#Nurture16/17

I haven’t done a blog like this since this one and December 2013 seems like an awfully long time ago. I suppose 1000 days is quite a stretch under any circumstances, and given what has happened since then, those days have completely reshaped our lives in just about every way we could have imagined. So, here’s my nurture blog as 2016 comes to an end and 2017 starts dusting itself off, doing its final stretches and vocal warm ups before taking to the stage to show us what it’s got.

Things to be grateful for:

  1. Darlington

I’ve moved a lot in my life – having spent basically the first 18 years in Leeds (barring a couple of wonderful years out in York) I’ve now lived in 11 houses since 2001. This suggests that I’m not made for settling down, and given that the latest move was quite a big one, perhaps that’s true; but certainly in terms of trying to find somewhere to call home, Darlington came closer than anywhere else to being the perfect fit. It has everything you need from a city, while simultaneously being small enough to walk around in less than 2 hours. I went cycling in the country, and shopping in town. I made good friends too, some who made me laugh so much I ached, some who played badminton with me until I was fit, some who won (and lost) pub quizzes with me and three who played in the best Beatles tribute band in England with me. If you can give credit to a town for helping to improve your life, I’d definitely give it to Darlington. And I’ve still never set foot in Kong, so who knows what glorious wonders I might still discover there on a trip back one day?

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Lovely memories of a lovely place.

  1. Shanghai

Ah, the Darlington of the Far East. Having talked about moving abroad for nearly 12 years, and having seen a few opportunities come and go for various reasons, we finally took the plunge at the end of December 2015 and applied to attend a conference for international schools in London over the weekend of January 16th, 2016. We were excited as to how our horizons might be broadened, but we had one stipulation – we didn’t want to work in China. By January 17th, we’d accepted jobs in Shanghai. So, the Pearl of the Orient has been at the forefront of our minds throughout this whole year. We spent January through to July reading, researching, learning the language, panicking and anticipating in equal measure, and in August we finally boarded the plane and began our adventure. And what an adventure it has been! The blog is here if you’d like to read it – but suffice to say it has been everything we hoped for and more.

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August 13th, 2016: The First Time Ever I Saw Lujiazui.

  1. My job

This year has really brought home how lucky I am to be doing this job. It is brilliant. I’ve made good friends, learned a lot about myself, and obviously been able to move out to Shanghai, but more than anything else the great joy of this job has been (as ever) working with the amazing kids who make the classroom light up. I have been so lucky in my career to have worked with some wise, bonkers, hilarious, outrageous and brilliant students who have made me determined to always work harder and be better. One of the defining motivators of my teaching career so far has been the fact that I just don’t know if I’m any good. That fear pushes me, hard. So when I left my school in July and received easily the nicest cards and warmest wishes I’d ever had from some genuinely inspiring, wonderful and demanding students, it signalled a watershed moment for me. I don’t now think I’m brilliant, but I realised that I can be good at this, and my motivation to work hard at exactly that has never been higher. Saying goodbye to my old classes in July was genuinely heart-breaking, as much as I was excited to be moving to pastures new. They made every day of the job enjoyable, and teaching some of those students will forever be one of the great honours of my career.

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My board on my last day of term. Definitely didn’t make me cry a bit. Definitely.

  1. Sarah

My team-mate, partner, best friend and wife. She, as ever, takes the rain and makes me a rainbow. If I think I’m lucky to be in Shanghai, or lucky to be doing this job, or lucky to be healthy, or lucky to be anything, it all pales in comparison to how lucky I am to have her in my life. I don’t know how she puts up with me, but she has so far and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure she wants to keep doing it.

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  1. Jurassic Park (obviously)

I’m always grateful for this.

 

Things to hope for:

  1. CPD/Be a better teacher

Always. Got to get better, got to be better. I think I’ve improved, but there is an awfully long way to go still. I quite like the challenge, even though it’s daunting to keep oneself in a state of upheaval, I sort of relish the chance to keep rebuilding myself.

  1. Mandarin

We took lessons for 6 months before we left, and since we arrived in Shanghai, we really haven’t used our Mandarin as much as we could have. It’s a tough language to get your tongue around, but letting it stagnate won’t help, so I’m going to try and improve throughout the year and get to a point where I’m not quite so scared to talk to our cleaning lady at work because she’s lovely and it would be nice to say more to her than ‘How are you? I am fine. I enjoy playing badminton on Wednesday evening.’

  1. Be less sarcastic

Apparently, I’m sarcastic. Whether or not that sarcasm is mean depends (it seems) on who you ask, but everyone pretty much agrees that I’m sarcastic. I don’t take any pride in this, and I would like to try and be warmer to people. It might mean fewer cheap laughs from the stalls, but I can live with that.

  1. Don’t lose touch

Life is busy, but the world is small. I haven’t always ‘had time’ to keep in touch with friends and family back in the UK but that’s not good enough. They are really important people, and I don’t want to fade into their memory as ‘that one who went to Shanghai’ just because I’m not nearby anymore.

  1. The best House tournament ever

I’m in charge of House events at school – and I think I’ve done ok so far. We’ve made a good start, but I really want this year to include a House tournament that people are talking about for years to come. It’s a big goal, and it will take some doing, but I’m determined. The new House prefects are brilliant, and willing to put the work in to corral the troops, so hopefully between us we can move some mountains.

  1. Don’t forget music

I used to be a part-time musician. Shameless plug time – some of my songs are here. This year has been a busy one and I haven’t written a single song, or really sat down with my guitar or piano and tried to write one. I miss it, and will be trying to produce some new material in 2017, even if only for my own enjoyment.

  1. Blogging

Every year I say I’ll get better at this, and then I manage not to. The blog on Shanghai has started well, so I will try and keep that up, and as for this one, I’ll do my best. It’s hard to find a reason to blog when it seems that everyone else is doing it a lot more effectively than I could ever manage, but maybe I will find a little corner for my voice and say some stuff.

  1. Stay grateful

This, my main goal, has been brewing for a while now, but I’m trying to put it into more tangible action in 2017. I’m trying to turn my negative emotions into gratitude whenever I can. This was brought home to me by two specific events recently. Our first term in our new school has been a long one – 19 weeks in total – and December 12th marked the first time I had ever started the 10th week of a half term. It was exhausting, and much as I have enjoyed being there, I must admit I was ready for a break. I’m grateful, though. This is the most incredible opportunity we’ve ever created for ourselves, and if the cost of that is the occasional 10 week half term, then that is a low price to pay. For the entire week, I simply reminded myself that I was getting to start my 10th week of the half term in this city, at this school, with these kids and these colleagues. It didn’t seem quite so daunting then.

The other event was coming back to Darlington for the Christmas break. I met up with an old friend and colleague to play badminton, and some of the students from the team came down to join us. It was so lovely to see them again, and remembering that I don’t get to teach them anymore made me sad for a moment. But again, at least I got to teach them in the first place; and for that I will be eternally grateful. I’ve found that exploring the reasons I have to be thankful has shown me that I have millions upon millions of reasons to be happy and grateful for so much in my life, and I’m looking forward to experiencing that more in 2017. Too often I’ve been grateful after the fact, and realised too late how lucky I was – this year I want to understand and enjoy that experience in the present. I am very fortunate indeed, and I won’t take it for granted.

  1. Continue my one-man crusade to have Jurassic Park put into the Literary canon.

Chaaaaarrrrrrgggggeeeeeee!!

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A Rose By Any Other Name

In this article, the BBC have reported that a Headteacher in Wimbledon wants girls to stop admiring world-bestriding multi-million selling pop star Taylor Swift and go-to-sex-tape-pantomime-villain-of-the-older-generation Kim Kardashian and instead wants them to focus on characters like Cleopatra, “who wield power and influence in a man’s world”…perhaps because Swift and Kardashian  have wielded neither power nor influence in recent times.

Apparently, “Cleopatra shows that you can be both flawed and brilliant,” which is something that Taylor Swift, with her infamous string of ‘failed’ relationships, her apparent inability to handle a perceived slight mixed with her uncanny ability to fill an entire stadium full of adoring fans who want to listen to the songs she wrote, obviously does not do.

Apparently, the big similarity between Kardashian and Cleopatra is that they both project their brand. Fair enough. But, says the article, the thing that makes Cleopatra stand out is that “She remains this incredible, strong icon, beyond her love for a man.” Ah yes, because nobody had heard of Kardashian before she married that rapper and Taylor Swift is only famous because, like a walking country and western song from the 70s, she simply can’t hold on to her man.  The article then states that ‘there is something concerning’ about the fact that young girls look up to Swift and Kardashian as role models. I quite agree, having never known a time before now in history when people would look up to pop stars and celebrities as role models because I, fortunately, was born at the age of 45 and have no time for this ‘celebrity’ fad.

The article points out three particular heroines who should be admired ‘beyond [their] love for a man’:

  • the strong and cynical Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, who rails against the unequal status of women…until she calls it a day and admits that she’s desperately in love with Benedick (something which is hinted at early on in the play) and marries him in order to find peace, contentment, validation and completion.
  • the resourceful Viola in Twelfth Night who survives a shipwreck and disguises herself as a man to find work…which she does in the court of a man with whom she immediately falls in love, before unveiling herself at the end of the play and marrying him in order to find peace, contentment, validation and completion.
  • the exiled Rosalind in As You Like It, admired for her intelligence and quick wit as well as her beauty…Ok, you can have this one but she does still spend most of the play in exile before being reunited with Orlando, marrying him and finding peace and contentment.

Anyway, my point is this. I have nothing against Jane Lunnon, and I certainly have nothing against introducing Shakespeare into the lives of students, and I have nothing against young women being given a whole raft of role models from whom they can choose, but what worries me is the elitst and snobbish implication that Kim Kardashian does not deserve to be held up as a role model whereas these fictional women created by a middle-class white man do. I also don’t think that telling the teenagers in my class that they are wrong to idolise those whom they have chosen to idolise, but instead should read some 16th Century Elizabethan pentameter on the topic, will engage them in my subject.

I am no great fan of Kim Kardashian, by the way. I don’t hate her, by any means, but I don’t particularly love her either. Then again, I’m pretty sure that I’m not her demographic. As far as I can tell, she’s used what talents she has to make herself arguably the biggest celebrity in the modern world, and I don’t care what anyone says – that takes a certain something that most people simply don’t have, and that something is not just millions of dollars or a nice figure. As for Taylor Swift, she may not be perfect but she can string a pop song together as well as anyone else currently working in that industry and that equally takes something that most people don’t have. Perhaps beyond all that, if you’re over the age of 20, you simply don’t get an opinion on who teenage girls SHOULD look up to as a role model. Especially if that role model is someone not entirely dissimilar to the one you are recommending instead…

  • “Stop admiring that self-made woman who’s also vain and histrionic enough to provoke her audience into mocking her…and study Cleopatra!
  • Stop admiring that woman who portrays a front to the world as a way to survive and find herself…and study Viola!
  • Stop admiring a scheming, capable, powerful woman who will stop at nothing to further her and her husband’s power…and study Lady Macbeth!
  • Stop admiring a young woman who makes serious mistakes in love but at least writes some impressive poetry on the subject…and study Juliet!”

Instead of telling them that their choices are wrong, and that they should look up to others instead, why not show them that these women of stature have their roots in our past? That it’s not just Kim Kardashian in 2016 who has to be worried that her power in a man’s world will make people uncomfortable, leave her a target for ridicule and (sadly) actual danger? It’s not just Taylor Swift who has to walk around cursed by society as ‘unmarriable’? Society’s obsession with powerful women is not just a phase for millennials. Let them see that their role models are valid, that they have similarities with these characters, and that Shakespeare was maybe trying to point out that someone doesn’t have to be perfect to be powerful. These women are showing their fans that they don’t have to be flawless to own the stage…and didn’t someone once say that all the world’s a stage?

PS

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#NRocks16

Back in this blog, I ended with the question – “Right, what am I doing on 11th June next year?” The answer, as it turned out, was what I had hoped it would be, which was “going back to Leeds Beckett University for another brilliant day at Northern Rocks.”

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I love my job, but it often brings to mind this famous Confucius quote…

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…and just how incredibly wrong it is. Teaching is hard work, make no mistake. It has massive rewards and I wouldn’t want to do anything else, but the idea that because of this it isn’t hard is daft. It is a busy life, full of busy people, with little time to stop, think, reflect and listen to others. That’s why things like Northern Rocks are so important. A lot was made of the fact that 500 teachers gave up a Saturday to come and further their CPD, but actually that’s just what teachers do. What should speak volumes about what Debra and Emma have achieved with this conference is that all 500 of us were not only happy, but eager to give up our Saturdays to go and share practice, resources, advice, anecdotes and like-mindedness. Here’s how the day went.

First, Chris Kilkenny gave us all a powerful reminder of how poverty attacks and impedes children who want to learn – how easy it is to forget just how bad some people have it. He spoke eloquently and emotionally, finishing with the poem below to remind us all of our deeper responsibility to the students we have promised to take care of:

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There followed an impassioned discussion with a panel of young and old alike (no offence, guys) featuring some powerful brilliance from David Cameron (no, not THAT one) who suggested to us in no uncertain terms that the government have indulged in “a politics of despair and an education of disappointment.” Powerful stuff, and clearly a sentiment echoed by many, if not all, of the assembled crowd. Mixing humour with real depth is never easy but all the panellists managed it as they discussed in detail the ways in which our jobs could be made easier. It was a relief to know that I’m not alone in some of the things I find so frustrating about the system in which we all work.

But, it wasn’t a day for moaning, it was a day for sharing and celebrating the best of the job, and the best of the job doesn’t come much better than John Tomsett. He and Alex Quigley spent the first workshop back and forthing on the pros and cons of being Determined Optimists or Defensive Pessimists. Both interesting terms, and I took a lot from both sides that I can bring to my own thinking. I think I will start choosing my responses a lot more, and one of those responses might just be ‘Why not me?’ Seriously, go buy their books – if you are a teacher I don’t think you should be without them.

determinedoptimism

We then went to see Isabella Wallace, who gave us some brilliant but simple classroom techniques – the chocolate bar and the silent game of rounders are both things that my classes should get ready to experience. It’s a shame we didn’t have longer than an hour; I got the distinct feeling that there were hidden gems a-plenty in her presentation that we didn’t have time for. A powerful thing that I took from this session was the importance of being asked things rather than asking them ourselves. After all, if the students are answering questions then they already know the answers – but if we encourage them to ask us, they are learning.

Isabella

Then I got in nice and early to see Hywel Roberts. I’d been looking forward to this since last year, and I wasn’t disappointed. Just as in the other sessions, it was fantastic to be reminded of the opportunities that are afforded to us as teachers. Hywel reminds me of the teacher I want to be; there was fun, joy, creativity and imagination but underpinning all those things was serious pedagogy, and serious learning for the students. How lucky those kids must be who get to work with him – we were all spellbound and left the session energised, determined, and tired out from laughing. What more could we have asked? Well, one thing – to try and make sure our kids leave our lessons feeling the same way.

Hywel2

Finally it was Paul Dix‘s turn to deliver a high-octane powerhouse of a session on behaviour management and its counter-intuitive nature. Without using a powerpoint (and my God, how effective was that?!) he told us that schools don’t need more than three rules, and they don’t need children to have the sin beaten out of them by draconian punishments. Great behaviour management is counter-intuitive. Some kids will follow people first, and after that they’ll follow any rule you ask them to. It was music to my ears – a reminder that even in the hardest part of our job, there is great hope and ways to make a difference. Hopefully my students will see my visible consistency over the coming weeks. Check out Paul’s podcast here – there’s much to be gained from it!

Finally a debate about testing – and it was good to hear from both sides, especially given the recent furore about SATs and their place (if they have one) in the educational world. I thought that this poem was particularly apt:

testingpoem

Each session brought something new, gave something different, and refreshed and rejuvenated me in different ways. I bought new books, met new friends, caught up with old pals, felt proud of my strengths and confronted my weaknesses. What a wonderful reminder of all that is wonderful about our job. I wonder if I can Skype in next year?

PS

 

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Biebspeare

Today I had a bit of fun with Y8 and poetry analysis. They’ve been working on Sonnets in their normal English sets, but I see them once a week in their tutor group for a Literacy lesson – something that’s not always proved easy to manage.

We started with a Shakespeare-esque poem (attached below) with some questions attached for them to discuss. They made notes on a post-it before going round the class briefly to get some ideas. Having established the basic tenor of the poem, I told them that it was actually a re-writing of ‘Love Yourself’ by Justin Bieber. I then gave them the lyrics to the song and asked them to annotate it as they would a poem.

The results were really pleasing:

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I asked them questions as they annotated, including:

  • If he didn’t want to write a song, why did he?
  • Who is he trying to convince here?
  • If he was so busy at work, could that be why she didn’t put much effort into the relationship?
  • Is the point here to make her feel bad or make himself feel better?
  • Why’s he bringing his mum in to this?
  • Where are the metaphors in the song?
  • What about other poetic techniques?
  • How does the narrator’s voice provide bias?
  • etc etc etc.

The students seemed to really enjoy it, and I certainly did! Hope you can use it at some point.

Love Yourself Shakespeare

Love Yourself

Next up – psycopathy, sexuality and satire in Taylor Swift’s ‘Blank Space’.

PS

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An Inspector Calls – Checkmate

I’m an English teacher, so I love a metaphor. My obsession with applying metaphor to things must be a major character flaw; but I genuinely find them helpful. They’re a lighthouse in the storm of life. And I hope that usually they’re better than that lighthouse one.

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This is a metaphor for the way I feel about metaphors. A metametaphor, if you will.

As an English teacher, I’ve also taught JB Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ approximately four and a half million times in my career so far, and yet despite knowing the play intimately, and blogging about it here, I have never quite managed to boil it down to a single concept that the students can use for any exam question and still find useful.

Until now.

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I’ve been encouraging the students this week to think of the play as one big game of chess, in which Priestley constantly shuffles his characters around the board in order to achieve his final aim. It’s a tactical masterclass that builds to the ‘checkmate’ moment: Inspector Goole’s ‘fire, blood and anguish’ speech. As the Inspector finishes his speech (basically the entire message of the play explicitly bottled into one sublime paragraph) Priestley needs the audience to have no choice but to agree with him. By that point, Priestley has spent two and a half acts positioning his characters in such a way that his message seems impossible to argue with. Mr Birling has been established as a pantomime idiot, and Mrs Birling has revealed herself to be a monstrous villain, rendering their views on the subject unpalatable to all concerned. Eric has come clean about his actions (some quite forgivable, others less so) and Sheila has transformed herself into a kind of angelic ‘Saint Socialist’ figure. The audience cannot help but side with Inspector Goole, and by extension, with Priestley.

Like a chess master, Priestley makes his moves at exactly the right time. It’s not just THAT the characters are positioned carefully, it’s WHEN they are positioned there. Mr Birling needs to be the first to be undermined. He is the head of the family, and so to have him so firmly established as a pompous arrogant fool critically undermines every argument he makes; and Priestley makes sure he makes plenty. Sheila and Eric both display signs early on that there is more to them than meets the eye, but these traits are kept firmly in check by Priestley while Mr Birling spends the majority of the first act making a fool of himself. Once he has done this, slowly Sheila begins to reveal her humanity in the way she begins to distance herself from her father. Eric is taken out of the equation while we learn some important information about him that sets up our sympathy for later on in the play, only re-emerging after Mrs Birling has built her own gallows with her despicable diatribe about ‘girls of that class’ and how the father of Eva’s baby should be held responsible, destroying her credibility in the process. Eric clearly needs a guide to navigate his guilt, and by the time he returns, Sheila has matured into the perfect character for this job. The gulf between the older and younger generation is now clear, and the first half of Act Three is used to further cement it, so that by the time Inspector Goole delivers his final speech, the audience cannot help but agree whole-heartedly with him. Priestley has us right where he wants us. Checkmate.

So, if students begin to view that speech as the single key defining moment of the play, they can start to see how everything that goes before is leading up to it. This means they have a central focus point around which any exam question can revolve. If the question is about how Priestley makes the opening effective, they can relate it to that moment. If the question is about how Priestley makes the ending effective, they can discuss it in relation to that moment. If the question is about a character, (even Gerald) they can relate it to that character’s role in shaping that moment. It’s a one-size-fits-all metaphor that can help the students focus their writing.

I’ve attached the sheet I gave the students to start mapping each character’s journey, not only the shape of it but the importance of WHEN things happen in the play. Hope it can be helpful!

AIC Chess

PS

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Commencing countdown, engines on…

Back in 1975, David Bowie gave an interview in which he spoke about his ‘cut-up’ technique for songwriting. It always intrigued me, and when a couple of students recently came to me to tell me they were having trouble planning an essay on Elizabeth Bennet, I thought maybe the Thin White Duke could provide a way to help them make some changes to the way they went about it. So often, when it comes to planning, students say they hate it, often because they don’t understand how to do it, because they’re Absolute Beginners. Feeling incapable like this causes them such sorrow, it’s little wonder they don’t want to do it, either on that day or the next.  (Sorry, that’s the last terrible Bowie joke I’ll make)

The setup is pretty simple – each student gets a little picture of Bowie on their desk to stick into the centre of a double-page in their books. Explain what they’re going to do – and about Bowie’s technique. They then look at the title of their essay:

‘How far do you agree that Lizzy Bennet is a heroine’?

Once they’ve got that on the board, they spent 15 minutes, or 3-4 Bowie songs (with Y9 today I used Let’s Dance, Rebel Rebel, Life on Mars and Jean Genie) writing down every idea they can think of to answer it. They could write anything they wanted, in any order they wanted, on either side of the debate they wanted. Here are some of the ideas they had:

‘Rejects Collins but stays respectful’

‘Doesn’t actually solve anything; needs Darcy’s help’

‘Sensible, especially amidst the incompetence of her family’

‘Stands up for what she believes in’

‘Sarcastic and arrogant’

‘Quick to judge’

‘Learns from her mistakes’

‘Sister is an idiot – makes Lizzy look better’

‘Totally wrecks Lady Catherine at the end’ (I particularly liked this one)

The key thing here was time boundaries being clear. Without having to try and logically order their thoughts they were free to let them flow a little, helped (hopefully) by the music – but without losing focus. Once the final note of ‘Jean Genie’ had rung out, I pulled up the random name picker on the board and spun it so that everybody had to contribute one idea they had written. By the end of that, which took just under 10 minutes, we had 28 different ideas for answering the question. This was equally important for consolidation but also gave everyone a chance to contribute to the overall discussion of Lizzy’s heroic (or not) qualities.

The final step was to get them to then group their ideas together, as logically as they could, connecting their thoughts in any way they saw fit. This completed, they now had a skeleton outline of their paragraphs.

Tomorrow they’ll be quote hunting to flesh out their ideas and give them some language to analyse, but at least now the shape of their essay has been sorted and they know not only where they’re going, but how they’re going to get there.

Anyway – I hope this can be helpful to people – let me know if you use it and how it goes!

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#TalkUpTeaching

I want to #talkupteaching. I have just shy of 100 days left in my job before sticks are upped and we take our leap of faith (cunningly disguised as a 19 hour flight, but I’m preferring to think of it as a metaphor) to Shanghai. I will be bringing a whole chapter of my career to an end and so, inspired by #talkupteaching and more specifically this utterly gorgeous blog by Natalie Scott, I decided to have a look back on what I’ve learned and why this crazy job is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

Love:

I read John Tomsett’s brilliant book over the Easter holiday and my only regret was that I hadn’t read it before starting as HoD. One of its main messages is creating a culture of love – John spoke eloquently about this at Northern Rocks 2015 and his words went directly to the core of my philosophy as a teacher. I love my students dearly. I’ve been lucky enough to actually like a lot of them as well, but no matter what, I have loved them all and it’s been the backbone of what’s been successful about my career so far. I remember very well what it feels like to be unloved at school, and have been determined from day one that no child in my classroom will ever feel that way. The effort can be immense but it pales in size compared to the payoffs – those lightbulb moments when a student finds a new skill, or a new side to themselves, or a comment from a parent at the end of a tiring term, right down to the moment I looked up after telling my Y11 class I would be leaving at the end of the year and realised some of them were crying. This was perhaps the most humbling moment of my career – I have rarely known kindness like it and as they stayed behind to say nice things about me, I very Britishly stumbled over myself and muttered a rubbish sentence or two of thanks. As I say goodbye to them at their prom, I have made a mental note to swallow my Yorkshire awkwardness and let them know that they have made my life a better place to be, and that I will miss them.

Boredom

I had a career before I was a teacher. Well, actually I didn’t. I had jobs. They were fine; they kept me busy and I worked hard at them and I did ok, insofar as one can do ok in call centres and customer service. In dark moments as a teacher, I wonder why I left. I worked with some good people, had some good times, worked far, far fewer hours and had far, far less stress. I never worked on weekends or after 4:30pm, and I had a gym on site and decent chicken sandwiches for lunch. So why leave?

Well, I was bored.

I was so bored. Teacher colleagues – you know that feeling when you’re so bored you give serious thought to the idea of setting fire to your own leg just so you’ve got something to do? No – of course you don’t – you’re teachers. I once spent 25 minutes during a quiet afternoon at the call centre twisting my headphone cord into a pair of comedy glasses. Seriously, 25 minutes. And while they looked hilarious (I don’t care what my team leader said), even I must admit, it wasn’t the most productive use of my time. When the idea of teaching made its way in to my mind, my mum (a teacher for 30 years at this point) said she couldn’t promise anything about the job except this: ‘you’ll never feel bored’. She was so right. Is it all fun? No. Do I love every minute of every aspect of my job? No. Have I sometimes been to meetings that were less than eye-wateringly thrilling? Yes. But I’ve never felt boredom like I knew in those days before teaching came along and for that I will be eternally grateful.

The biggest difference now is that instead of having a job, I have a career. Chris Rock says that someone is ‘blessed’ to have a career, and I agree. Rock says ‘when you have a career, there ain’t enough time in the day. You look at your watch and time just flies and you go, ‘Damn, I gotta come in early tomorrow and work on my project.’ cause there ain’t enough time. When you got a job…there’s too much time.’ It’s so true. Teaching is my project now. I blogged about being a terrible teacher here and it has taken a lot of mental rearrangement (which is still ongoing, by the way) to appreciate that I may never simply ‘be’ a good teacher – I just have to keep trying to improve all the time. It’s weird being on a journey that has no end, but of course now that I have a career, I have a purpose, and now I have a purpose, the length of the journey doesn’t matter because the views along the way are so wonderful. I hope I never get tired of them.

Challenge:

I think humans need to struggle. I don’t mean struggle in a truly desperate way, and of course this is all coming from a middle-class boy who went to private school and never (as any picture of me from 1989-2014 will rotundly show) had to go without food. On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, I am (to say the least) comfortable, and grateful for it too. I don’t think anyone should ever have to struggle for the basics in life, food, water, shelter, wifi, decent chicken sandwiches, that kind of thing, but there is something inescapably appealing about a challenge and the conquering thereof. Teaching provides challenge on every single level it could, and while there are short-term downsides to this (I’m tired, I work a lot, blah blah) I would not swap it for an ‘easy’ life. This, of course, is largely because I HAVE an easy life. I have a job I like, I work with kids I like, I have a family I love, I go on nice holidays and eat nice food with nice friends in a nice place. Then I get 12 weeks’ holiday a year where they pay me not to come to work. I am not complaining, believe me. But it’s nice to face the odd challenge and get stuck into beating it. Teaching gives you short-term challenges that you can conquer on a daily basis, and longer term challenges that require some serious attention. It also gives you the chance to fail, a lot – and I don’t know about you, but if I get the chance to fail a lot… I fail. A lot. That’s why it feels so lovely when you succeed, I suppose.

Pride:

I got an email recently from a student I’d taught for 12 weeks on my PGCE back in 2009 in London. She has stayed in touch intermittently every year since 2009, and she wanted to let me know she was dropping out of university and changing her track in life, and what did I think of that decision? Honestly, I could have wept. Here was one of the brightest, funniest, most capable and engaging students I’ve ever met asking for my opinion 7 years after I taught her for a term. There is no part of me that wasn’t touched that she thought to get in touch to let me know how she was doing, let alone that she asked for advice. I know why pride is one of the deadly sins – but I think a little bit of earned pride once in a while can be good for you. After replying to her email, I had a look at my ‘emails from students’ folder and realised again how lucky I’ve been to work with some wonderful students who have kept in touch to let me know how they are doing. And yes, I felt proud of myself. In the five years between leaving university and beginning teaching I was never out of work for more than a couple of weeks but I never felt proud of myself for something I had achieved because of my work. Now I’m a teacher and I get to feel it every day.

Colleagues:

I’ve worked with and met some incredibly inspiring people in my time so far; some of them are now my friends and I feel very lucky to know them. I don’t know whether you can really judge someone by their choice of friends, but if you can, I think I’m doing alright. Ours is a put-upon profession, no doubt. Some of the things I read about what’s expected from teachers would be hilarious if it wasn’t so terrifying, and while I haven’t always agreed with every criticism of every education initiative that’s arrived in my short career (which has been quite a lot, given the short time-scale) and I haven’t always seen eye-to-eye with every colleague, I haven’t yet worked with someone who wasn’t a dedicated, hard-working, caring professional who would do anything for their students. But this is 2016, so it’s not just in real-life that I’ve met wonderful colleagues; Twitter has been a constant source of inspiration too, leading me to improve and adapt my practice, and led me to real-life Twitter #EngChat moments such as Northern Rocks last year. All these wonderful teachers put me to shame, and they inspire me to be better.

It’d be stupid to try and fully blog about every part of this job that I love, but if we’re looking for reasons to #talkupteaching then these are just a few of mine. Thanks for reading!

Mr S.

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Escaping…

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about getting ready for exams, and mentioned in it that sometimes I like to stick music on to shut the stress out a bit. I specifically mentioned a couple of pieces of classical music that I love, and I would definitely still recommend them, but at the same time sometimes I need something a bit less time consuming, and so here are three recommendations for songs I like to stick on when I need 5 minutes off.

Joni Mitchell – Morning Morgantown

George Michael – A Different Corner (Live)

Randy Crawford – Last Night at Danceland

These aren’t necessarily my favourite songs of all time – much as I like them – but they are perfect for my needs when I want to switch off and lose myself for a bit. They’re soft – which I think is key. Hectic songs won’t let your brain settle, and while that’s brilliant when it’s brilliant, (see this for an example) it doesn’t do much for relaxing and chilling out. They’re specifically chosen for their sense of peace, and innocence. That sounds ridiculous, perhaps, but if I’m relaxing I don’t want difficult lyrics that challenge my thinking and incite my inner rebel. That’s also brilliant when it’s brilliant, but it’s not what I need right now. Peaceful songs are not all that easy to come by, but these are the three I always look to. I don’t know what separates them from other peaceful songs by artists I love, but there is something about these three that helps me find a few minutes of calm no matter how stormy the outside.

Joni Mitchell is a bit of a Marmite artist for me; when I like her stuff, I love it, and she’s at her absolute sweetest in ‘Morning Morgantown’ – a song that almost drips with hippy peace and love, but in a way that never gets annoying and I find deeply soothing. George Michael’s ‘A Different Corner’ is a clunkingly 80s record in its original form, but this live version from 1998 is beautifully rendered in soft luscious sorrow. It doesn’t make me sad though, it just drains my stress. Finally, there’s Randy Crawford’s peerless disco classic, ‘Last Night at Danceland’ – which actually might be one of my favourite songs of all time. It’s a happy song, it ticks every box you’d want for soft-pop-disco, and I find it infinitely relaxing and joyous.

Incidentally, if you don’t already have some, I would recommend investing in a pair of noise-reducing headphones. A good pair will set you back maybe £40, but the benefits are huge. Obviously these songs might not work for you, and if they don’t, please accept my apologies and let me know what your song choices would be – I’m always on the lookout for new things to add to the playlist!

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Crunch Time

Those of you who have exams coming up will have noticed that in the run up to the Easter holidays, the pressure has intensified, the workload and concomitant stress have increased, and your free time, your ability to use it wisely, your mental balance, and probably your sanity have all diminished. There is probably a sense that the change has been swift and sudden, and the exam dates are now looming – a horrible storm on the horizon.

storm-clouds

Yes, it’s a metaphor, but I’m an English teacher. What did you expect?

This blog is designed to help. It’s very important though that from the outset, I make it very clear that your success in managing this difficult time is entirely dependent on your attitude towards it. Strategies, advice, counsel, guidance, care, plans, are totally useless to you if you’re not prepared to undergo some discomfort and make some difficult decisions.

 

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Your exams aren’t doing anything. They’re not scary, they’re not mean, and they’re not out to get you. If you’re doing your GCSEs, then 700,000 people your age are in the same boat and going to be facing the exact same exam. If you’re taking A-Levels, 335,000 other people are doing them too. So stop focusing on worrying about the exams. They will come, and they will go. Whether or not you do well in them doesn’t depend on you building the day up into something that matters. The day itself is functional, no more. What matters is whether or not you wake up that morning feeling scared, and that is why your attitude towards your studies needs to be right…now.

Your teachers are cranking up the workload and the expectation now – it’s only natural. A side-effect of this is that you are being asked to do more in the same amount of time as you had before, and that’s because your teachers have forgotten that you have other subjects to study, and a life outside of school…right? Wrong. We haven’t forgotten, we just can’t care as much as we’d like to. This is how life works – things get harder and you have to adapt. It’s how you end up succeeding at anything in your life. Do we like it? Not necessarily. Are we going to do it anyway? Yes. You are more than welcome to dislike our choice, (and it is a choice, make no mistake) you are more than welcome to dislike us for making it, but your exams still aren’t going anywhere so why not focus on that instead?

Delayed Gratification

discipline 

Work out what you want most. If it’s good GCSE/A-level results, then that has to come at a cost. Our lives are full of cost. Everything we do costs us something, be that cost financial, emotional, physical or just time. If you want to succeed, you will have to pay the price, and that price will probably be (as prices tend to be) unpleasant. Fortunately, you can control the price you have to pay, to a degree. So, how do you do it?

Give yourself time off:

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If you want to be good at anything, you have to work hard at it. This rule applies to literally every single action you will ever perform in your life. It also applies to doing nothing, relaxing, recharging etc. You have to learn how to be good at it, and hardly anyone takes the time to do that. The following are personal strategies – I cannot and do not promise that all of them will work for all of you, but I imagine some will work for some, and even if not you will still see a pattern emerging: take your mind somewhere else.

Listen to music:

I’m a particular fan of classical music for this rather than anything else; I don’t know why, I just like it. I have certain pieces that I will try and have on in the background when I’m working but equally I like taking the time to just listen to the music and have it rattling around in my brain for half an hour sometimes. I tend to find it works better than music with lyrics, as they distract me, but that’s a personal thing. I’d recommend Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue or Rachmaninoff’s 2nd piano concerto, by the way. Long enough to be immersive, not so long that you’re wasting your life away.

Go to the gym:

I don’t ‘like’ the gym. I’m not a freak, come on. Nobody really likes lifting heavy bits of metal and then pretending it means something, do they? But I do like the fact that while I’m there, I’m not thinking about other things. So bring on the heavy bits of metal – hurrah. I know it does endorphins and stuff and it’s meant to be good for me physically, so I suppose that’s an added bonus. It beats sitting on the sofa feeling sorry for myself, that’s for sure.

Play a sport:

I’m bad at sport. I’m better than I was but I am no sportsman. But, it means I’m not thinking about other things for a while, and it helps me sleep. Those two things are good.

Actually relax:

I hate to say it, because it makes me sound like a cliché teacher/parent of the 21st century, but get off your phone for a bit.

phonemaster

Don’t get me wrong – I am terrible for always being on my phone, so I’m not pretending to be above it, but I can’t deny that it isn’t relaxing. How could it be? There’s always a status to like, a picture to retweet, a link to click on, a hashtag to search, an email coming in, a group message to respond to…and it’s totally ok that you do that, but give yourself some time off once in a while. See how it feels. If you are setting time aside to relax, try and actually relax. Going out with your friends might feel relaxing, but it usually isn’t. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have friends, or that you shouldn’t see them, but think about whether or not the activity you have planned is actually going to relax you. Those of you taking A-Levels, if your evening’s going to involve late nights, crowded bars and alcohol – fine, but don’t try and kid any of us that you’re going to feel relaxed afterwards. Work some time into your schedule to actually relax and switch your mind off.

Manage your time:

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When you are working – work. I know that sounds obvious, but have a think about your levels of productivity. I don’t wish to sound ancient, but given the immeasurable number of distractions that teenagers in 2016 have to deal with, focusing on productivity must be harder than ever. But that excuse won’t fly on results day, so let’s have a look at it. How many of you have, in the last seven days, sat down to complete a task only to find it took a lot longer than it should have, because you weren’t being as productive as you could have been? It’s totally understandable, yet with a couple of months before your exams start, it’s equally unforgivable. Remember, if you organise your time properly, and work hard when you’re working, you will find that you have more time than you thought you would. It goes against your instincts, and that’s ok, but this is a time to be strong – fight those instincts and beat them. What if you have so many things to do that you can’t possibly manage your time?

Compromise:

This is a dirty word isn’t it? Well, get over that – it’s something you’ll need to do. If you want to play sport for two hours on a weekend, you might have to just do it for an hour. You won’t like that, but that’s the point of a compromise. If you have a job outside school, and you want good GCSE results, work fewer hours. You might not like that, your boss might not like that, but remember your frustration will be temporary and your boss really doesn’t matter that much. Compromise.

Talk to the people who love you…

It’s what they’re there for – I know it’s a cliché that teenagers are moody and sullen and I also know that it’s not always true and when it is, it’s not your fault and the last thing you want is to be told to talk when the last thing you want to do is talk. But it does help…to a point.

…but don’t expect them to fix it.

The people who love you want to help…but remember, they can’t. Not tangibly, anyway. Partly because they know that this is a rite of passage that will give you more than it takes and teach you more than you realise, but also because it’s simply not possible. Remember, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be there for you. They really, really do. So let them.

Sleep:

I’ve never known a stupider ‘badge of honour’ than having not slept. It seems to be something people actually boast about. I’ve done it myself, but I wish I’d not. Get enough sleep. Being too busy to sleep isn’t any kind of achievement. It just suggests you can’t manage your time very well, and what’s worse, not sleeping will make you less productive, less able to cope with stress, less able to manage your time and less able to get along with others. It won’t surprise you to know that the people who survive exam season best are those who are productive, able to cope with stress, able to manage their time, and able to get along with others.

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Not pictured: someone who’s going to get good exam results.

So how do you get more sleep? Some of you will genuinely struggle with this – and there is no easy fix. BUT if you can apply some of the techniques/strategies mentioned in this blog, hopefully the sleep will come. Sleep is a consequence, after all, so give it the right circumstances and hopefully it will come. 

What to avoid: Start training your brain.

RedExclamationMarkTriangle650The concept of ‘Honourable Failure’

Doesn’t exist. You’re not in a Shakespeare play – if you fail, people won’t write essays about your heroic efforts and how they were thwarted by the malicious machinations of fate and destiny. People seem to think there’s some great human tragedy in failure, and perhaps there is sometimes. Not here though. Somewhere between 400-700,000 other people are taking their exams this summer. Some of them are going to fail, just don’t be among them – and if you are among them, don’t pretend there’s any honour in it.

RedExclamationMarkTriangle650Cramming

Doesn’t work. If you find yourself trying to cram the evening before your exam, you’ve already failed, so save your time and go have a bath or something. You don’t have to take my word for it, of course, and I’m sure you could find me a story of how someone once crammed the night before their exams and got full marks on everything; but I could find you a story of how a three man crew on a mission to the moon survived an explosion, severe hypothermia and a complete power loss and still got home. It can be done, but that doesn’t mean you should do it.

RedExclamationMarkTriangle650The Social Maelstrom

Have you noticed how petty arguments and bitchy comments and snide remarks have all somehow increased recently while your patience and willingness to put up with them has decreased at an exponential rate? Well, welcome to the exam run up. This is a tough one; it’s going to happen, and it will always feel like someone else’s fault. Very often, it will actually be someone else’s fault too. How do you escape it? Well, in so far as you can escape it, you have to just try and be the bigger person. Take an extra breath – think before you speak – and above all try and be the person that you need. Whether or not other people deserve your friendship, your compassion, your support and your patience is another matter, but you should still try to give those things because whether they deserve them or not, they probably need them. Bear in mind you won’t always deserve them from others either, but you will need them.

I would use this last little paragraph to wish you good luck – but that comes later. At this point, luck has got very little to do with it. What I will wish you, and will do so with all my heart, is the strength and resilience to develop that rare ability to block out all the noise that screams around you and focus on what matters. I am not saying it will be easy – not by a long stretch – but that’s what will make it worthwhile in the end.

 

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All the very best to you,

Mr S.

 

 

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80 Books of 2015

cartoon-boy-running-track-and-reading-an-algebra-book-by-ron-leishman-55662

Action shot of me, mid-book.

I’ve blogged about reading before (please see here, here, and here) and have really enjoyed getting stuck into a good reading challenge. I was aiming for 50 books last year but got carried away and ended up on 70, and so I aimed for 70 this year and got carried away again and went for 80. Next year – who knows, but I think it’s important to say that I haven’t read any of these books so I could get to an arbitrarily selected target, nor have I picked books I thought would be ‘easy’ so I could do this blog. But, here I am anyway, so here is a list of the books I read this year, and my thoughts on some of them.

As a child, I was a terrible reader. It wasn’t that I couldn’t read – it was that I just didn’t want to. I don’t know why this is, but I always make a point of letting my students know that it was the case, if they ask. The reason for this is that I love it now – and when I tell the more reluctant readers just how incredible I find it to be truly lost in a book, I want them to understand that while I totally empathise with their reticence, I don’t want them to miss out. In fact, if I could go back and slap my 13-19 year old self in the face and tell him nearly anything, it would be to READ! (OK, there would be some other stuff I’d tell him too, but reading would definitely be on the list).

Anyway, with that in mind, I thought I’d have a look back at the 80 books (fiction and non-fiction) that I’ve read this year, and talk a bit about some of them.

  • I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

First book of the year, a present from my wife at the end of 2014, and a 900 page behemoth at that. I don’t, as a rule, like reading things that are longer than 500 pages. My thinking was ‘If you can’t write a good book in 500 pages, you should have tried harder.’ This, on the other hand, totally blew that thinking out of the water. It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Complex, twisting, but somehow tight and focused at the same time, I would recommend it to everyone.

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • The Wolf of Wall Street by Jordan Belfort

I enjoyed the film, a lot, so I thought I’d check out the book, which is equally enjoyable, although you do have to make your peace with the idea of spending a few hours in the company of a thoroughly dislikeable character. An interesting insight into what humans will do for a quick thrill.

  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Loved by all, it seems. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t find anything in it that I hadn’t read before. Still, perfectly readable.

  • Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

I really struggled with this one. It’s brilliantly written but hugely upsetting at the same time.

 

7

The unassuming hero of my year.

  • Shakespeare
  • Notes from a Small Island
  • Down Under
  • Neither Here Nor There
  • Mother Tongue
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything
  • Troublesome Words
  • Notes from a Big Country
  • The Lost Continent
  • At Home: a short history of private life.
  • The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid
  • Made in America
  • A Walk in the Woods
  • Bill Bryson’s African Adventure
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

This year has been my year of Bryson. I love his style, his tone, his way with words; I have loved every moment of reading every book. If you know anyone who likes non-fiction, get them some of these.

  • Bounce by Matthew Syed

One of the core texts of the Growth Mindset movement, this is a fascinating insight into the mind of a successful person, and while it doesn’t dispel the idea of talent entirely it certainly contexualises it and reminds us how dependent success is on other things.

  • The 39 Steps by John Buchan
  • The Forgotten Holocaust by Scott Mariani
  • An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Brilliant to know that astronauts are actually heroic and wonderful just like I thought when I was a kid. Hadfield’s book was superb.

  • A Night to Remember by Walter Lord
  • On a Sea of Glass by Tad Fitch and J.Kent Layton

I’ve always been fascinated by the Titanic story, and these books certainly helped me indulge my geeky side. Still an intriguing story that echoes through the ages – lots to learn both about it and from it, I think.

  • The Rosie Project
  • The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion
  • The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
  • The Humans by Matt Haig
  • Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

Having not really loved fiction this year, I must make an exception for this murder mystery which I enjoyed from beginning to end. Perfect length, really well constructed plot, engaging characters that don’t lapse into tired cliché, convincing denouement, all the ingredients came together brilliantly. I loved it.

  • My Take by Gary Barlow
  • The Knife that Killed Me by Anthony McGowan
  • Filth by Irving Welsh

By and large I love Irving Welsh – didn’t like this though. All of the complexity of ‘Trainspotting’ with none of the charm or class.

  • Filthy English – the What, Where, How and Why of Everyday Swearing by Peter Silverton.
  • The Run of His Life – OJ Simpson trial by Jeffrey Toobin

This was a real eye-opener, and a brilliantly constructed look at a case I’d heard a lot about without ever hearing much about it, if that makes sense. Tense, taut and thrilling, the book never feels like it’s moving to a sensationalist tabloid but remains remarkably honest. It’s clear what Toobin thinks about Simpson, but you get the feeling he is casting as impartial an eye over proceedings as he can. Again, a fascinating book.

  • Nightschool 5: EndGame by CJ Daugherty

Ever since first meeting CJ at a school event, I have felt very lucky to have discovered the Nightschool books – and this is a fitting final chapter to a series that has never disappointed. She came to my new school to talk to the students and they were absolutely spellbound throughout and ask me to this day when she will come back, so hopefully we can sort that out soon.

  • Kill your Friends by John Niven.

This doesn’t really count, as it was a re-read, but it’s so funny, I had to mention it here. It wasn’t any less hilarious on second glance, so do give it a look-in.

  • The Surgeon
  • The Apprentice
  • The Sinner by Tess Gerritsen

For all I haven’t enjoyed fiction this year, I’ve really liked the Rizzoli and Isles books. The TV show is great, and the books – while very different – are just as enjoyable.

  • The Long and Whining Road by Simeon Courtie
  • Stress Proof Your Life by Elisabeth Wilson
  • The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

A lovely account of Russell’s year abroad, as she moves with her husband to Denmark so he can take up a position at Lego’s head office. Something important in here for all of us who live our rat-race life at full pace.

  • It’s Not what you Think
  • Memoirs of a Fruitcake
  • Call the Midlife by Chris Evans

As a child of the 90s, Chris Evans was always a bit of a hero of mine via The Big Breakfast, Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, and (of course) TFI Friday. For all his faults, and he’s keenly aware of them too, he is a phenomenally talented broadcaster, and this likeability and seemingly effortless ability to engage with an audience comes across brilliantly in his writing too. Brutally honest, but utterly charming, all three books were informative and interesting.

  • Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me?
  • Why not Me? By Mindy Kaling
  • Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham
  • May I Have Your Attention Please? By James Corden
  • Mr Mercedes by Stephen King
  • So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
  • The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson
  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

This got a lot of attention this year, understandably, and aroused plenty of controversy. That’s also understandable, but the some of the criticism I saw aimed at Lee was very unfair. I never adopted Atticus Finch as

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Future grumpy racist, Atticus Finch.

my teenage hero the way some readers of ‘Mockingbird’ had, so perhaps I wasn’t as hurt by his characterisation in this book, but at the end of the day, a) he’s Lee’s character so she can do what she wants with him, b) he’s fictional so she can do what she wants with him and c) I think his flaws, imperfections and decline into cantankerous old racist actually shifts the focus onto Scout and makes her a heroine for our modern age – she has to deal with the fact that ‘every fair from fair sometime declines’ and the grace with which she handles it gives her a depth and colour that she never had before. So yes, Lee may have taken Atticus with one hand, but with the other she gave us Jean Louise Finch, who may be a more achievable hero for us all.

 

  • The Secret Footballer’s Guide to the Modern Game
  • The Secret Footballer: Access All Areas by The Secret Footballer.
  • Bad Vibes: Britpop and my part in its downfall by Luke Haines

I don’t remember The Auteurs as a 90s band, and I don’t know whether Haines is being serious or satirical in his style, but I found him thoroughly dislikeable and the whole thing read as a diatribe about how scandalous it was that his incredible talent was disregarded by a shallow and materialistic world. I looked up the Auteurs music and had a listen; like Haines’ writing, I found it tedious.

  • Head Boy by Mark Wilson
  • The Sunshine Cruise Company by John Niven
  • Make Me by Lee Child
  • The Martyr’s Curse by Scott Mariani
  • The Marshmallow Test by Walter Mischel
  • Open by Andre Agassi
  • The Ice Twins by SK Tremayne.

Overall I felt a bit ambivalent towards this, but there was a point as I sat reading it alone in my room where something fell off the chest of drawers and I nearly had a heart attack, so it had obviously ramped up the tension enough to have me on edge!

  • Leading by Alex Ferguson
  • Red by Gary Neville
  • The Martian by Andy Weir

I saw the film twice, and I think it might be my favourite film of the last five years, so my expectations for the book were high, and met easily. A thoroughly brilliant piece of work, I thought. I think it’s rare (it probably isn’t – I’m no fiction expert) to find a book that feels like such an original idea. This didn’t feel like a story that had been done before, even though (of course) it has.

  • Where They Found Her by Kimberley McCreight
  • I never knew that about New York
  • I never knew that about London by Christopher Winn
  • Sampras: Mind of a Champion by Pete Sampras
  • Over The Top and Back by Tom Jones
  • Serious by John McEnroe
  • The Life and Loves of a He-Devil by Graham Norton
  • Outliers
  • The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Tickling the English by Dara O’Briain.
  • Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

So there’s my reading year. Can’t wait for the next one! In no particular order, my 8 favourite books of the year are:

  1. I am Pilgrim
  2. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth 
  3. Snow White Must Die 
  4. Shakespeare 
  5. Mother Tongue 
  6. The Run of His Life – OJ Simpson trial 
  7. It’s Not What You Think 
  8. The Martian 

What have your favourite books been this year? I need recommendations for 2016!

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