Monthly Archives: September 2007

Seeing potential in students

The second principle Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game derive from their corpus of interviews is:

Good teaching recognises the unique potential of each student. This is not the same as an expectation or a prediction; it is seeing students in their wholeness, as they are now. The teacher’s responsibility is to nurture students and draw out their potential by opening them to new worlds. Thus teaching is inherently ethical, allowing students to find their place in and to contribute to the world.

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Posted by on September 30, 2007 in 1950s, inspiration, nostalgia, reminiscences, Teachers Who Change Lives, teaching



I wrote this one in November 2005, but it somehow fits as both a sequel and a contrast to the previous post. 😉

English Teacher moments

The link above takes you back to August, when I mentioned Scott Poynting, an ex-student from Wollongong who is now at the University of Western Sydney. Imagine how pleased I was to receive this email the other day. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on September 28, 2007 in reminiscences, replays, teaching


Changing lives without aiming to

The first principle Andrew Metcalfe and Anne Game derive from their corpus of interviews is:

Inspiring teachers always challenge their students, but they do not set out to shape them and do not know how or when to measure the success of their classes. Through the strange chemistry of classroom relations, students change and yet become more themselves.

That is a terrifying thought for the bureaucratic mind, yet paradoxically the most successful teaching I ever did was most often very poorly documented. Often it took place in environments where I really did not plan every step of a lesson or unit of work, where I kept limited lesson  registers, if any, and where I was never entirely sure where the next lesson was going to take us. In such circumstances the contingent was foregrounded over the planned, and the result seems to have been deeper learning — learning in which I participated as much as those I was allegedly teaching! To quote the late Donald M Murray:

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On the enduring power of good teachers

Such is the title of a post written by fellow blogger Jim Belshaw in a welcome reference to this blog.

I see that Neil has started a new blog! This one focuses on teachers and teaching…

I think that teaching is a wonderful but badly underrated profession. The power of my best teachers has followed me down through my life. Many are now dead, but they endure in my memory. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on September 26, 2007 in inspiration, Teachers Who Change Lives, teaching


Interlude: the exam paradox

I have no problem in general with criterion-referenced marking; indeed I welcome it as being more transparent than the mysterious processes that we used to employ. (If you want argument about this visit my other sites.) But nothing is perfect, and criterion-referenced marking — indeed almost any kind of quantifying — falls down in the area we conventionally think of as “creative writing” — as if any writing is actually “uncreative” but I guess we roughly know what we mean by the term.

I have just had a good example of this. One of the students I have been tutoring is in Year 12 where they now must do “creative writing” — good and long overdue — but the “skill” (ugh!) is “examined” in Question 2 of Paper 1 where the glib are invited to construct a confection in forty minutes which must reflect, somehow, the “concept of The Journey” and which is then marked by criterion reference. OK, some criteria are not too problematic. Those of course are the ones that in reality may be least important.

My student has been speaking English for just six years, having been born in China. His English is well in advance of what research tells us to expect. In his “creative writing” question he took his own life as a journey and wrote a remarkably honest, beautifully expressed (some minor second language issues aside and some major punctuation issues aside) reflection on that journey. For example:

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Posted by on September 25, 2007 in creativity, ESL, exams and assessment, writing


Themes from Teachers Who Change Lives

In their introductory chapter Andrew Metcalf and Anne Game summarise the issues they found in their interview material. I will give you the bare headings today. I propose to expand on each one with anecdotes or thoughts of my own over the coming weeks.

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Posted by on September 25, 2007 in inspiration, Teachers Who Change Lives, teaching


We need to get back to thoughts like these: 2

You may read read some edited extracts from the interview material that underpins Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game (eds) Teachers Who Change Lives. In addition to those, I was interested to note among the teachers and (ex)students interviewed is Nicholas Jose, currently Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide, a long-term friend of my friend M, and also a friend of mine.

That is the method the book used: to interview a range of people about teachers who changed their lives, and also to interview a number of teachers. The project is 100% humanist and humane. Data is neither quantified nor analysed statistically. Instead, a number of themes emerge from the corpus of interviews. These are then expanded in a series of chapters. I propose to devote an entry to each of those themes.

But first a word on my own experience. It is only from time to time that I would say my teaching reached the level this book describes — but it did happen. Let me say, however, that those times were perhaps peak experiences, and sometimes they were not even recognised at the time they occurred. The school as institution can often be dispiriting and imperfect. There have been times I have said: “I love teaching. Just such a shame it happens in schools!” I think many teachers will know what I mean.

It is always nice to be told when such interactions actually happened, as one ex-student, Chris Jones, did in a comment here. Expanding on that in an email, Chris wrote, and I was more than happy to read:

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Posted by on September 24, 2007 in inspiration, reading, Teachers Who Change Lives, teaching


We need to get back to thoughts like these

This is the first real post on this new (but old) venture, and again, as will normally be the case, I am using Windows Live Writer to do it.

I have decided to open up this specialised but informal blog to supplement the two I have on WordPress: English/ESL — and more and Lines from a Floating Life.

Yesterday on Lines from a Floating Life I mentioned that I had bought, among other things, Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game (eds) Teachers Who Change Lives (Melbourne University Press 2006) “to make me feel good about being a teacher.”

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