Why teaching is terrible…

… and why we do it anyway.

Is the subtitle of a knockout book on what teaching is actually, really like. If you have children, if you plan to teach them, or are the survivor of thirty years of teaching, or are simply baffled by children, READ THIS BOOK (if you come from the UK you might want to check out the ages of the different grades in the US).DSCN8791 - Version 2 Searching for Malumba is written in intermittent diary format running from 2000 to 2015. Each entry comes hot, often scorchingly so, off the keyboard and varies from hilarious to heart-breaking. You read this with your mouth hanging open in shock about where these kids are coming from and what kind of homes they go back to. You also read it with sympathetic fury at the authorities wilful misunderstanding about testing, teacher pay and worst of all the nature of children themselves. In contrast, you also read with delight and outright laughter about children and teacher’s successes and gaffes.

Children en masse scare me and so, although I have worked with them in schools, six at a time is my maximum.* I made things easy by doing workshops which the kids thought were games (and even included some board games). I also tested kids for my PhD thesis (and discovered how some relished, and some were terrified of, tests). All children need sensitive, perceptive, firm, fair, patient and compassionate handling and that’s before you can actually teach them anything. When you get to teaching bit, you need another whole set of skills… I won’t even start on these, because I know I lack them.

I am in total awe of someone who can handle 30 plus children at any one time, many with built in challenges – physical, mental and environmental AND succeed in imparting information to them. After following Luther Siler’s blog Infinitefreetime.com for at least a couple of years, I know him as a superbly entertaining, passionate communicator. He has principles I agree with, he writes with insight and empathy about the different experiences of being male and female, and he has an astonishing breadth of education and experience. Oh, and he writes and publishes science fiction too.

Teachers are secular saints. I repeat, READ THIS BOOK, you will laugh and gnash your teeth, but you will enjoy it.


* Well, with one exception. I was asked to do something with the kids in the local middle school (ages 8 to 10) on dinosaurs for National Reading Week – even though, back then, I was a sculptor. The local museum lent me a couple of real dinosaur bones and the local hospital gave the school many packets of out-of-date plaster bandages. Over the course of a week most of the kids in the school passed through my makeshift workshop in their dining area and produced this… Linton Heights dinosaur 1991It was scary and exhilarating. Was I in control or teaching anything? Not really. I acted more as a circus ringmaster with the entire menagerie, clowns and animals together in the ring. We may have broken several health and safety rules, we made a godalmighty mess, but every child impressed themselves by their achievement. (The big round lump is a dinosaur egg about to hatch).

Outer space revisited

I recently read my first Sci Fi book… at least I think it was the first, and yet… in a life of reading I must have read one before and anyway it was listed under adventure, and I am always up for that. Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 22.14.14I enjoyed Skylights very much and reviewed it on Amazon. I read it because I have become interested in the author Luther M. Siler via his blog and happened to read the opening of this book which gripped me. It is set in the future, but starts in a schoolroom as the assembled children are watching the launch of the Challenger in 1986.

However, I had forgotten, I have been to space before, nearly thirty years ago. Our youngest daughter decided, age four, that she wanted to be an astronaut. So we made her a space ship. Here are the engineers at work.space construction work 1For christmas that year she had a space suit.spacesuit 1And on her fifth birthday the next year we created a command centre (with lights, recorded sounds etc) for the main module of the space ship and she invited her friends to come to space with her for fifth birthday. One of her friends wanted to know if he should bring his pyjamas.space party 1They all took turns in three roles – pilot, navigator and engineer (I think). Note the Fischer-Price communications system.space party 2She also invited her wonderful first year teacher, who miraculously came. And even more gamely squeezed on board. space partyEven the cake was ready to be launched (note the candles underneath).space cake

I don’t want to end on a sad note, but it is only now that I realise that we could not have held the party a year later. This was 1985, in 1986 the Challenger attempted to take off into space with a brave and enterprising teacher aboard. Teachers are the amazing.

We were lucky, space exploration was all hope and success then. We had a wonderful, memorable party and the spaceship lived on in several incarnations ( a feature on a float, a rhododendron pot, a pots container…).