Tag Archives: teacher

Rethink Education and Teacher by Gabbie Stroud

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I’m a former High School English teacher, I mention it in passing but don’t blog about it so I understand if people don’t know this about me. Yep, dyslexic and ADHD me has two degrees and taught for over a decade without ever getting assistance or special consideration, shocking I know.

I mention it now because another former teacher, Gabbie Stroud, has a book that came out through Allen & Unwin in June simply entitled Teacher. This is an important memoir about teaching and although her reasons for quitting teaching are not identical to mine they overlap heavily. I urge anyone interested in this area to read it. Fellow teachers, fellow parents, and certainly policy makers.

We’re losing energetic and unique teachers to a crushing system. Students aren’t robots and nor should their teachers be. It’s time we had a serious rethink and revolutionised educational practices in Australia.

We had the opportunity to do something amazing when we introduced the National Curriculum but honestly it fell flat pandering to people who didn’t want to change. It was essentially the same old stuff but with a different label rather than an innovative national approach. Meaningful change can happen, just look to Finland. Since the 1970s they haven’t merely just been tweaking their system but completely tossing out the old ideologies and reinventing what they do.

At the moment we’re still trapped by the idea of making changes without disrupting the system. We’re only interested in making adjustments that keep things essentially the same. It’s time to not only go back to the drawing board but to throw out the drawing board and start over. Look at what kids really need. When their varying needs start. Rethink everything.

It would take a whole societal change, but it is worth it. And I for one have faith in society’s ability to adapt. One day some genius decided to throw out the drawing board in technology and said maybe we don’t need buttons. We seem to have gotten on board with smartphones and tablets pretty well. How much more important are our children?

We can do this. I believe in us.

Find Gabbie Stroud on FB here.

Find Gabbie Stroud’s website here.

Find Gabbie Stroud on Twitter here.

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Memoir of a Teacher: A Red Hot Tip for NaNoWriMo

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Memoir of a Teacher: A Red Hot Tip for NaNoWriMo

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This year one of my friends is undertaking NaNoWriMo and has taken to Facebook to ask for ideas to include in his novel. He quite likes improv so thought, “hey it works for comedy theatre,  why not a novel.” I suggested that perhaps attempting to recast an old tale might give him some structure. There’s a long tradition of it, Romeo and Juliet into West Side Story, Emma into Clueless,  Cinderella into Ever After and so on. Unfortunately I think my explanation came across a bit more South Park, as in, get a book, cross out the authors name and slap on your own. In honour of this I give you an excerpt from my own memoir….

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Memoir of a Teacher

Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of English Breakfast tea with lots of milk and no sugar (despite my husband’s persistent belief that I like it black with three sugars, WTF) while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, “That afternoon when I met Jo Blow…was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon.” I expect you might put down your jumbo sized mug and say, “Well, now, which was it? Was it the best or the worst? Because it can’t possibly have been both!” Ordinarily I’d have to laugh at myself and agree with you, although I’d be silently judging you for your narcissistic need to correct for no reason. But the truth is that the afternoon when I met Mr Archer really was the best and the worst of my life. He seemed so fascinating to me, even the whiskey smell on his hands was a kind of perfume. If I had never known him, I’m sure I would not have become a teacher.

I wasn’t born and raised to be a Sydney teacher. I wasn’t even born in Sydney. I’m an Engineer’s daughter from a little town called Painfullysmallton on the Lake of Macquarie. In all my life I’ve never told more than a handful of people anything at all about Painfullysmallton, or about the house in which I grew up, or about my mother and father, or my older sister and older brother (except my therapist and she knows all, yes be afraid,  a stranger that you’ll never meet is judging you) –and certainly not about how I became a teacher, or what it was like to be one. Most people would much rather carry on with their fantasies that my mother and grandmother were teachers, and that I began my training in being bossy when I was weaned from the breast… well that part is kind of true, I do come from a long line of bossy women,  they just weren’t teachers. As a matter of fact, one day many years ago I was pouring a schooner of VB for a man who happened to mention that he had been in Painfullysmallton only the previous week. Well, I felt as a bird must feel when it has flown across the ocean and comes upon a creature that knows its nest. Particularly if that bird had been plucked bare, shit upon and booted out into the elements,  alone, afraid and ashamed. I was so shocked I couldn’t stop myself from saying:

“Painfullysmallton! Why, that place is a complete shit hole! I grew up there”

This poor man! His face went through the most remarkable series of changes. He tried his best to smile, though it didn’t come out well because he couldn’t get the look of shock off his face.

“Painfullysmallton?” he said. “Did you get involved in the mullet chucking competition?”

I long ago developed a very practiced annoyed look, which I call my  “cat’s bum face” because my face is so puckered up that it begins to resemble a cat’s bum. Its advantage is that men can interpret it however they want; you can imagine how often I’ve relied on it. I decided I’d better use it just then, and of course it worked. He let out all his breath and tossed down the schooner of beer I’d poured for him before giving an enormous laugh I’m sure was prompted more by relief than anything else.

“The very idea!” he said, with another big laugh. “You, growing up in a dump like Painfullysmallton. Now it makes sense as to why you’re such a bogan.” And when he’d laughed again, he said to me, “That’s why you’re so much fun, Robin. Sometimes you almost make me believe your total boganess is just an act.”

I don’t much like thinking of myself as a mullet chucking bogan but I suppose in a way it must be true. After all, I did grow up in Painfullysmallton, and no one would suggest it’s a glamorous spot. Hardly anyone ever visits it. As for the people who live there, they never have occasion to leave. You’re probably wondering how I came to leave it myself. That’s where my story begins….

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This was of course adapted from the breathtaking Memoir of a Geisha. Read the real except here: https://www.bookbrowse.com/excerpts/index.cfm/book_number/332/memoirs-of-a-geisha

Read chapter 2 of my memoir here https://riedstrap.wordpress.com/2014/11/01/memoir-of-a-teacher-chapter-2-nothing-to-be-frightened-of/

Monsters Under New South Wales Writer’s Centre #nswwc

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– art from http://odessasawyer.deviantart.com/art/Monsters-Under-My-Bed-153492618

This evening I attended “Monsters Under the Bed” at New South Wales Writer’s Centre featuring Kate Forsyth, Matt Finch and Nyssa Harkness. It was an interesting discussion on the portrayal and purpose of fantastical baddies. The entire evening was fascinating but I thought I’d just quickly share the point that stood out the most for me.

Darker social realism is generally read by fairly safe and secure kids not children with horrific problems (paraphrased from what panelist Kate Forsyth said in response to an audience question, unfortunately I did not get the exact quote which was far more eloquent). Children with real problems often prefer the escapist nature of Fantasy. Now that isn’t to say that safe secure kids don’t like Fantasy, because plenty do, but that forays into realistic darkness is generally too painful for children suffering abuse and so they prefer Fantasy. This really interested me as a teacher who has sat through many conversations with colleagues who actively put down Fantasy as pointless and silly. It is these kinds of attitudes that prevent our most at risk students reading what they will enjoy and actually need. Some healthy escapism is what these children crave, yet we insist on adding salt to their wounds. They need a world where good can triumph, where monsters can be overcome, a place that shows that in the end anything can be conquered. Unfortunately literary snobbism has perpetrated schools and we often insist that children read material that further depresses them, further abuses them and further increases their sense of helplessness. Even as the teacher in the classroom I find it difficult to teach a particular text on the gang rape and murder of a girl I knew. I’m in my 30s, the incident was decades ago, yet I walk out of each lesson where I am forced to engage with that text sickened and shaken. A fellow teacher of mine slid further and further into depression having to face this text daily that she too knew intimately that she didn’t just leave the school but the entire country.  I can only imagine how traumatised my students are who have recently been raped or had a family member raped. To force students to endure something so close to their personal life and so recent to them seems absolutely barbaric. So is it time that us English teachers got off our high horse and allowed our students to engage in texts that could actually heal them rather than further traumatise them? Or should we continue on our preference of dark “realistic” literature? Is it really better plotted, structured, characterised or written? Or are we simply being snobs and forcing our preferences onto youth for no actual good reason? Food for thought for writers and teachers alike.

Thank you to the New South Wales Writer’s Centre for hosting such an interesting discussion topic with such insightful panelists, Matt Finch, Nyssa Harkness and of course Kate Forsyth who inspired the topic of this blog.