Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

Now, that sounds like something from Gilbert and Sullivan doesn’t it? Well, I wish I felt as jolly as those operettas often are, performed as they often are in village hall amateur productions by people with community spirit stamped right through them like a stick of Blackpool rock.

I’ve just had to cancel tickets for tonight’s live stream performance (Shakespeare’s King Lear), beamed  from the National Theatre to our local independent cinema – something I’ve been looking forward to for weeks – because I don’t want to be a nuisance to the rest of the audience or get thrown out for causing a disruption.

Can you tell I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself? I’ve had a hacking cough for over a week. From where it came I have no idea but I lost my voice completely last Thursday, much to the delight of a few who shall remain nameless. As it wasn’t getting any better or showing any signs of going somewhere else, I capitulated and went to the doctor.

 “Haven’t seen you for a long time,”  he said.

Well no, you wouldn’t have because I’m never ill enough to bother you, I thought.

He started typing something into his laptop, half listened to my reason for being there in the first place, waved his stethoscope vaguely in my direction, typed a bit more and said, “there we are, a course of antibiotics. They might not work because I can’t tell if this is viral or bacterial.”

As you can imagine this didn’t inspire me with much confidence but as I was feeling too rough to argue (yes, I felt that bad), I thanked him for the three minutes of his time and on the way out paid the pharmacy a ludicrous amount for two items – the tablets and some foul tasting linctus in a brown glass bottle, looking suspiciously similar to the stuff I pour periodically down the drain to keep the water flowing.

Once home, I opened the packet of pills and the first thing I saw on the box was: “Please read the enclosed leaflet before taking this medicine.”

So I did.

There were reams of reasons not to take the blessed tablets – possible side effects, common side effects, less common side effects, other side effects; the list measured nineteen inches (I actually got the tape-measure out). I couldn’t believe it. I’d end up feeling worse than the reason for which I went to the doctor in the first place.

I swigged the linctus down and cast the tablets aside, determined to tough it out and not take them.

However, after yet another virtually sleepless night (cough, cough, cough),   I reluctantly began taking the wretched things (two a day and make sure you finish the course even if you start to feel better), and waited for the first sign of a side effect. Happy to report nothing of significance yet and I’m beginning to feel a bit better. But I might have done anyway.

I don’t like the idea of antibiotics, doled out with not so much as a hope you feel better soon. Why don’t our doctors have an alternative plan or is it all about money? Yes, I suppose it is. How many patients can they get through their practice in a session, prescribe them pills from whichever pharmaceutical lab is the flavour of the month or the one which provides the most funding?

Or maybe I’m just being cynical. Hey! That’s good! I must be feeling better.

Normal service resumes next week when hopefully I’ll be fighting fit and definitely antibiotic free.


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As I feel the need to stand on my soap box and get something off my chest this week I apologise in advance for  my work-related rant and won’t be at all offended should you wish to click away now…

picture courtesy of Anxiety UK

picture courtesy of Anxiety UK

So, two weeks back into term time and already I have signed a petition to remove the Secretary of State for Education. I don’t add my name to anything lightly but I really do think it’s time for Gove to go. His unrealistic and ever changing demands on teachers is creating an exhausted, de-motivated and de-moralised staffroom; the delivery of our national curriculum with its incessant assessing puts unnecessary pressure on students, creating stressed and apathetic pupils. Do children actually enjoy school these days? Ask a few – I did – and they looked at me as if I’m barmy. As far as many of them are concerned, it’s a place to meet their friends – what goes on in classes is just a damn nuisance.

To maintain league table positions, schools have to chase grades. Targets are imposed on students and it is up to the staff to make sure these targets are met, never mind the anxiety felt by hard working children who aspire to, but sometimes fall short of, their aspirational targets. The government recently implemented performance related pay for teachers. In any other profession or line of work (except perhaps the front line of the health service) I’d say this is more than acceptable – in the corporate world it is probably essential. But teaching?  Where we are dealing with the lives and minds of young people? I don’t think so.

Some kids, however hard they work, however much they try, however much guidance they receive from dedicated teachers just aren’t going to reach that magical A-C banding which means that staff, not fulfilling their quota of ‘passes’ will find their pay packets lacking. This system is just crying out to be abused by unscrupulous heads of department who could cream off top students for their own classrooms thus ensuring a constant flow of suitable, remunerative grades.

A-C grades at GCSE (exams taken at age 16) are the keys to moving onto further education and eventually university. Grades convert to points which in turn, convert to cash for funding. It is not unusual nowadays for many top level students to achieve ten A or A* grades at GCSE, which is great for the students and for the school coffers but how does this happen? Are that many students good at everything? In my dim and distant past people generally leant towards either maths/science or English and the arts with only the odd few who were more than competent at everything. What can this possibly mean? Are we breeding a race of super students now who are as good at creative writing and art as they are maths and physics? Who can turn their hands to practical subjects and still be ace at computing and chemistry? No of course we aren’t. Our national curriculum is tailored to ensure that kids jump through hoops with the drained direction of their dedicated teachers.

When they’re not taking exams, pupils are being constantly assessed. I’m sure this has always been the case – just not so obviously to the students as it is now. The students are shown a framework for success criteria and in some cases, the mark scheme, before they even open a book and assessments are churned out in every year group, from ages 11-16, sometimes as close together as one every three weeks in one subject alone. Multiply that by the number of subjects on the timetable and you have one hell of a lot of assessments not to mention BORING BORING BORING.

To what end? Where’s the learning? More importantly, as far as I’m concerned, where’s the fun? It seems to me that we are only teaching them to pass a test, to excel in assessments and that any actual knowledge they may acquire is a happy additional benefit. I wonder if this is all a government ploy to create a generation of analysts… because that’s what they are learning – to analyse, not to create. Short sighted, in my opinion. Eventually, without creators, there will be nothing left to analyse. Rather like when our government got rid of all the manufacturing industries. They really don’t think things through, do they?

During my schooldays which, incidentally, I loved, we were afforded the opportunity (and the time), in English classes, to spend whole lessons discussing books plays and poems around set texts. We were taught to love Shakespeare and poetry before we had to start picking it to bits: we were given a lifelong love of literature which is why I get so exasperated with our older students who think that reading seven novels about an irritating little bespectacled wizard is sufficient recreational reading material for a potential A* student. (I ranted controversially once before about Harry Potter, which you can read here if you’re interested).

My Art lessons were peppered with visits to galleries and History to museums while Geography offered field trips which included wading around in the River Dart and getting lost on an unknown fell in the Lake District. We survived without need for all the health and safety legislation required now to take groups of students anywhere remotely interesting.

(Actually a colleague and I did manage to evade the red tape once and take a group of our students to the theatre. This trip is probably worth a post in its own right, as it turned out).

I know things have moved on substantially since I was at school – of course they have and facilities these days are fantastic. Just what is the point of it all if the learning is secondary to the testing? I wonder if, a few years down the line, our students will remember anything about their schooling or whether their memories will be of one long assessment – and how sad if that is the case.

Hopefully equilibrium will be restored next week but in the meantime, should you feel inclined to sign the Remove Gove from Office petition, you can do so here and if you’d like to read my poem on ‘Free Range Children,’ just click here.

Phew, that feels better…

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