How I learn.

This post originally appeared here. (Thanks Hellie!)

I was never any good at memorising in school. It was the 80s and knowing your poetry, Irish and English, Maths theorems and French irregular verbs was expected of everyone. I couldn’t do it. Still can’t. I never ask students to learn things off by heart because I wasn’t able and a wise teacher once told be to never ask the kids to do something you aren’t able to do yourself.
So I read. I read everything I could get my hands on when I was in school, from Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators to EH Carr’s What is History? Constant reading, something I’m just realising we’re passing on to our elder (six year old) daughter is what set my learning apart: I devoured ideas, stories, explanations, movies (yes, you can read movies, cf. How to Read a Film, James Monaco), I assembled a library.


Going to university almost ruined that. We were encouraged to read very closely and I slowed down so much that I feel now I learned less for fear I’d miss something. That fear has been hanging over me since.
When I began to teach I changed style again and began to merge what I had read and understood myself with what my students taught me: patience, humour, how to stay young. Teachers are blessed to be in an environment where learning is always going on, and your learn two fold when you teach: you learn more about the topic and you learn how others best understand it.
Now I read more than ever. I read to learn best practice for my teaching (twitter is amazing for that), I read to learn what others are doing that works and I read to learn what might work in class; discovering a new story to teach an English class (The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is one I’ve recently rediscovered) or a new way to look at a historical event so students get a rounded view of the topic are always a treat.
My family used to say I became a teacher because I didn’t want to ever grow up and leave school. They were kind of right, but really it was because school and teaching are places I could learn all my life and pass on the knowledge.
I get to learn for a living. Not many people can say that.



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6 thoughts on “How I learn.

  1. Your point about university reading [in particular as it relates to English] is most accurate. I think we studied the same subjects. The lack of pace was a killer.

      1. Yes, Declan Kiberd shone out. I also liked Terry Dolan for the olde stuff. I sat my Leaving Cert in 1989 [King Lear and Castle Rackrent vintage] but took a three year detour before starting UCD Arts in October 1992.

      2. Terry Dolan was great, tutorials were always good fun, he did a great Hiberno-English slot on radio with Sean Moncrieff until he had a stroke.
        I didn’t do my detour till I was teaching five years, off travelling with permanent job in back pocket, those were the days!!

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