I wrote this memoir about a decade ago. It won me a trip to Darwin for the national English teachers’ conference the highlight of which was sneaking off to Adelaide River and seeing the jumping crocodiles.
Classrooms, for me, are largely about voices. These voices shout, whisper and demand. Guiding some to sing roughly in tune and gently handing a microphone to the shy student who just might sing like an angel are among our challenges. Now more than ever, it’s vital that students and teachers have voices that leap into laughter. As often as possible.
Many years ago, to conclude SAS English, pupils were invited to write a so-called ‘warm report’, summarising their successes. One student, for whom spelling was difficult, triumphantly declared to me that, ‘he had enjoyed improving his pubic speaking.’
Whilst in the UK a Year 10 class and I were crawling through an endless media unit from which the authorities had untimely ripped all the joy. One morning, instead of asking, ‘Sir, are we doing media today,’ one girl mistakenly said- without irony- ‘Sir, are we still doing mediocrity today?’ I could only reply, ‘Not just today, my little hombre, not just today.’
I’d just returned some coursework to- my fingers are trembling as I type this- a streamed, bottom-set Year 11 English class. One boy- I’ll call him Edward- began loudly announcing, somewhat curiously, that he’d gotten a G (Yes, it’s true, the UK system utilises the esteem-crushing F, G and U). His classmate Kyle started hollering, ‘A G! A G! Edward! What is wrong with you? You’re so thick.’ Kyle then glanced at his own work and with an utterly honest face, enquired, ‘Sir- is an F better than a G?’
Following their SATs, Year 9’s in England sometimes assemble a course work folder for internal moderation. On the accompanying coversheet, each writes a paragraph in which they reflect on their year’s achievements and a sweet, amenable girl concluded, ‘I have learnt not to use words that are unnecessary- and not needed.’
Recently, a boisterous lad was growing restless and distracted during his classmates’ oral presentations. I asked him, as you do, to concentrate and focus. Instead of replying that he’d promise to be more productive; he looked me in the eye, nodded and with total sincerity said that, in future, in class, he’d, ‘try to be more reproductive.’
At the school farm a healthy chicken became, unfortunately, a deceased chicken when a student unintentionally jumped on it. Days later, the boy lingered after English, glum-faced with notoriety and asked, ‘Did you hear about what I did the other day?’ Saying that I was sorry for his troubles, I added supportively, ‘So, how are you going?’ With a philosophical giggle, he said, ‘Well, much better than the chicken.’
Once I heard a Triple J announcer enthuse that educators, ‘create lives’ and I’ve tried to make this the chorus in my teaching. Spoken and written voices are the mesmerizing soundtrack of our schools and to create lives, our shared spaces must resonate with the music of golden laughter.
Thanks to Larry Sellers of The Big Lebowski for this (rather poor) homework.