally establishing a free market, the government is ensuring zero accountability – a shrewd and cynical move. It will be individual academies, the Heads who run them and the teachers who work at them who are accountable for unmet targets and falling standards, whilst central government can sit back, purse its lips and raise its hands in innocence.

Or maybe I’m just becoming a cynical old Dinosaur… Let’s hope so. With another 39 years of teaching to get through I’d quite like to be proven wrong.

-Unseen Flirtations

For a soundtrack to this piece, click below to hear the famous ‘Michael Gove is a Monster’ Kanye West remix (contains swearing)

Michael Gove is a Monster

Top 10: Things a teacher has to be (in addition to being a teacher)

Top 10: Things a teacher has to be (in addition to being a teacher)

1.       Parent

Whether you like it or not, whether you want it happen or not, those kids will look at you and respond to you as some kind of parental figure. For better or for worse. It’s a numbers game I reckon. You see them so much, with so much regularity and spend so long telling them what to do, that the only logical response for these kids is to see you as some kind of surrogate parent. Hence why they can feel justified in moaning/ sighing/ yelling/ ignoring/ sulking/ delete as appropriate at you – it’s just how they treat their parents. Nothing personal.

2.       Referee

Lessons are interesting things. And children are interesting creatures. A lot of my time at school is spent not regaling young scholars with my insights and moulding the minds of the future, but rather mediating between the many and varied spats that flare up in an average school day. You know, over important issues such as Whose Pen That Is, Why Doesn’t He Have To Collect The Books, She Started It, and He Cussed My Mum. My negotiation schools are now so on point that I’m fairly certain I can put ‘hostage situation diffuser’ on my CV. Goes with the territory.

3.       Administrator

No-one even remotely warned me how organised I would have to be if I was to have even the slimmest chance of ‘making it’ as a teacher, and thank god there’s a small part of me that suffers from OCD. I am woefully disorganised and can’t keep a clean desk for love, money or anything else I might want. But I do keep a mean spreadsheet, can make lists, and can count up to a reasonably high number. Phew. Without these skills, my wildly imaginative nature and uber-creative take on life would have long since disintegrated into a steaming mess of optimism and unfinished grade sheets.

4.       Entertainer

Almost diametrically opposed to above, but hey, what can you do? I hate to admit it, but a good teacher these days has to be part children’s entertainer. The good news is I don’t just mean a good juggler and ‘funny’ and all that, because kids are entertained by all sorts. Drunks, manic depressives, wild eyed madmen, hysterical uni graduates: all entertaining in your own way. Take your pick and run with it. Your classes will thank you.

5.       Detective

I can look at a classroom I wasn’t in and within seconds tell you who was sitting where, who was eating what they shouldn’t have, how much of my cover work was/ wasn’t done and the precise moment someone decided to draw a penis on the table. It’s all inference. And when I’ve worked it all out, I can get a confession out of whoever I want to before the bell goes for next period. And I don’t even need a 60 watt light-bulb to shine in their eyes.

6.       Actor

This is a biggie. So much of what we do is insincere. We feign everything, from anger (“I cannot BELIEVE you would DARE to open a window, WITHOUT asking!) to enthusiasm (“Wow! That’s an amazing use of rhyme! Blue and Clue! How clever!) Not to say we lie, per se, but gosh do we lay it on a bit thick. And the kids, bless them, are so trusting that they don’t for a moment think that it could be anything other than 100 per cent sincerity. I could tell my lot I’m really a woman and they wouldn’t flinch.

7.       Graphic designer

Worksheets, powerpoint presentations, lesson resources of all shapes and sizes: If they’re, pardon my French, Shit, the kids won’t use them and they won’t learn anything. So they have to be Good. Simple as that really. And unless your school has money, you’d better get used to doing it on the basic Microsoft suite.

8.       Marathon runner/ endurance athlete

Because, dear friend, when it gets Busy (and it does get Busy) the first thing to go out of the window (before planning decent lessons and after toilet breaks) will be sitting down to eat. You just find yourself getting through long, busy, frantic days with nothing remotely even approaching a pause, operating on a strangely effective combination of adrenalin and stupidity. How it’s done exactly is still a mystery to modern science.

9.       Motivational speaker

Kids, especially kids who have been doing it for a while, have nothing to get out of school other than some qualification they vaguely appreciate that they may need at some point in the blurry future. So to get them through day after day of lesson after lesson is some feat. How do you do it? Good question.  No, being serious for a moment, it’s all down to the (hopefully) infectious nature of optimism and enthusiasm. A teacher is always poised to rally the troops and get a class fired up. If not, dragging yourself and a classful of kids from one finishing line to the next just might become your actual reason for living.

10.   Bouncer

Depending on the specific culture of your school, lessons may very well resemble entry into a nightclub, teacher at the door, scanning over-excited (or dead-eyed) punters for contraband and dress code. Everyone’s counted in and counted out, and if something isn’t right, They’re Not Coming In. Well, they are, but you have to sort of make a show of it. See number 6.

-Unseen Flirtations

Top 10: Underrated entities

Top 10: Underrated entities

 

1.       Canned laughter

For reasons I refuse to go into right now, I’ve been watching a lot of ‘Friends’ recently. It comes on TV every day, and there are about 48,000 episodes to choose from. I’ve always liked, actually, tolerated, Friends quite a lot, not because I particularly enjoy the saccharine misadventures of Manhattan’s fakest circle of mates, but because of the rigid jokes per page formula it sticks to. I find it fascinating. Like all good sitcoms, Friends works on a pulse of ‘humour’ with regular little groundswells of laughter that have almost nothing to do with jokes. Every few beats, we get a cue to laugh, and the canned laughter pushes us over the hump and on to the next ascent to the next funny bit.

Now, I dislike the artificiality of canned laughter as much as the next cynic, but I caps lock LOVE the fact that rational humans can be jostled along a narrative by such clonky cues of merriment. We should probably be ashamed/ cringe/ vomit each time some ripple of guffaws punctuates our lovingly crafted gags, but for some reason, we just go along with out. I think that’s marvellous.

2.       The word ‘but’

I recently very nearly did a post called ‘Top 10: Most powerful words in the English language’, and ‘but’ was going to headline. See, the thing about the word ‘but’ is that it is so unrepentantly violent, and its merciless power should never be overlooked. Iit may sound like hyperbole, but I’m serious. See, when you say something, you assert it, and your listener, to some extent accepts whatever meaning you have offered. To then follow it up with the word ‘but’ is to basically say ‘now ignore everything I’ve just said – I’m about to contradict it and offer an almost exactly opposite position’. It’s volatile – like a little conversational frag grenade that completely decimates what came before. Use with caution.

 

3.       Half rhyme

As a self-certified poetry aficionado, I can safely say that full rhyme is the preserve of the happy thinker. When you get two words that resonate aurally, like I dunno, ‘blue’ and ‘moo’, you automatically have happiness and playfulness. A kind of ‘ahh’ situation that sits nicely in the soul. But, half-rhyme: That’s a different story. Quick definition – half-rhyme: where two words sort of rhyme a bit but don’t really sound alike. Sounds innocuous right? Wrong. In the hands of a skilled poet, half-rhyme can be a devastatingly subtle means of creating unease and unrest in the heart of a reader, sometimes on a subconscious level. Where full rhyme announces its arrival with a wave and bounds through your mind ringing bells of joy, half-rhyme is the serpent beneath, sneaking into your psyche with the stealth of an assassin. A great example is the disturbingly self-conscious Dylan Thomas, who put down the bottle long enough to write ‘Especially When the October Wind’. Have a look at the first two stanzas…

Especially when the October wind

With frosty fingers punishes my hair,

Caught by the crabbing sun I walk on fire

And cast a shadow crab upon the land,

By the sea’s side, hearing the noise of birds,

Hearing the raven cough in winter sticks,

My busy heart who shudders as she talks

Sheds the syllabic blood and drains her words.

 

Shut, too, in a tower of words, I mark

On the horizon walking like the trees

The wordy shapes of women, and the rows

Of the star-gestured children in the park.

Some let me make you of the vowelled beeches,

Some of the oaken voices, from the roots

Of many a thorny shire tell you notes,

Some let me make you of the water’s speeches.

Doesn’t seem like much? In between the full rhyming quatrains (wind/land, birds/words, mark/park, beeches/ speeches) you get an incredibly sinister half rhyme. Hair/ fire, sticks/ talks, trees/ rows, roots/ notes… and this continues throughout the poem. It’s surreptitious, sly and slightly jarring and just as disturbing as any of the poem’s more obvious imagery and morose language. Chilling, if you ask me.

 

4.       Babies

Just because they don’t talk, can’t dress themselves and shit themselves all day, it doesn’t mean that babies are any more stupid than any other person. They’re just young. I’m fairly certain that humans are born with all the emotional intelligence they will ever have, and their intelligent intelligence/ reasoning/ whatever just has to catch up. Babies know what’s up, and if they could talk, I bet they’d tell us what was what.

 

5.       Eye contact

It never ceases to amaze me how soul-shakingingly powerful a bit of eye-contact can be. Just meeting the gaze of another human being. It’s something to do with the innate intimacy of meeting someone eye-to-eye, and the direct, unspoken communication this comes with, that makes eye contact one of the single most powerful forms of communication going. It could be a flirtatious smoulder, a knowing sharing of an in-joke, staring someone down in rage or even the wide-eyed invitation of friendship in greeting. Either way, a single look can say it all.

 

6.       Human cruelty

Apologies for getting all serious all of a sudden. I’ve read my way through a fair slice of human history and I simply cannot believe some of the atrocities that we, as a species, have inflicted upon each other across the ages. Considering that there are only a few billion of us on the planet at any given time, it’s unsurprising that we get the odd disagreement and skirmish, but the extent to which we can subjugate eachother is beyond belief. Humanity, for all its development, can be base, and the atrocities of which we are capable of should never be underestimated. To do so is to forget potential for trauma inherent in all societies, usually orchestrated by manic individuals, fascist governments or a combination of the two. The scariest/ saddest truth in all of this is that it can happen anywhere, at any time. It doesn’t seem to take much for us to turn on ourselves and commit acts of violence that can only be described as deplorable. Is it in our nature? Perhaps, but I’d like to think empathy can win out. Time will tell.

 

7.       Trends

Right, time to face facts. You’re a whore to trend. A slave to zeitgeist. A minion of mode. You have no opinion. None of us do. Deal. Ok, I admit I’m being slightly hyperbolic here, but only slightly. As original as we’d like to think we are, we ultimately end up reflecting everyone around us and conforming to whatever context we live in. How else could it be that we all sort of speak the same, wear the same clothes, do the same things at any given time? If we were truly original I might be walking around dressed in, I dunno, Elizabethan robes or the skins of my slaughtered enemies, but instead, I wear suits. We’re almost as powerless to break trend as we are to start it, so largely speaking, we don’t. It’s far easier to be born into the world and copy everyone around us. To ignore the of trend is to ignore the very DNA of society itself and once a trend starts, no matter how ridiculous, you can bet that We as a collective will follow. Distressed denim, ear-lobe plugs, calling your kids ‘Poppy’, eating humous, whatever.

Ironically, the people with the biggest immunity to trend are in fact babies (see above). They don’t care thing one about whatever everyone else is doing and couldn’t give a shit about fitting in, but out of sheer convenience (and defeatism), they grow up into ‘free-thinking’ individuals who pretty much just do the same as everybody else.

 

8.       Triple LETTER score

Everyone always bangs on about the triple word scores and how many points they can get you especially with an X or a Q blah blah blah, but my Scrabble mind goes beyond this. If you’re careful, and you know what you’re doing, you can pillage an opponent with a shrewd use of the triple LETTER score. Throw a J on there and link it up to a word in the other direction and bosh, you’re suddenly looking at 50 plus points. Anyway, let’s not get into a Scrabble conversation – it’ll just end in me personally challenging you to a match and you never reading my blog again.

 

9.       Brands

When you think about it, we under-estimate and under-rate the power of branding all the time. The modern world, or at least the modern Western world, pivots on consumerism, and consumerism (bear with me – I know nothing about economics) is based on product, right? Wrong. We seek brands that allude to a product and represent it, but don’t actually constitute that product itself. This is important. A brand, once established, is so powerful that it can paper over any cracks in the product itself, metaphorically speaking of course. Look at Nike. Reasonably decent shoes, nothing special, huge reputation for quality, massively overpriced. McDonald’s: disgusting plastic food, massively overpriced, hugely popular on the basis that we recognise the brand. Dyson: big gimmicky plastic unwieldy vacuum cleaners that are somehow synonymous with ingenious design. Father Christmas: creator of Christmas cheer and the maker of all gifts, who doesn’t even actually exist. And so on.

The brand is like shorthand for the product it represents, which is kind of a distorted, dangerous way to look at things. But hey, it’s easier than actually assessing every single product on its own merit…

 

10. Poetry

As remarkable and inventive as it is, I still get the impression, at times, that poetry’s incredible capacity to create subtle meaning out of words, create narrative and constrain languge into beautiful ambiguity sometimes goes less than appreciated. Easily up there among man’s most remarkable achievements.

 

11.   Unseen Flirtations

Because I’m a shameless self-publicist with an irrationally stout sense of self-worth, I have to say that this blog is one of the most underrated criticism journals in existence. I’m sure you agree.

-Unseen Flirtations

Top 10: Non-fiction reads

Top 10: Non-fiction reads

With Christmas only 10 short months away, you really ought to be thinking about what to buy for your well-read loved ones. Novels are easy (just go for the Man Booker shortlist or pick from the ‘classics’) but outside of fiction is a tricky navigational path. Below is a quick rundown of 10 non-fiction reads that may come as a welcome surprise. Read on.

 

1. The Hot House: Life in Leavenworth Prison

Pete Earely is an investigative journalist who decided to spend a year or so documenting life inside Leavenworth penitentiary – America’s most notorious federal prison, known for its volatile combination of high security inmates. The result is electrifying. What Earley does so well is to let the characters and situations speak for themselves. He documents the activities and histories of a broad range of colourful characters, ranging from inmates to guards, gradually delving deeper into the psyche of the criminal mind. The old cliché of truth being stranger than fiction couldn’t be truer here, Earley presenting us with unbelievable truths in a surreal world. Fascinating and terrifying in equal measure. I’ve been twice tempted to turn this book into a script for a comic book/ graphic novel, which would be great. Watch this space.

2. Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times

There aren’t many 500+ page biographies that I expect I’ll read cover to cover, but this is one of them. Muhammad Ali is one of the single most compelling sports personalities of the 20th century, simply because he was such a prodigious talent, lived through such politically volatile times and embodied such a range of juicy contradictions. Thomas Hauser explores all of this with careful dedication and genuine affection, but takes great care to avoid flattery. What we are left with is an open and honest account of a seriously remarkable life, made up entirely of first-hand accounts from all sorts of people Ali met along the way. Obviously, boxing is a key aspect of Ali’s existence, but it soon becomes clear that it’s most useful to view the sport as a metaphor for his struggles as a man. Basically it’s a rich detailing of a fascinating life.

3. Jay-Z: Decoded

It’s a shame that this autobiography has been marketed as a kind of coffee table, ornamental glossy, because it is in fact a far more important work than its aesthetics suggest. Jay-Z, a rapper and entrepreneur the top of his game, has compiled a detailed study of his own lyrics, a lens through which he documents his own life and times. Now this wouldn’t be so remarkable if Jay-Z was not such a gifted critic and astute thinker. Which he is. Decoded is actually a careful exploration of US social history since the late 80s, documenting and discussing socio-political issues with academic frankness and a deeply personal insight. Carter (I’ll call him that because that sounds about right in this context) is a natural critic, touching upon the philosophy of ‘the hustle’, the poetry of words, the nature of hip hop as a movement and the careful links between art and politics.

To be honest, I find this work to be far more compelling than his music, which is largely ‘product’ manufactured for sales. It is a testament to Carter’s creative skill and analytical insight that he can start off trying to move a few units and celebrate hip hop, and end up forming genuinely profound conclusions on the human condition. I’m not joking. Read it and see.

4. Auschwitz: The Nazis and the ‘Final Solution’

I remember studying Nazi Germany for my GCSEs and I remember being taken aback by just how extreme that period of Europe’s history is. But it was in that GCSE student kind of way, where I’m too busy getting through each poorly researched essay to let the magnitude of it all really sink in. Which, to be honest, is probably the way most of us cope with the kind of inexplicable acts humans are capable of. In Auschwitz: The Nazis and the ‘Final Solution’, Laurence Rees makes it impossible to do this. In fact, he holds a magnifying glass up to the whole situation and does not flinch in the face of what is revealed. This book should be compulsory reading – hidden in its pages are some of the most truly shocking, distressing and implausible stories of crimes against humanity that you will ever read. Rees details the development from political manoeuvring to mass murder in painstaking slow-motion, making sure that the reader is fully informed as to the whats whens wheres whos and whys. I won’t bother outlining any of the tales contained in this book because you wouldn’t believe me anyway, but I would highly recommend you read it and see for yourself.

5. The Nazis: A Warning from History

Another from Laurence Rees. As above, the fascinating thing about this work of historical fact is that it almost reads like historical fiction. Rees draws out the details that make for a compelling narrative, paints rich and absorbing characters and then hits you with high impact ‘plot’ developments that leave you wide-eyed and worried. Again, compulsory reading.

6. Bobby Fischer Goes to War

Found this in a charity shop a few years back and picked it up on the strength of an anecdote about Bobby Fischer I’d heard from a friend. Good move. If you don’t know, Bobby Fischer is a US chess savant who was kind of drafted by the government to go head-to-head against Russian chess Ace Boris Spassky in the 60s, y’know, when USA and Russia were one button away from nuking the shit out of each other. If this is starting to sound like some kind of Hollywood thriller/ heist movie, that’s because it basically is. Writers David Edmonds and John Eidinow ramp up the tension towards the culminating moment of the match itself, which, when it arrives, is rub-the-back-of-the-neck-teeth-clenched tense. Even if you don’t care thing one about chess, by the time you reach the half way mark you will be dry-mouthed at the thought of a six-move check or whatever. Ultimately, this slice of 20th century history is a thriller with a dangerously misanthropic hero. Seriously fun.

7. Down all the Days

I’m including Christy Brown’s novel about growing up in 40s and 50s Ireland because it’s pretty much an autobiography, albeit a highly stylised one. Now, the whole impoverished Irish upbringing thing is nothing all that special in itself, even when you throw in a disability (Brown is a ‘young cripple’ who watches on as a detached observer). What sets this apart is the warmth and vitality with which it is written. It’s really, really beautiful. Brown has this poetic way of writing that brings scenes to life in a cinematic storyboarding that doesn’t simply put us in the moment, but creates a whole new reality. It’s surreal and touching and tense and dramatic all at once, laced with that classic Irish sense of tragic humour.

8. Every Light In the House Burnin’

Andrea Levy’s debut novel would actually make a good double-header with ‘Down all the Days’, come to think of it. Like Brown’s book, it’s a stylised autobiography outlining Levy’s childhood as a second generation black Briton of Jamaican heritage, growing up in North London, and eventually watching her father cope with cancer as an elderly man. Naturally, the novel is (delete as appropriate) touching/ poignant/ moving/ human/ heartfelt, but (as above) its specialness (real word?) comes from the style of the narrative. It’s so full of personality you kind of feel like you’re having a chat with little Angela herself. It works.

9. The Bible

Controversial, I know, but if this is in any way an historical text, you have to admit it’s got some excellent tall tales in there. The Old Testament is particularly crazy, with its stories of a vengeful god, plagues, floods, mad kings and all that. The New Testament is pretty compelling too, in its careful detailing of one man’s struggle to live out his destiny (yes I’m making it sound like a DVD release…) with plenty of morality tales to learn from. And if they ever find/ get round to writing Jesus: The Missing Years, we’re all in for a treat. What does a magician who knows his fate DO between the ages of 12 and 33?

10. Companion of God

“When you build a house, every brick counts, When you build character, every thought counts.”

Now, I’m no subscriber of self-help spiritualism of the kind that the quote above alludes to, but there is something about Companion of God by Dadi Janki that cuts right through my cynicism, and it will do yours too. Years ago, I attended a press release thing for Save the Children when Dadi Janki was visiting the UK for some reason. I had no idea who she was, but she seemed very nice. I think I spoke with her press people and, long story short, ended up getting a copy of this book. Life changer. It’s that simple. Profound spirituality divorced from any religious dogma, just offering words of wisdom on how to cope with being a person in this mad world. Such a refreshing read, and genuinely made me feel… better. After reading I immediately gave my copy to a friend, who then went on to buy his own. He carried it around with him for months, just for solace or whatever. I gave my copy away again. It’s that kind of book. If you’re reading, thank you Dadi Janki. (If you know her, please pass on the message.)

11. A good Dictionary

For obvious reasons.

-Unseen Flirtations

Top 10: Misconceptions about English Literature

Top 10: Misconceptions about English Literature

1. There are no right answers

I can picture it now. Some teacher, some time, a long, long time ago, staring at some kid in the face, desperate to tell him that his essay is a pile of rubbish but determined not to put him off his studies for life. So he diplomatically talks around the issue, reassuring said bonehead that there are no right or wrong answers when it comes down to literary criticism. And now, we all have to live with the consequences. There are right answers. And believe me, there are wrong ones. Too many people mistakenly believe that the subjective nature of appreciation means that criticism is also open to interpretation – probably the same people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. Nope, sometimes an idea is just plain wrong, even in the nebulous world of lit crit. You have been warned.

2. Shakespeare is ‘high’ art

Sorry to be all patronising here but if you know anything at all about Elizabethan theatre the words ‘lowest common denominator’ should spring immediately to mind. Back then, the theatre was a little more than an open air mosh pit complete with binge drinking, animal cruelty and fist fights. Almost all the spectators were poor, controversial plays were staged outside of the City of London for fear of upsetting the king and getting your head cut off, and the only reason rich people went was to sit above the stage and get some free publicity. Does any of this sound like high art to you? Ok, so William S had a way of words that will stand the test of time, but I do not think he was aiming for the frown of approval from literary connoisseurs ad infinitum. His plays are pretty much melodramatic excuses for violence and dick jokes, and half the reason for all that killer language is that staging was shit – he had to paint pictures somehow. I find it ironic that the average gushing critic and/ or bunch of unappreciative secondary school English students would have been too terrified to actually go see a Shakespeare play back in the day. But maybe that’s just me.

3. Spelling, punctuation and grammar are important

Oh how conflicted I am. On the one hand, a poor grasp of the grammatical basics is one of the single biggest chagrins in my professional life – kids who cannot or will not adhere to simple rules of spelling, punctuation and grammar simply because they hate me. But, and this is a big but, how I hate it when people get precious over the English language. I mean, come on, really? English? This language of ours is about as contaminated as your average pub peanut bowl, and it’s CONSTANTLY changing. Getting hung up on ‘proper’ English is ridiculous. The rules change, they’re constantly in flux in fact. It pains me to say but In 100 years’ time we will have done away with the apostrophe, definitely will be spelt with an ‘a’ and we won’t use capitals at all, ever. Look at Olde English compared to Middle English. Look at Middle English compared to Victorian English. Look at Victorian English compared to ‘proper’ modern English. Look at ‘proper’ modern English compared to txt speak. Language is fluid. Deal with it, or limit all conversations to the backwards landed aristocracy.

4.       Poetry is difficult

You know why everyone is scared of poetry? Because for some reason it’s been accepted that poetry is ‘hard’. Well we’re all wrong. I admit, pretentious poetry can be elusive, but in its purest form, poetry is anything but difficult. Yeah, the ‘meaning’ might not be obvious, but who said it has to be? As long as you can muster an emotional response to a poem, you’ve ‘got’ it. Congratulations. Now stop worrying and go do something productive.

5. Old writers are better than new writers

We’re all a bit warped by perspective on this one. With such a rich wealth of literary talent in generations past it’s easy to forget that most of what has come before was, for want of a better word, cack. Basically, we have a nucleus of excellence that forms ‘the canon’ against which all present and future works are judged. Unsurprisingly, a lot of new writers are held up against the likes of Wilde, Orwell, Shakespeare, Eliot, Hardy, Austen, Bronte, Dickens (who annoys me) et cetera, et cetera, and fall short. What you need to remember is that for every literary gem there’s a surrounding sea of shite. It’ll just take a while for use to work out who our current gems are as we wade through the Dan Browns. (Note: I’ve never read a full Dan Brown novel – let me know if he will actually stake his place in the canon). Also, it’s worth remembering that when they were active, all these greats were hated by someone. Most people thought Shakespeare was a bit crap when he was alive – Ben Jonson’s pitch-perfect farces were far more popular. All it took was his death and few hundred years for everyone to change their tune.

6. English is for girls

Just because girls have the capacity to sit still, think for five minutes and not draw penises on everything, that does not necessarily mean that they are any better equipped to tackle the unique delights of English Literature and lit crit. Yeah they’ve got neater handwriting and longer attention spans, but it’s unfair to assume that this makes them any more likely to be ‘bookish’ than boys. I recently spent a good proportion of year 11 parents’ evening sulking. All my best year 11 boys are prompting for sciences and maths over English at A Level, simply because they don’t think it’s a ‘boy’ subject. I hope to god that girls aren’t being talked out of becoming engineers for the same reason…

7. Never judge a book by its cover

Bloody hell OF COURSE you should judge a book by its cover. At least partly anyway. Decades ago, before the 1920s dropped a Style Grenade on Western culture, I can see how looking at the design of a given book would be useless, but things have changed. Millions of pounds (I assume) gets spent on giving books the most appealing and relevant cover possible and by Jove we should take that into consideration when working out what to read. If it’s got IMPACT size 72 font and a picture of some kind of rifle on it, chances are an ex-commando wrote it and it’s going to have a poorly-executed sex scene in it somewhere. See? A cover is shorthand – a reference tool for all of us in our busy lives. You’d be a mug to ignore it.

8. Everyone has one good novel in them

Yeah, and everyone can beat the men’s 100m World Record, if they really put their mind to it.

9. You should always finish a book you’ve started

I’ve never understood this. Our relationship with books is so weird – it’s the 21st century and we still treat them like sacred objects delivered expressly from the hand of god or something. People treat reading like undertaking a hike up a big hill. Once you start, you have to finish or it’s capital F Failure. No it’s not. Would you sit through a meal you hated the taste of, just to finish it? Would you watch a Channel 5 teledrama you stumbled across to the end, for the challenge? I admit, I’ve done both, but that’s not the point. If a book is rubbish, bin it. There are too many good books out there for you to waste valuable tube journeys dragging yourself through bad ones.

10. ???

Struggling to think of a tenth… If you come up with one, leave a comment for me to agree/ disagree with. Ta.

-Unseen Flirtations

Top 10: Ways you know you’re insecure

Top 10: Ways you know you’re insecure (Guest critic: My entire year 11 class)

in·se·cure   /ˌɪnsɪˈkyʊər/  Show Spelled[in-si-kyoor]

–adjective

1. subject to fears, doubts, etc.; not self-confident or assured: an insecure person.

2. not confident or certain; uneasy; anxious: He was insecure about the examination.

A detailed analysis of how you know you’re insecure, as provided by my ridiculous year 11 GCSE class. We’re currently studying the ancient modern drama ‘Educating Rita’, today looking at the theme of insecurity. (They’re all boys by the way, if that means anything.)

-Unseen Flirtations

You know you’re insecure…

  1. …when you find yourself crying in the shower.
  2. …when you start talking about what to write on your blog from your GCSE class.
  3. …when you prance around school with a clipboard and a walkie-talkie.
  4. …when you have many different personalities which don’t match your true self.
  5. …when you act nervously around people and don’t know who you are (or flirt around girls).
  6. …when you spend hours on YouTube looking at cats
  7. …when you tell your students about your marriage proposal
  8. …when you tell everyone in the room you are insecure.
  9. …when you dwell on the past. Thinking of things you should have said.
  10. …when you have a desire to overthrow the government and lead a revolution.
  11. …when you are trying to be funny all of the time, even when you’re on your own or asleep.
  12. …when you compare yourself to an imaginary version of yourself who is much better than you. Just remember you’re not his type.
  13. …when you list the reasons your English class is insecure as a way of concealing your insecurity.
  14. …when you crave attention, approval and acknowledgment, and find yourself dependent in another person for the sole purpose of the feeling of familiarity they provide.
  15. …when you constantly don’t fit in… and think you are fat… and keep trying to justify why you are a nob.
  16. …when you doubt your actions, have problems with appearance, afraid of individualism, having to hide behind a mask
  17. …when you have an endless feeling of despair
  18. …when you drown in your own tears
  19. …when people stand and laugh at you
  20. …when suicide feels like your only option
  21. …when you go out with a women (sic) 20 years younger as you can’t get anyone your own age
  22. …when you try to write or think up deep stuff, when you blatantly have no idea wahgwan
  23. …when you can’t buy a pint of milk on your own
  24. …when you think you are gay
  25. …when you repeat Jersey Shore phrases. Bugos for the boys.
  26. …when you write insecure reasons for your insecurity
  27. …when you’re into fashion
  28. …if you talk all the time to drown out your brain
  29. …when you try too hard to please (being a jester, being a bitch etc)
  30. …when you act differently in different surroundings
  31. …when you write a blog post about insecurity
  32. …when you purposefully read a blog post about insecurity

-11tf/En2

Top 10: Things That Insult Your Intelligence

Top 10: Things That Insult Your Intelligence

1. The News

Now I’m as interested in current affairs as the next boring bastard but I have to object to the artificial package of sensationalism that is the capital N News. I can cope with the selective, sometimes subjective nature of the news product (they can’t tell us everything), but I have to raise an eyebrow at the almost fictional narrative that news providers create. Am I thick? Am I really supposed to believe that world events fall neatly into Big Event, Missing Person, Political Upheaval, Human Interest, Funny Local? They might as well just make it up. Also, from the urgent percussive heartbeat of the theme music to the ‘situation for dummies’ graphics, the whole thing is aiming squarely at someone with the intellectual powers of a five year-old, or an actual five year-old.

2. Cheryl Cole’s career

The only single thing that gets me through the annual tabloid marathon of shit that is X-Factor (apart from Dermot’s handkerchiefs) is the depressingly earnest manner in which Cheryl Cole/Tweedy/Cole negotiates the rise of fall of each year’s crop of karaoke hopefuls. I find it fascinating, even though I shouldn’t be watching in the first place. She takes it all so seriously. The thing is, the poor bint has to take it all uber-seriously because her whole persona is born of the exact same reality TV nonsense. Admittedly, there is a sense of poetic equilibrium to her career, but no, I refuse to take her seriously as a pundit, critic, singstar expert, or even celeb. She’s not. She’s one fifth of the band that lost out to One True Voice. I’m not fooled.

3. Stories

This one’s difficult, because stories are so fundamental to the human experience. But they are, and you have to agree, fairly insulting to the average intelligent mind. Not in their aims or execution, but in the far-too-tidy manner in which they unfold and are resolved. In reality, narratives don’t start and end neatly. They don’t really start and end at all – we just put the demarcations in. But from childhood onwards we are coached to believe that all stories begin with a situation, enter complication, move towards a climax and end with resolution. Life just doesn’t work that way and to think otherwise is to be seriously deluded.

4. Work

As if we ALL need to work ALL the time to keep this excellent (sarcasm) economic system of ours going. There’s enough stuff on this planet for all 6 billion of us to share equally and we have the technology to have most of our needs met with little difficulty. Why then do we spend so much time and energy slaving away during the majority of our waking hours, just to feed ourselves, clothe ourselves and buy stuff we don’t need? The world of work renders every last one of us a certified grade A mug.

5. The Lottery

The chances of selecting six numbers selected at random out of 50 by a machine with the name of a knight of the Round Table is about 14 million to one. 14 million to one. Let me repeat that. 14 million. To one. That means that you are more likely to get struck lightning than to get six numbers on the lottery. And who was the last unfortunate bastard you know who got struck by lightning? Exactly. The National Lottery claims ‘It Could Be You’. Really? Don’t talk bollocks. It can’t and it won’t be you, or me, or anyone else you know. Ever. In fact, I’m fairly certain that all these supposed lottery winners are faked by the lottery people just to encourage poor people to keep on parting with their pound coin in the vain hope of getting some free cashish.

6 ‘Healthy’ McDonald’s

Are we honestly supposed to believe that McDonald’s is supposed to be some kind of paragon of healthy eating with individually named cows grazing on the hills of Sussex and farmers hand plucking potatoes that their buxom wives then go on to slice into organically cut French Fries? Because that’s what their adverts would have us believe – as if we’re stoopid or something. Dear McDonald’s: we KNOW you’re an evil international conglomerate which thrives off slave labour and dirt cheap produce filled with sugar/salt and peddled at hugely inflated prices. It’s ok, we can handle it. And when we’re drunk/ starving/ accompanied by 6 year-olds we’re happy to put down money to buy your overpriced plastic food. Just don’t pretend you’re giving us our five a day in a Big Mac, alright?

7. 3D TV

Colour TV, of course,  video, yep. DVD, a natural progression, Blu-Ray, you’re pushing it 3D TV? What? Just ask us for money. No-one needs to sit at home with some bloody weird specs on to enjoy the rare delights of Gardener’s World in three whole dimensions, and no-one is fooled. Rich dads beware – you will be looking at dead technology within the decade, with silly specs on.

 

8. Fair class representation in UK politics

Am I supposed to believe that the people who end up in the seat of power just happen to all be public school educated and/ or from what I believe to be the landed gentry? Because I don’t. Your average sample of UK politicians looks suspiciously like a roll-call of Old Boys from some society of Masons or something. I hate to get all political on you but we all know that The Rich Shall Inherit The Earth. It’d be naïve to assume otherwise, and insulting when the powers-that-be try to throw proletariat credentials at voters. Even left wing socialist heroes like ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone have never had a proper job. We’re not fooled.

9. Porn

Sex does not, has not and will not ever look like what pornography suggests it does. I’m not talking about the amateur hour user-content variety you might find knocking about on the information superhighway, but rather the high-res glossy variety. No-one approaches sex like that, people don’t look like that, and girls aren’t that willing to have bodily fluids cover themselves like that. I feel sorry for the generation of teenage boys who have been raised on an unhealthy diet of net-porn. Their expectations are all confused and they must actually believe that there is some kind of correlation between porn and actual sex. The rest of us, thankfully, can look on and frown. (Is my girlfriend still reading? Have I gotten myself out of trouble yet?)

 

10. God

An omniscient, omnipotent being responsible for all creation who watches and judges our every action and awaits our arrival after death? Yeah ok. It’s like Father Christmas for grown-ups.

-Unseen Flirtations