Reads of the Week #18

First, for the historians, this account of the scientists who keep Lenin’s body ‘alive’.

Next is the amazing and inspiring account of Ursula Hannigan‘s very public, coming out.

This is Matt Teague writing about his wife’s cancer and a friend who went beyond friendship, a tough read, but well worth it.

Another powerful and frank read, this is Brian Boyd on his massive heart attack.

An Invaluable list of education reading recommendations from David Didau, something to save for the summer holidays.

And finally, and for a second appearance in two weeks, Noel Whelan reminds us all of who we should be thinking of when voting in the marriage referendum next Friday. 

Find all my Reads of the week on Twitter here

And the archive of previous posts is here

   

Our Mockingbirds

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Last week I went to see a To Kill a Mockingbird at the Bord Gais theatre. I’ve taught the novel maybe ten times now to ten enthralled groups of fourteen and fifteen year olds and I always choke when Atticus teaches Scout to respect everyone, no matter who they were, to climb into their skin and walk around in it. Since I became a father tears flow when Scout links Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley’s arm so it looks like he’s leading her across the street, Boo Radley, the unknown outsider, who lived amidst the community all along. ‘Thank you Arthur’, Atticus says to him, ‘thank you for my children.’

The production was great, the narrators voice was presented by the whole cast, reading the novel aloud like so many teachers have done. The performances were great. Everyone cried.

I was sitting next to my wife, she got me the tickets. That’s what you do when you’re married, you see something your other half would like and you get it for them. You call in the grandparents, drive to Dublin, have lunch together in The Marker and go to the theatre. You go to a play about respect. A play about understanding and treating everyone equally. Do you see where this is going?

Over the last few days and weeks I’ve cried many times, at the stories of public figures, private individuals and friends who shared their experiences of being gay in Ireland today. For any straight Irish citizen who might have had their heads in the clouds, thinking it was no big deal to be out in Ireland today, it’s plain now that it’s a big deal. That in our thoughts and in our words we treat some of our citizens differently. We were forgetting to walk in their shoes, these mockingbirds.

There have been days too where I’ve wondered why anyone would want to be married! But meeting and marrying my wife was the best that ever happened to me. I’m not religious or into ceremony (though I like to give a speech, they tell me), but the day we got married did change everything. The day after I felt this was something different, something right. Who am I, who is anyone to deny that feeling to any other citizen of this Republic? What has made me most sad over the last month is thinking how some of us have to ask the majority of us to be treated equally, and some people, even some teachers, who should be all about tolerance, are opposed to ‘bestowing the gift’ of this human right.

And though we repeat over and again that it isn’t about children, when you’re a teacher and a parent it’s always about children. I’ve seen students crumble under the weight of coming out as a gay teenager, and I know teachers who can’t come out in their staffrooms. (By the way, the fact is that, if the referendum is passed, an LGBT teacher will be able to marry but may still be discriminated against under employment law. The next fight will have to be to delete Section 37.) To give those we share our communities with the comfort of what we take for granted will be an honour. 

I’ve been asked ‘why do you go on about gay teachers, you’re not gay’, my answer is one of the things I’m most proud of saying: ‘no, I’m not gay, but I am a human being’. 

Education has, needlessly, been dragged into the debate, scaremongering that if it’s a yes and you don’t teach marriage equality you’ll be open to sanction. The very thought that teachers would blanch at teaching equality is ludicrous: aren’t we after the truth after all everyday? That’s why we chose to read books like Mockingbird, isn’t it? 

In the end, this is a republic. With all its flaws, and no matter how loaded the term, on Friday 22nd May we should act like Republicans and extend to our brothers and sisters the liberty and equality they deserve.

Reads of the Week #17

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First this week is Miss Smith’s lament for experienced teachers, a dying breed!

Next I’m returning to Mary Ann Reilly’s blog for Those Kids Could Dream, always arresting and inspiring. 
Here’s FX Feeney on Orson Wells at 100, A Citizen of the World
Samuel Dyson argues that we have to unlearn before we learn in this fascinating piece

And finally Noel Whelan eloquently explains why marriage equality is so important here

Find all my Reads of the week on Twitter here

And the archive of previous posts is here

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Teachers know best

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Let us go then, you and I,

When the Junior Cycle is spread out against the sky

like a teacher etherized upon a table…

(with apologies to Eliot)

One would be forgiven for being bored by the length of time we have spent discussing Junior Cycle, I sometimes think it would be best if I just changed the name of this blog altogether to something like HERE’S ANOTHER POST ABOUT THE DEBACLE OF JUNIOR CYCLE REFORM. So here’s another post about the debacle of Junior Cycle Reform.

An article appeared in the Irish Independent today, written by two academics who throw some mud at teachers on their way to suggesting that if only they shut up and accepted that their masters have their best interests in mind. Sit back and relax teachers, it’s just that you have no confidence in yourselves, if you allow the yellow fog of reform curl around you and help you to sleep, safe in the knowledge that you were wrong and they were right.

The article accuses teachers and their unions of all kinds of badness: censoring members’ access to professional development, having limited confidence in their own assessment skills, or failing to consult their members and anti-intellectualism, imagine!

To take these charges one by one, as a teacher likes to do: I’m not sure of the use of the word censor (censors I suppose assess don’t they?), direct might have been better, and if either of the authors had been following the story of this train crash from the beginning, they would know that there was CPD for English in the Spring of last year and it was a disaster. Those charged with the invidious task of informing teachers of what lay ahead were unable to answer questions on the way the English specification was to be implemented or indeed taught when it was introduced last September. The ASTI/TUI decision to ban attendance was taken after ballots of members, no CPD was offered for English or any other subject until last month, and when it was held no union members attended. Teacher unions would of course support CPD if they had confidence in the reform, in the absence of agreement on assessment and of standards, equity and fairness, issues introduced to the debate by teachers, by the way, that confidence is obviously undermined.

Saying teachers have limited confidence in their own assessment skills’ is bordering on, well ignorance, because it is because teachers have absolute confidence in the job they do assessing their student as whole people, not just exam candidates. As for assessing for state exams, we know the argument, and our teachers view has taken hold, passing assessment out of the state system into schools will not work in Ireland, even the Travers report seems to concede that point.

I won’t waste too much time on the charge of non-consultation, I wonder sometimes who consults these experts for their opinions, we know where we stand with our members, with 30,000 teachers on strike for two days and just this week they went out again on their lunchtime to show their support for our position.

It is their charge of anti-intellectualism that made me most angry when I read it earlier today. It is condescending for a start, but for a finish it suggests that teachers have their heads stuck in the sand on reform. Teachers are engaged, responsible, informed professionals, we know the ground we have marked out has not shifted, and that the Minister for Education has conceded that ground at every negotiation (no wonder she doesn’t want to engage again).It is pitiful and beneath contempt to suggest teachers fear change when we change all the time. Do we constantly need to justify ourselves? The ban on CPD isn’t about fear of the process, it is about wanting the reform to be thought through to a conclusion before we start to accept training for it. There will be time yet for a hundred visions and revisions, when they are done, will be ready for CPD.

This brings me to the suggestion made in the article that the DES would have been better served introducing the whole range of subjects at once, instead of piecemeal as proposed. There is something to be said for that. It would mean that all the preparatory work for all subjects would be ‘front-loaded’ and training on an agreed programme could be completed before it was introduced. that would require some forward planning of course, not the strong suit of Irish government, I’m afraid.

The final proposal in the article for ‘an intense, accredited course in the principles and practice of assessment in the service of teaching and learning for, say, three people from every school’ is so wide of the mark it undermines any credibility the authors have. Trickle-down CPD, where teachers are required to train their colleagues in what has been handed from on high is a recipe for division in schools, work overload for these intermediaries, who are teachers after all, not intellectuals (!?), but seriously, it shows their lack of understanding of how pressed schools are without the resources or supports required to give students the education they deserve and desire in 2015.

I understand that articles like this come and go, and that teachers will still be teaching in their classrooms. We all know that this debacle will end, as all disputes do. But teachers are in this for the long haul, it would do us all a service if experts without respect for or understanding of teachers’ concerns backed off and gave everyone room to listen to reason. Teachers know best.

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Reads of the Week #16

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The first choice this week is from the Fighting Words project: this is Write a Girl by Siobhán Walsh, aged 12 
Next is Patrick Freyne reviewing Criminal Minds, but getting sidetracked into Magnum PI’s shorts, he’s funny every week but this is very, very good. 
I wrote a few years ago about the way finishing school is such a defining moment for teachers and students, Kenny Pieper comes to the same conclusions here

Reading is an English teachers business, Hugh McGuire writes about how little we read now and how to fix that in this piece

If you follow me on Twitter, you know my views on the imminent referendum. One of the best things written about voting yes is by Una Mullally who wrote this week I think about how if we live in a republic we have a responsibility to be inclusive. Read it here

Finally and simply, though with a moving sincerity John Hurley writes on just what schools are for in this blogpost

Find all my Reads of the week on Twitter here

And the archive on previous posts is here  

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Reads of the Week #15

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First here’s Simon Oxenham on Why the widespread belief in ‘learning styles’ isn’t just wrong but dangerous.

Next, Tom Healy suggests that Irish trade unionists need to debate and consider a coherent approach to economic and social progress here.

Damien Searls asks here how do you define “poetry”?

In one of the most affecting pieces I’ve read in a long time, Emily Adler writes abou her father, the philosopher.

Here’s Harry Fletcher-Wood on how historical knowledge is crucial.

Oliver Farry writes on the difficulty of bringing Stalin, Hitler and Ceauşescu to the screen, here.

And finally, the most popular link I tweeted all week, Michael Rosen says here teaching poetry cannot be about retrieving a single ‘right’ answer.
Find all my Reads of the week on Twitter here

And the archive on previous posts is here 


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Reads of the Week #14

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Six things I read this week that you should have a look at. 

First Sapuran Gill says ‘there’s no silver bullet to succeeding in the classroom; however, you can do the basics well, and year-by-year you’ll see the small steps that you take gather pace’ here.

Next teacher David Mooney on the Marriage Referendum: ‘I’m 30 and for as long as I can remember there have been people telling me that I cannot be fully me; people who have put limitations on me being me. So once more; I’m asking you to please just let me be. Let me love. Let me commit. Let me feel supported. Let me be equal. Let me be a husband. Let me be a Dad.’ here.

Andy Warner argues for traditional teaching methods: ‘over the last few years there has been far too much emphasis on having busy, noisy classrooms where students are doing lots. This has its place, but it mustn’t be at the expense of quiet reflection time’ here.

Mary Ann Reilly writes here on love loss and remembering, this will touch a chord with anyone who ever grieved. 

By coincidence, I recommend you read Mark Wisniewski on channeling grief into art here.

And finally for a mixture of fun and the truth about love’s uncertainty here’s Laura Olin. 

Find all my Reads of the week on Twitter here

And the archive on previous posts is here 

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