Reads of the Week #72

The weeks fly by and with them the reading becomes more specialised, more focussed. Whether it’s a president or a teacher, a dying man or a lottery winner, the time of year tells us things are silently taking shape beneath the surface, and we have to make do with what we can.

We’re lucky to have a President who is so versed and interested in History, this speech from his recent visit to Australia on the Famine and the scattering of the Irish is powerful.

This piece by Matt Bencke broke my heart.

Here, John Thomsett sets out how schools should approach professional development: it’s a primer for those of us in this area of education and for school leaders too.

Podcast of the week is 99% Invisible‘s account of how El Gordo, the lottery in Spain, is both a thing of beauty and a strange ritual.

And the cover image this week is from Jo. I found it here.

Have a great week everyone.

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Reads of the Week #69

Some very affecting stuff this week, much to ponder in this selection on grief and talking, on silence and growing up, as well as being a grateful parent and human being. There’s a podcast on one of the great songs that can be bent and shaped into a musical standard and a jazz classic, and the photo is proof of the beauty of our little part of the world.

Malachy Clerkin, stepping away from sport, his usual patch, here, writes about the ache left behind when a loved one dies and how that gap is always there, it just takes the most unexpected trigger to remind you.

Also stepping away from sport, though into his other field, Richie Sadlier wrote here about seeking and benefiting from therapy in troubled times. It isn’t something he was comfortable telling people about at the time, but ultimately talking helps, whether we seek professional help or a friendly ear elsewhere.

I constantly refer back to Maria Popova’s Brainpickings selections, a source of regular brainfood. This essay is on Paul Goodman, who I’m only discovering after reading this piece and the Nine Kinds of Silence he identified. It fits well with the previous selections. I’m trying the fertile silence of awareness at the moment!

In the middle of a blogpost called Why children do not care about being successful adults, Ben Newmark wrote a sentence that had me punching the air.

My school life was miserable and I would have done anything to be happier. The idea that by working hard I was more likely to be a successful adult one day, and should take comfort from this abstract idea, was inconceivable to me because my world was all-encompassing and the idea of ‘growing up’ had very little meaning.

This was me too. And I resolved very early in my teaching career that I would never forget what it was like to be a teenager. Great read
https://buff.ly/2lsccO9

And finally, an old(?!) friend of the Reads of the Week returns: Heidi Stevens turned 43 this month and wrote about what she really wants from her kids for her birthday. It’s rare enough that I read something and pass it straight to my wife on the couch for her to read, but I did with this.

Podcast of the week is from BBC Radio 4’s series Soul Music again. This edition is on My Favourite Things and it trips from Julie Andrews and the Sound of Music to John Coltrane in short but brilliant music odyssey. Every episode is worth a listen.

And this weeks image of a place I know well. Every Saturday morning I take my kids swimming giving me the hour off to go for a run. One of the routes I take regularly brings along the river Suir at the end of Bulmers Orchard where Jonathan Ryan took this photograph of the apples dislodged from trees after Hurricane Ophelia blew by a fortnight ago. We’re lucky to live in a place so beautiful.

 

 

Reads of the Week #65

This is a short list. A few things blew me away this week, and a theme emerged, unknown to me. This writing sent me back to Robert Frost, which is never a bad thing, and a poem we’ve read with in class many, many times: Out, Out-.

And they, for they were not the ones dead, turned to their affairs. 

That line has provided content for many an English class, some students see it as a sign of the heartless, disconnected Frost, others see it as representative of a way of life, rural New England, where, like many an Irish farm or house, death is acknowledged and life goes on, as best as it can. I’m revealing my hand here, but I tend towards the latter. The writing below confirms for me that we all deal with life and death differently, but writing, or talking about it, surely help. Read and listen well till next week.

 

The Jupiter Epiphany by Michael Coady, appeared in last weekend’s Irish Times. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Michael on occasion, I taught his daughter even, he is a poet from and of Carrick-on-Suir. I’ve spent over two decades working in Carrick and Michael’s poetry sat on my shelf more many of those years. This poem, both a celebration of a life and of a description of an Irish funeral is rooted in his place, it is perfect. I read it aloud to my wife and eldest daughter when I found it, I do’t do that often.

 

Sinead Gleeson (who if you haven’t read, you should start with this) also made me stop in my tracks with this piece, Second Mother, on her Aunt Terry, which manages to be moving and joyous while lamenting the death of one so loved. Take a break after you read this, and let it sink in.

 

Two podcasts for you.

First from Radiolab, the amazing, and again heartbreaking story of Oliver, or Billy Sipple who saved Gerald Ford’s life and became a media curiosity. As a former Marine, there was interest in him, but as a gay man, a circus was created and gradually his life fell apart. A sobering view of the media and the marginalised.

 

Secondly from Sam Loy, an interview with his grandmother about his grandfather. Sounds simple, but, again, in the simple things lies not only truth, but heartbreak. I can’t say more, but it too is perfect.

 

I think the title of this Edvard Munch is a bit OTT but I still love it. I got it here.

Reads of the Week #53

This week, the week the State Exams finished for 2017, also marked the finishing of my school work. I manage the Book Rental Scheme in our school and that means waiting until late June to stock take and look at the order for next year. It’s an opportunity for listening to radio while I work and for finding reading material that distract me from textbooks. 
Earlier in the week I read a piece by Michael O’Loughlin to mark Bloomsday in the Irish Times on James Joyce as a European. I liked this line in particular ‘There are few other nations whose foundation myth is based on the notion that we’re not actually from around here.’



Last week Fintan O’Toole won the Orwell Prize for his coverage of Brexit and in this article for the New York Times, he deftly puts British turmoil in an Irish context: perhaps some of us in Ireland can be allowed a moment of schadenfreude as we look across the sea and ask… the question the English so often asked about us: Are the English fit for self-government?



For Fathers Day, Esquire published this moving piece by Tyler Coates on his father’s voice which is moving and real: The last remaining evidence of my father’s voice, the final thing that roots him and his existence in my brain, will eventually cease to exist–just like VHS tapes, and the accent he spoke with, and my memories of him, too.



To my friends’ baby girl: I hope you grow up to be Wonder Woman by Heidi Stevens is essential reading for anyone with a daughter. [You were born] the same week a female superhero (finally!) started kicking butt at the box office… a signal of our fondest hope for you: that you grow up knowing you can choose your own path and fight your own battles and change the world.



Here, Pasi Sahlberg reckons we should be concentrating on ‘small data’ to improve education, ‘small data’ emerges from the notion that in a world that is increasingly governed by binary digits and cold statistics, we need information that helps us to understand better those aspects of teaching and learning that are invisible or not easily measurable. 



Organising Teaching: Developing the Power of the Profession from Howard Stevenson and Nina Bascia has seven challenges for teacher unions to reorganise and it is essential reading for teacher trade unionists. 

Podcast of the week is the conversation between Tom Sleigh and Paul Muldoon about Seamus Heaney’s In the Attic and Tom Sleigh’s own The Fox On the New Yorker Poetry Podcast, which, mainly due to Paul Muldoon’s knowledge and geniality is a always a treat. 

And finally, this weeks picture of the week is of  Ballinaboy, County Galway, Ireland, 1965 by Edwin Smith which I found on twitter from Anne Mortier. Beautiful landscape, ominous skies, homestead in between, the perfect vision of Ireland. 

Reads of the Week #33

First this week the story of the man who takes care of Kermit since Jim Henson died, interesting, informative and touching. 

Next, here’s Laura June on her small daughter and technology, they copy everything we do.

Here’s Jay Rayner’s review of restaurant Smith & Wollensky, he doesn’t like it much. 

On politics this is fascinating: Nordic Social Democratic politics and Olof Palme.

And finally the unsettling tale of the sex and lies one woman endured to survive the Holocaust.

Here are the tweets of every read so far, 160 and counting. 

This is the archive of all the reads so far. 

Our Mockingbirds

  

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.

Pacemaker

It’s been a busy few months. I’m getting two weeks off from Wednesday, which is welcome I suppose. Where this all began is with an appointment at the CRYP centre in Tallaght hospital to get my three girls, and me, checked for any irregularities in our hearts. We were monitored, scanned, I ran farther on a treadmill than,  it is safe to say, I have run in quite sometime and were sent home with Holter monitors to wear over night.

Actually, it didn’t begin with that at all. It began in the summer of 2006 when, while on holiday in Killarney with my wife and then only one daughter we got a phone call nobody would wish on his worst enemy: my brother had been found dead in his apartment in Dublin. Conor had been treated for a heart problem for years before and now at 32 he was gone, it’s defined our family since.

So when the doctor called to say my Holter monitor showed a pause of five and a half seconds around five am (in other words my heart stopped) I was pretty calm. The kids were all fine and I knew Conor had had pauses of up to eight seconds so I didn’t panic. Then I asked the doctor what we should do about it and she said she’d like me to get a pacemaker.

A pacemaker is a small, battery-operated device into your chest, to help your heart beat regularly, you know that. The surgery is minor, I only get a local anesthetic and I’ll be awake while it’s done. It’s preventative, it’s to make sure I motor on, but it’s my heart and that’s crucial to understanding the nerves that go with this operation.

When I was a kid I was a pretty good athlete, a sprinter and middle distance runner for most of my teens, I think it’s safe to say that girls and school got in the way and I drifted away from it. I still feel my heart beating as I won my first All-Ireland medal, it was fine and regular when I came off the bend in a 200 metre sprint, but when I saw the line and no-one ahead of me, there was a quickening, when I saw my brothers and parents that’s when it almost burst out of my chest. Or when I saw my wife in Holycross Abbey on our wedding day, or when each of my three children was born, that’s when I remember my heartbeat. So the way I think of having a pacemaker fitted isn’t as the end of something, just a little bionic kick to make sure I can have more of those moments, though I’m not planning on running 200 metres, or getting married again (or having any more kids!).

At CRY they have a big family tree for us, on a huge spreadsheet. I imagine there’s a code for checked and clear, one for checked and operated on, one for the next world. A death in the family isn’t easy, a young death is a shadow hanging over you for ever. That’s what CRY is for, making sure the shadow doesn’t spread. My Dad has raised huge money for them over the years, they exist on donations which is criminal when there is such a need for the service they provide. 

So. That’s it. I’m not allowed to drive, but I can, write and tweet. If you’re thinking of helping a charity cry.ie is a good choice.

Pic credit