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Mikeharvey



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 3338


Location: Lancashire

PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2012 11:38 am    Post subject: Our English Teachers' Influence  Reply with quote

The poetry programme at 4.30pm yesterday (Sunday. 15.4.12) was about U.A Fanthorpe's poem 'Dear Mr Lee' which takes the form of a schoolgirl's letter to poet, Laurie Lee.  The programme developed into a discussion of English teachers and their influence on pupils. Several contributors talked about being taught by UA Fanthorpe herself.  It would be interesting to hear Readers memories of their own English teachers and their influence - or not...
I remember Mr Cross at St Joseph's Catholic Boys Grammar School who taught me.  He was very encouraging and (sometimes) complimentary about my writing. And he stirred my interest - thankfully - in Shakespeare and Keats. He was a very gentle man - who later became a priest - and I remember him fondly.
There was a tendency at my school for the Christian Brothers who taught English to emphasise - this being a Catholic School - the work of Catholic poets.  I remember their espousal of Hilaire Belloc, and GK Chesterton's 'Lepanto' and - God help us -Coventry Patmore. But I never remember them mentioning Gerard Manley Hopkins.


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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Staines, Middlesex

PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2012 2:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have particularly fond memories of Miss McLeod, my English teacher in my final year at school. This was back in 1975-6, in Bishopbriggs High School, a comprehensive school in the suburbs of Glasgow. I was 16 years old. Miss McLeod had a fearsome reputation: she was very strict, and, in short, you didn’t mess with her. At that age, she seemed to me quite old, but looking back, she would possibly have been in her 50s – much the same age as I am now, in fact. She was a wonderful speaker in class, and could hold the class’s attention, whatever she happened to be talking about.

I remember my first essay: it was on some poem we had read over in class, and I was rather smugly expecting the usual high mark. The essay came back marked 7 out of 20, and I was aghast: I wasn’t used to receiving so low a mark. I soon found out that my mark was among the highest in the class, but that was no consolation. The message, however, did get through: whatever mark we had previously obtained in English we could forget about – from now on, we’d really have to work for our marks.

She continued to mark far more harshly than we had been accustomed to, and more harshly than the examiners would subsequently mark our papers, but I knew even then, I think, why she did this: we were, after all, the top stream in English, and Miss McLeod aimed not merely for decent passes in our Highers (i.e. Scottish equivalents of A-levels): she wanted us really to come to grips with literature. And she made it clear that the study of literature was not a relaxing break from other subjects, but a serious discipline in its own right that demanded just as great an intellectual effort as did physics or mathematics. This lesson has stayed with me ever since.

We could, of course, have been intimidated by this, and discouraged; but that was not the case. Indeed, the effect on us was quite the opposite: she challenged us to stretch ourselves, and, on the whole, we did. I still remember the sheer sense of achievement when, later that year, an essay of mine on Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale persuaded even Miss McLeod to award me 15 out of 20. 75% from Miss Macleod! It was unheard of – and not even the subsequent A in my English Higher afforded me greater satisfaction!

She chose to study Hamlet – possibly, she explained, the most intricate of all Shakespeare’s plays. And it was no superficial run-through. She used to organize extra classes during lunchtime and after school to study Hamlet. Of course, she wasn’t getting paid for this: she did this purely because she loved the play, and wanted passionately to communicate that love to us. We all moaned about it, naturally – which schoolkid wants extra lessons, after all? – but, such was the regard we all had for her, just about all of us turned up for them.

She was a proud Scots lady, and we studed in class, amongst others, “Holy Willie’s Prayer” by Robert Burns, some poems by Iain Crichton Smith, and Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon. She hated Hugh McDiarmid, though: she thought him merely a poser, and mocked the idea of a poet using Scottish words – and using a Scots–English dictionary in the process – merely to demonstrate one’s Scottish credentials. To this day, I have been, no doubt unfairly, prejudiced against McDiarmid.

That year, we also studied poems by John Keats, Dylan Thomas, etc; and Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The choices were hers: the questions in the Highers, in those days at least did not specify set texts, and we were free to write about whatever books we wanted to write about. This gave the individual teachers far greater choice, and Miss McLeod certainly took advantage of that.

To be honest, by the time I entered Miss McLeod’s class, I was already forming my own taste in literature: Shakespeare I was already reading, and I was immersing myself into 19th  century Russian literature. But it was so good to have so inspiring an English teacher.

I had a wonderful mathematics teacher as well that year. It was quite a wonderful year, on the whole. I was 16; I knew I was going to university; and, a mere ten or eleven years after arriving as an immigrant not being able to speak the language, all prospects were seemingly open in front of me. Not sure what happened after that, mind you… Smile



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Mikeharvey



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 3338


Location: Lancashire

PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2012 2:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Himadri, I loved reading that account of your own especial Jean Brodie.  She sounds wonderful.  Did she ever talk about Walter Scott? Or the Border Ballads. I wonder what she would have said about Irvine Welsh and his in-your-face TRAINSPOTTING.
Your mention of Lewis Crassic Gibbon reminds me that brilliant film director Terence Davies is currently casting his new film of SUNSET SONG.


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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Staines, Middlesex

PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2012 3:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I guess there was a touch of the Miss Brodie about her, insofar as she was a charismatic presence in class who inspired her pupils; and teaching was clearly her vocation. But she was far more responsible than Miss Brodie, and far less self-deluded; and – to my knowledge at least – she had no admiration for Mussolini! Smile

I don’t remember her mentioning Scott, although I suppose she must have done some time or other. She admired George Mackay Brown greatly, and once arranged for Edwin Morgan to come to our school to give a talk – although, as I remember, she wasn’t too keen on some of his more avant garde efforts.. We had studied some of the border ballads in earlier years in school, but not the year in which we had her for teacher. And I think I can imagine what she would have thought of Irvine Welsh!

I’ve often wondered why Sunset Song  has never been filmed. I think the BBC did a dramatisation in the late 60s, but one would have thought that this particular novel – indeed, the entire trilogy – would be perfect for dramatisation. I seem to remember a Play of the Week from the mid-70s that was a dramatisation of three of Grassic Gibbon’s short stories.



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verityktw



Joined: 18 Dec 2008
Posts: 145



PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2012 4:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have a lot of happy memories of my English teaching.

The first one is of learning to read while I was still at nursery school. We learnt using the Peter and Jane books (This is Peter. This is Jane. This is a ball. Peter has the ball. Now Jane has the Ball...), which even as a young child I thought were horribly boring, so instead of reading the words on the page, I liked to make up my own story which went with the pictures. This infuriated my poor parents and teachers no end, but I thought it was funny! I think where I actually learned to read was in church, following service sheets and hymn books, where the repetitions and the rhythms support the words.

In year 5, I had a teacher who I didn't think very much of and who was charged with teaching us things like long division - which I'd been able to do for a long time. I was not a very patient child, so the best thing about his English teaching (we did Goodnight Mr. Tom that year), was that he let me read through classes I didn't want to pay attention to. I read all of the school library shelf to shelf, including reading the Collins dictionary cover to cover. It also gave me very clear opinions about what I liked and didn't like: I remember espousing the value of Shakespeare over Dickens that year... My report for maths began "I know Verity wants me to think that she has only been reading, but I'm sure she must have been paying some attention in maths..."

In year 6 we had a teacher who absolutely loved Shakespeare, and really wanted us to learn the real thing, and so we put on our own production of The Tempest (albeit very abridged). We also wrote a play about the life of Shakespeare which included a line I'll remember forever: "Methinks this rhyme, 'tis good". I think I played Alonso, but I was really entranced by the character of Prospero. I bought a bit of iridescent blue cloth from a seconds shop, which doubled as Prospero's cape and the sea. That teacher did a pupil of the 1/2 term award, which I won twice, and my first prize was a book of Shakespeare's famous plays illustrated - it was beautiful, and I still have it.

The really formative time for me was secondary school. I had a series of excellent teachers, who really tried to engage the class, and more impressively usually succeeded. In year 9 Mrs. A got us all to choose our favourite Briton alongside the TV series and act as advocate for them. I also distinctly remember studying Macbeth and, after we had finished reading the play, watching the Polanski version and keeping rewinding and replaying the bit where a head is chopped off as the special effects were so funny. She was also very young and cool - she used examples from Eastenders (not that I've ever seen it...) and kept a copy of Cosmopolitan in her drawer - she was very open to everything we read being valid and a subject for discussion. She also introduced us to the idea that Shakespeare might not be the only Elizabethan or Jacobean playwright worthy of our attention, which made me curious to go away and find out more.

My GCSE English teacher, Mrs. B was amazing. I spent a lot of time sat in a corner with my friend reading Romeo and Juliet aloud (that was what we were studying!) and she was perfectly happy for us to get on with it ourselves. I told her that I didn't want to write about Great Expectations, because we'd been studying it for ages and I was bored of it, so she gave me the syllabus and helped me choose something I might enjoy writing about. I was hospitalised in the February of year 10 and she sent me a copy of North and South, saying that Elizabeth Gaskell was always her comfort read. She later sent me The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, which I think was the first thing I'd ever found difficult to understand. She insisted that we use American accents to read The Crucible, which made it a lot more fun for everybody. I think something she did really well was teaching us that great literature didn't always have to be taken seriously - that humour is a valid way to learn as well.

My A Level literature teachers were both MAD (but wonderful). One lesson we were supposed to present on aspects on Wuthering Heights, and two people hadn't done their presentation - she accepted them dancing at the front of the class to Kate Bush's song of the same name as an equivalent! On another occasion (with the other teacher) we acted out the dumb show from the Duchess of Malfi and the girl playing Beatrice Joanna had a scarf wrapped round her head like a veil, and the classroom's pot plant instead of a bouquet, and a lot of us were doing the dance of the mad-men when the headmaster walked in. He took one look around, and then silently walked out again, at which point we erupted into laughter! But on a more serious note, what they both really communicated was their love of what we were studying - and they expected us to love it too: asked about what we were reading, encouraged us to keep reading logs, to read criticism for fun, to bring things back to class. We did our A2 coursework based on a book of our own choosing which is so unusual in state schools these days... My A level English Language teacher was an Oxford graduate and talked with great enthusiasm about Hardy, which encouraged me to go back to him. She also introduced me to the short stories of Jane Gaardam, which made me so happy.

My love of poetry comes from my Dad who took the view that if I was old enough to read, I could read stories in my head, and his job was to bring poetry alive for me. I'm so grateful for this, as I think the approach to teaching poetry in schools is much weaker than for prose.

I think the influences of all this are hard to track. The best teachers encouraged me to find something I loved, and to realise the drama and humour in what they were teaching, as well as emphasising that we needed to pass. I could write a lot more, especially about my university experiences, but feel this post is quite long enough already! [/i]


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Apple



Joined: 24 Nov 2008
Posts: 1751



PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2012 5:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ok influence of our English Teacher...

Well... memories of my English teaching... hang on... something will come to me in a moment, I'm sure of it... nope!

At High school there was a lot of role play and drama as the English teacher was also the drama teacher, and he didn't really give a damn and it gradually went downhill from there and by the time we get to the Upper school I don't have any actual teaching memories, I can remember the time we sat and watched a video and the lads actually sat there quietly watching it, the rest of the time is a blur of shouting...lots of shouting, missiles being thrown and periods of not being there at all due to the English teacher (and all the other staff going on strike), in fact that is quite typical of most lessons, Physics was the best one (I'm being sarcastic) the lads knew they could get the teacher in tears - she was fresh out of college and totally out of her depth, and could just not control them, poor woman. My main memory was all the times they set fire to the gas taps - it was a regular occurance and it got to the point you started guessing which part of the lesson they would do it.


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Mikeharvey



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Lancashire

PostPosted: Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

These autobiographies are absolutely fascinating and revealing. Thanks for posting them.  
Verity - you seem to have total recall!!


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Marita



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
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Location: Flanders, Belgium

PostPosted: Tue Apr 17, 2012 5:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I learned English as a foreign language so my English teachers were rather different. I started to learn English in the second year of secondary school. I still remember the first sentence of my first English lesson. “This is Rip van Winkle, this is his dog.”
I don’t remember the teacher’s name but she was a bit old fashioned. We had to wear aprons in her lesson and dust our desk before the lesson started. I thought it ridiculous and often ‘forgot’ to put the apron on. She didn’t always notice it but if she did I pretended I had forgotten to put it on. I must have looked very innocent because she never suspected I forgot on purpose.
She always made a point of it that she taught English and not American English. An American twang was immediately corrected “Are you and American, girl?”

She was my teacher for two years. Then I went to a different school for year four, five and six of secondary education and had a different teacher each year. The first one was very easy going. He made sure that everyone passed his exam at the end of the year (we had exams at the end of each year). The second one couldn’t control the class. If the class decided we weren’t having any lessons that day the poor man could stand on his head and we still didn’t listen. He shouted and threatened, all to no avail. Because of him I didn’t become a teacher. I didn’t fancy that sort of working life.

The third teacher (again a woman) was a lot better. I remember two things about her.
1) We each had to dissect a story by Edgar Allen Poe.
2) She got married on the 1st of April.

I had two more English teachers in higher education.
One taught advanced English with grammar and probably some literature. His hobbyhorse was irregular verbs and he tested us regularly, mostly those regularly used like ‘to beget’, ‘to forbear’, ‘to forsake’ etc.
The second teacher taught commercial English (business letters etc.). I met him a few years afterwards. He was somewhat drunk and asked me if his lessons had been of any use to me. I was glad to tell him they had been, poor man.





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MikeAlx



Joined: 17 Nov 2008
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Location: Seaford, East Sussex

PostPosted: Tue Apr 17, 2012 10:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I mostly had good English teachers, though in my first year of high school (year 7, as it's called these days) I had the most dreary man imaginable. He spoke in a weary monotone, and set the dullest books. In his marking, he always seemed desperate to stamp out any signs of imagination.

However, the following two years I had a much more fun teacher. He was quite strict, but very entertaining and enthusiastic. He was a Dickens fan, and would always read brilliantly from A Christmas Carol at the Christmas Concert. He encouraged us to write stories and poems, as opposed to the discursive essays favoured by most teachers. We read good poems and novels, and got our first introduction to Shakespeare. I remember at the start of one lesson he threw all our exercise books out of the (second-floor) window - the whole class's - saying our homework was rubbish, and we needed to do better!

At some point during this period I also had a supply teacher who was a science fiction fan. He re-introduced me to Ray Bradbury, whose stories I'd tried reading at primary school but hadn't really got. This time round I loved them, and so began a lifelong interest in the genre. I read all the Bradbury I could find in the library, and then moved on to the likes of Frank Herbert and Philip K Dick. Before this, I hadn't really been reading other than what was required for school; it was SF that really got me passionate about literature, and got me frequenting secondhand book shops.

The following two years, our O-level teacher was also great, guiding us through a range of literature much broader than strictly required by the syllabus. She was very good at including the whole class, and at showing us how themes and characters are developed. She made me appreciate the polyphonic depths and richness of a good novel, whereas before I think I'd mainly just been aware of plot and tricks of language.

I did all sciences at A-level, so that's where my formal education ended - but I have always maintained an interest and tried to keep educating myself, albeit in a rather ad-hoc manner.



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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
Posts: 2932


Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Wed Apr 18, 2012 3:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I only have the odd memory of English teachers.  Up till high school, of course, my teachers (three of them) taught everything to us.  I recall one reading brilliantly Treasure Island to us (presumably he read other things too, but I don't recall them).  But I don't specifically remember the English taught.

And I can't even remember the first two English teachers I had at secondary school let alone what or how they taught.  (I got first in class in English in the top class in an academic school though - I remember that!)

In the fifth and seventh forms (Years 11 and 13 now) I had the same teacher - a finicky little man whom none of us much liked.  He taught us about the romantic poets mostly - Keats I specially remember.  In Year 12 we had a brilliant male teacher from South Africa, who made Hamlet seem so wonderful that when he then followed it with The Tempest we were a little disappointed.  I suppose Hamlet appealed to teenagers with its angsty feel.  In my last year at school I helped write bits for a school newspaper put out by the students.  That involved help from another favourite teacher, but she taught us history.

The tutors and lecturers at university were strong characters in the main and I recall having to re-write an essay because of stylistic mistakes.  I did an Honours course in English which meant a year of 4 different subjects then followed by a year of mostly English and a paper in French literature and one in History, then two years with 6 papers each year of English.  Meant a fairly thorough covering of English literature but an awful lot of reading.  It amazes me now to think that in those years I read Middlemarch, Vanity Fair, Ulysses, Women in Love, Dombey and Son, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, all of Austen, The Mill on the Floss, Far from the Madding Crowd, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, North and South, and a couple of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English. Not to mention L'Etranger, Madame Bovary, Le Rouge et le Noir, Le Pere Goriot in French and two books of The Aeneid in Latin.  And poetry and plays.

Our professor was said to continuously read War and Peace, and one of our lecturers married one of the students in my class.  I never knew how they got to know each other so well - to me the lecturers and tutors were things apart.  (Though as honours students we did have dinner once a year with our professor, and I recall coming home from a small party at one of the lecturers at 4am with a (female) flatmate and being stopped by the police, who wondered where we had been.)



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