Theatre of the Mind

Or, why I’m having trouble getting to sleep.

Setting: A mostly bare stage, with two windows above one another in the middle – curtains across them. An easel, bearing a whiteboard, or large pad of scribble paper, is to one side. There are a scattering of unmatched, upright wooden chairs around the stage.

Standing, facing the audience, and next to the easel, is the Main Voice – Ego. She is firm, tries to be loud. She has the air of an older sister, who thinks she is in charge, but has no real power over the other characters.

The only other named voice is Id – wearing loose hair, flowing light dress, a hippy star child. She is what Ego wishes she had the courage to be, and is totally unself-conscious about it.

There are three or four others on stage. They walk on and off, and swap clothes (hats, scarves, jackets) None of them maintains a train of monologue for long – ideas are passed on with the clothes.

Ego (coughing sharply, to attract attention): Right. That’s enough. Time to sleep. Let’s start with Byron’s “Darkness”.

The Others mostly come to attention, and stop moving about the stage, briefly.

Ego: All together now:

Chorus (starts willingly enough): I had a dream, which was not all a dream.

The bright sun was extinguished and the stars

Did wander darkling in eternal space.

Voice 1 (Wanders to the front of the stage, while the poem continues in the background. Not directly addressing the audience): Darkling – that shows up in another poem. What was it?

Voice 2 (joining her near the front): Once by the Pacific? “Great waves looked over others coming in…”

Voice 3: No, it wasn’t that. It was the port one, something about “vapour brooding”

Voice 2: “Life’s long darkling way”

Connection made, the Voices rejoin the chorus

Chorus: Morn came and went and came and brought no light

And they forgot their passions in despair…

One of the Voices wanders over to the back of the stage, and pulls aside the curtains. The two windows show the same image – an electric clock reading 11:23. The curtains are redrawn, but there is a slight pause in the recitation, as Id gets up, and slowly starts to gyrate around the stage, arms outspread. The Voices give a collective shake, and resume.

Chorus: …. forgot their passions in their dread,

Of this, their desperation, and all hearts…

Id (Starts humming through the Chorus, and then breaks into singing): I have decided to leave you forever

I have decided to start things from here.

Thunder and lightning won’t change what I’m feeling

Chorus (slightly louder): and all hearts

Were chilled into a selfish prayer for light.

Id: And the daffodils looked lovely todaa-a-ay

Looked lovely todaa–ay.

Voice 2: Thank goodness it’s the Cranberries!

Voice 3: She’s just as likely to take up Baby Shark.

Voice 4: Shhhh! Don’t suggest it!! Do you remember

Voice 1: When she was stuck on

Voice 2: that blasted school song

Voice 4: “Come to Lushie”

Voice 3: for two whole weeks! I’ll take

Voice 1: Cranberries any day!

The curtains are briefly opened again. The clock now reads 11:34.

Ego: (Very insistent) Can we please?!?

Chorus: “Sorry!!”

Ego (gesturing at the easel): forgot their passions in their dread…

Chorus (obediently): of this, their desperation, and all hearts

were chilled into a selfish prayer for light.

Voice 3:We’ve already had this line. What comes next?

Id: There’s nooo need to argue any more.

Voice 4: Are we totally sure about that bathroom colour?

Id: I took all I could find, and left me so sore.

Voice 3: I wonder if the lighter green might be better?

Voice 1: I must remember to look again tomorrow.

Id: But the thing which makes me sad

Is the one thing that I had…

Curtains again. Clock reads 11:42

Ego (loudly): And they did live by bonfires, the thrones

The palaces of crowned kings

Chorus: (joining in with the wrong person!): Iiii knew, Iiii knew, I’d lose you…

Ego: … the huts, the habitations of all things that dwelt

Id: You’ll always be, special to me, to me.

Chorus (Sheepishly): Were burnt for beacons, cities were consumed,

And they were gathered round their burning homes

Id: Doop doo doo doo, doop doo doo doo, dooop doo doo doo.

Chorus: You’ll always be, special to me, to me.

Ego snapping: Fine! Man from Snow River it is, then.

“There was movement at the station

Chorus: eagerly: for the word had got around

That the colt from Old Regret had got away.

And had joined the wild bush horses

Id In the background, fading: Doop doo doo doo, doop doo doo doo, dooop doo doo doo.

Chorus becoming slower and quieter: He was worth a thousand pounds

And all the cracks had gathered to the fray.

Ego carrying the poem now: There was Harrison, who made his pile

When Pardon won the cup

An old man with his hair as white as snow.

Voice 3 – startling – : All earth was but one thought, and that was death!

Ego (continuing over, as they all slump to sleep):

But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up

He would go where-ever horse and man could go.

And Clancy of the Overflow…

Rediscovering Research

I have made it through four years of teaching high school. I think I can take another few, although this year had me questioning myself and my ability to handle a class, and engage certain students. There were definitely times when I was thinking about running away and joining a circus. It would have been quieter, for one thing.

More importantly, however, I think I really must get on with writing the book which has been fermenting in the back of my brain for the last umpteen years. Discussions with SH, my dear supervisor, lead to her throwing a pile of reading material at me, with instructions to do better. Then one of my friends from the library in SmallTown sent me a copy of History Today, a journal claiming some form of historicity. In it was an article by Michael Green about Wynnflaed’s Will, which I thought would be useful. Turns out there are NO footnotes or refererences, which further goes to show that I can’t be more useless than that.

I’m not really looking at creating an academic piece – possibly more of a coffee-table book, except that illustrations are pricey! What I really want to write about women and their role in the recreation of Englishness. This was part of my thesis – the part that others didn’t care that much about, but which I loved. So much of the focus of National Identity is focused on men, male writers, and with no mention even of women, but I am certain that women played a key part in the re-emergence of English as a language, and Englishness as something to aspire to.

So, whatever else happens next year, I am going to be plodding away at this. Queens, Saints and Commoners: Women and the re-writing of Englishness will be coming to a store, or screen, near you at some point. The only minor issue being that the section on “saints” is the only bit researched so far. Sure, I can do this. Actually, is anyone interested in helping? I could really do with an Art Historian, because a lot of the info on “commoners” is in illustrations.

And, as a starting point, I’ll be getting William of Malmesbury out again, because I love how he writes.

What do teachers do with all their holidays? (A Rant)

Well, usually the first week is spent being sick.  This is because it’s too hard to be sick during school time – there’s far too much to do, and setting relief takes time and energy. Usually we soldier on, on Codral, until the holidays. The minute the pressure lets up, all the bugs we’ve been fighting all term attack at once, and that first week is spent feeling miserable.

Then week two comes, and we’re desperately trying to fit in all the catching up and socialising which we had to cancel from the first week. This is the socialising where we rediscover our friends, because we’re usually rubbish at keeping up during the term.

At the same time, we’re trying to prepare for the next term – writing lesson plans, trying to balance when assignments are due, creating new materials. This is when computers come in to their evil own, because they will be downloading updates, or freezing, or the school management system will be down for maintenance. These tools are the bane of my life. They’re supposed to make things easier, but so often they fail us. We’re meant to be using digital classrooms more, but every time I plan a lesson around computers, or any shared system, we end up wasting so much time getting things up and running that we lose more than half the lesson. Sitting around, drawing with sticks in the sand would have been a more productive use of our time.

And at the same time, we’re attempting to relax and de-stress. Many of us are not extroverts, so being in front of a classroom every day requires a lot of extra energy. We can only restore that by taking some quiet time to recharge, which also has to be balanced with catching up with friends and family.

If you’re anything like me, you will spend a lot of the holiday thinking back over how the past term went, what worked and what didn’t, and how to improve it all for next year. There are the dreams – the nightmares – where lessons go horribly wrong, and you end up screaming yourself hoarse, only to wake up and wonder what sub-conscious thought triggered that disaster. You worry about individual students: those trying so hard, but failing; those who have improved, and how to keep encouraging them; those who aren’t trying at all, who are going to fail, so you’ll have to teach them all the same stuff next year (though that last is an issue for small schools, really).

Somewhere in all of this, you have to find the strength to keep going for the next term. Because that Monday is going to turn up before you know it, and you’ll have to start the circus all over again.

Book Club

How do you get a bunch of teenagers to read?  Particularly a bunch of resistant, rebellious, and incredibly noisy teenagers?  My Year Ten class (ages 14-16) are a lovely group, but they will not stop talking, and many of them don’t read for fun at all.  Or at least, that was how this year started.

My own experience of reading in school revolved around having to write book reviews. I loved reading, could not stop reading, but I hated the writing of reviews so much that it affected my reading.  My aim was to encourage the all students to read, without making them go through the torture of review-writing. Thus, I came up with Book Club.

The theory is that, every other Friday, students will bring a book which they have read, or are still reading, in the past fortnight.  They will be put in small groups – four is ideal – and they will talk about the book: what they like about it; what is perplexing; who the hero is, and why are they interesting; who they would recommend this book to.  They don’t have to write about the book themselves, just talk.

However, in order to ensure that everyone has read a book, and is pulling their weight, the person to the left of the speaker takes notes about what is said.  There is a form to fill out, but students are encouraged to talk about more than the basics on the form.  Once the first student has spoken about their book, the next one talks and has notes taken by the student to their left.  This way, at the end of about 20 minutes, there are four sheets of paper with book titles, author’s names, basic genre, and a brief outline of the book. This paper gets filed in a big lever-arch folder, so that if anyone is looking for a book to read, there are a number of them, filed roughly by genre.


This was the idea which I came up with over the summer holidays, and I was quite unsure as to how it would work with real, live students. The idea of Book Club was introduced in the first lesson, and repeatedly brought up through the weeks.  Students were directed to the library. After two weeks of teaching, with a class (well, actually two at the same level) that I could not persuade to sit quiet, could not have them listening all at once, a class which I felt quite overwhelmed by, we finally had our first Book Club.  The first 20 minutes were riotous, and I was not sure that it was working.  There was lots of talking going on, and people were writing things down.  Some people had brought along book reports, and were reading off them.  Most of them had brought books, even if some of those books were Captain Underpants. Then, at the end of those 20 – 30 minutes, I was presented with whole sheaves of paper, with titles, and sometimes authors written on them.  There was information about the books, and who should read them. Students were begging to go to the library, and others wanted to finish reading the books they had brought.  So I went along to the library with those who didn’t have books, helped some of them check out their first book ever, and headed back to the classroom.  And it was SILENT. The students who had remained behind had just gotten on with their reading.  The students coming in with new books slipped into their places and started reading.  The whole class read silently for the last 20 minutes of the period, and it was a wonderful thing.

That was only the first class, though. Surely, it wouldn’t work as well on the second class.* But it did.  It went just the same way.  There was mayhem, as students all talked at once about the books, and then silence, as they settled down to read.

And it kept working.  More than that, students were borrowing books off each other, or buying books that others had recommended, or getting them out of the library. At the first Parent-Teacher interviews of the year, one mother said, “I don’t know what you’ve done.  We’ve tried getting him to read for 13 years, and suddenly, he’s asking me to buy him books!  They’re not books I’ve read, but I’m just happy he’s reading.” The students ask when the next Book Club is, and try to work out if they’ll have finished this book in time.

Sometimes we have themes: Favourite Books; The Book of the Film (done over the first holidays, comparing books to their films); Try a Different Genre.  There was a poster-day, where they had to present a poster advertising the book. But mostly I am trying to instill in the students the joy of reading, of finding new worlds to explore.

*Because the only surety in life is that a lesson that goes perfectly with one class will crash and burn with the second class.

Quick Update

Oh, good grief!  The best laid plans of want-to-be-school-teachers-come-bloggers gang aft agley.  Cutting a long story short – I made it through Teacher’s College, was chased and hired by my second secondment school*, and had a whale of a time teaching my first year while my husband (also a PhD struggling for a job) followed me through TC, and ended up with a job this year in the same school.  This year has felt like more of a struggle, partly because I have some different classes, so am doing a lot more new preparation, while helping with the school production for the whole first term of this year.

Medieval-wise, the school I am teaching at uses the Cambridge curriculum, which is not common in NZ.  This means that Shakespeare is taught from at least Year 6, and I had so much fun with my Year 8s and Romeo and Juliet last year.  And Richard III with the Year 12s.  But best of all, this year I am teaching The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale to the Year 13s.**  Teaching is great, but it has felt so good to get back into some Chaucer over the past little while.  Watching the student’s eyes glaze over was a bit concerning, but we’ll get there.  There’s not that much difference between Year 13 and First Years at Uni, and I have 8 weeks to get them to the point where they can read and appreciate the text.

Being on the Cambridge curriculum has made it harder to integrate with other teachers using NCEA, so I haven’t been very ‘present’ online.  This is about to change (say I, with a hollow laugh, because I’ve said this before!) as I am going to be using this space as a way to keep track of my reflections, and share with you some of the things which are working, and some which are not.

So once again, Dear Reader (if you exist), I invite you to join me on a new journey, as I delve into the frustrating, yet fulfilling, world which is High School Teaching.

*OMG!  After so many years of rejection, it felt so strange to be wanted!  And they wanted to pay me!  Money, actual money!  I might one day, own a home after all. Just not in this city, because the housing market has gone mad.  But that’s a post for another blog.

** After beating out my husband for teaching the Year 13s.  The very kind VP wanted to help me, by letting me repeat teaching the Year 12s, but I explained to them that making my husband (a Romantic) teach Chaucer was akin to making a physicist teach the best bits of the Chemistry course, and being a Chemist, the VP got my point.

Waiting to teach

So, another long-overdue update.  All job opportunities fell through, until I had been enrolled at Teachers’ College for two weeks, by which time, I was quite enjoying myself, and so actually turned down a job which was offered.  Tomorrow, I begin my first placement in a small high school, and I’m looking forward to seeing live test subjects, I mean students, very much.

There was a great presentation by @MissDtheTeacher at TCol last week, on the use of social media and various e-learning channels, and in response to that, I have gotten my twitter account up and running (with the same user-name as this) so as to track and interact with people who use exciting new learning and teaching methods.  Thus, once again, this blog will take on a slightly different slant, as a way of commenting on (and hopefully discussing) new ideas, and older ideas.

One thing I am passionate about in teaching (and yes, I will be teaching English…) is reading.  I really want to work out ways to encourage students to read, and to enjoy reading.  I understand that students might not like quite the same geeky things that I like, but I really want to focus on ways of helping those who are struggling, and encourage those who are enjoying it.  As part of the English curriculum course I’m taking, we’ve been reading Young Adult novels and writing quick descriptions of them.  I’ve enjoyed some – usually the urban fantasy or sci-fi – and struggled with the normal, every-day life kind of ones.*  The more I read, the more I’ll have to recommend to students, but I also understand that some won’t want to read fiction – because fiction is not real life.  How does one explain the value of escape, or imagination, to those sort of people?  What do you like reading?

Experience from tutoring at uni suggests that those who read more write better too.  Of course, I’m going to be working on teaching students how to write properly, and the value of checking and rechecking drafts, but I want their writing to be informed by their reading as well.  And when I think of this, I run up against all sorts of issues I’ve been having while taking notes for the various classes. Spelling is not my strong suit (Middle English is much more forgiving!), though I seem to be able to spell better, with less thought, while typing than when writing with a pen.  This means I’ll have to be careful when working on the board, but will also hopefully show students that dyslexia is not something which needs to stop you from doing things – even teaching things!

So, if you have any hints on teaching reading or writing at high school level, or useful links, let me know!

*For Instance: At the moment, I’m reading something called Populazzi by Elise Allen, and I’m struggling.  The book is so pink!  And the girl is all taken up with ideas of the boy who she might be dating, or not dating, and I find it really hard to care, even though I remember marrying myself off to any number of dreamy boys at that age – not one of whom I had the guts to approach!

Hellooo, 2014

I think it’s safe to say that 2013 was seriously derailed. In many ways. And I am so glad that year is over. One more hour, and there’s a whole new year to play with/muck up.

Looking Back
My last post here was sometime in June – at which point I got a permanent position in a library, had to drive 140k a day to-and-from work, and started to totally ignore the Museum Studies papers I was doing. I ended up being a zombie when I arrived home from work, and despite only working 3 1/2 days a week, I was exhausted.

Since the end of December, I’ve been on secondment to a much much closer library. I arrive at work 10 mins after dropping of my other half, rather than 50 mins. My other half can come and meet me at the library when their work is over. I get home, and still feel like I have some life in me. (On the financial side, we’re also saving at least one tank of petrol a week, $70 or so, and working 2 extra hours makes it another $30 a week – so that a whole $100 better for two months! Such small sums, but they make a difference!)

Things I have learnt this year include:
a) Museum Studies are not really my thing. Museums still are, and I have some ideas of how to make them useful in the future, but I really only passed those papers by the skin of my teeth;
b) Librarianing is not really my thing. I enjoy the contact with people, the regular hours, and having books in their right places. I do not foresee a future for me in libraries, however, as anything I’d like to do further, which would actually use any brain-power, requires Library and Information Studies, and what I’ve seen of them bore me silly. Given how hard I found completing papers in Museum Studies, there’s no way I’m putting myself through that. I’ve done enough study, surely!?!?
c) Teaching is my thing. I took (as in, convened) a Continuing Education (read – Adult Education, for fun and curiosity, with no essays or grades) paper at the local university in the second half of the year – just a quick 6 week intro to Old English. Walking into that classroom on the first day, after 6 months away from teaching, just set me buzzing. Somehow, I have to make teaching a part of my future. Already, I have another “Intro to Old English” lined up, followed by a “Reading Beowulf”.

Looking Forward
Where is this going, then? And what does it mean for this blog? Who knows? Beyond the 28th of January, when my secondment ends, I have no clue what I am doing. I will go back to working in TinyTown for a week or so, because I want to say goodbye.

Given my interest in teaching, I have applied for Teachers’ College next year. However, I have strong reservations about that – I like teaching adults, people who want to learn. I have a romantic dream that I could be a teacher who makes a difference, who takes kids with no desire to read, and makes them all poets and play-wrights, but I’m not sure I have the stamina for it. Also, another year of study, of student debts, and not enough income…

I am also applying for various adult teaching roles around the place. I think Foundation Studies, and helping people who want to do further education, but are struggling with traditional forms of learning, would be very rewarding, and occasionally exciting. I had very good feedback from one place where I was rejected, so I’m reasonably confident I can get something in this area. I’m afraid some places will want me to do a course in Adult Education (you need the _right_ bit of paper for everything, here in NZ – they don’t seem to believe in transferable skills!), but if they’re willing to hire me, I’m willing to do a month-long Certificate.

As for writing… A couple of interesting academic type things came up last year, and I’m afraid I let them pass me by. I’m planning on spending my January as a Novel-Writing Month – it’s summer, and apart from job applications, there’s nothing much important which I need to do. So I will be up-dating (daily?) at least through January! Beyond that, we’ll see. I’m supposed to be doing some research in early printed books for a retired professor, but have not been able to do much these last months. Over January, I will spend one day a week in a private library, and another day volunteering with a DefenceForce Museum. So I should have interesting things to write about.

Looking forward, 2014 has got to be better than 2013!
Happy New Year!

Another one bites the dust.

So, I managed to get my essay off in time.  2,500 words, with 20 sources/references, left me little space to actually say anything, and, as usual, I have no idea how good it was/wasn’t.  I only came up with a decent outline the day before it was due, but by that time I had 1,400-odd words of notes.  So, trimming them a bit left me some room to tie them all together.  And since then, I’ve been more avidly avoiding writing.  

This is despite the fact that one of the avoidance techniques I used was clearing my office at last.  The calendar on the wall read March 2010.  I cleared out 10 file-boxes of thesis stuff.  I rediscovered floor space, and about 7 partly used notebooks. I have a problem with buying pretty notebooks, or even serviceable ones, and then either not using them at all, or  writing a page or two, and then forgetting the notebook exists, or hating the sight of my hand-writing, or the pomposity of the content, and not touching them again.  I am going to put them all in a line on a shelf, and work my way through them.  At least one can be used for my novel!

Writing Involves Reading

Once again, I realise that, in order to do any of the writing I need to do (either for courses, or for my ‘novel’) I need to read. How much do I need to read? The answer is always ‘more’.

However, I feel that the post-grad paper I’m trying to write (which won’t get a widget, because it’s only 2,500 words) is rather prescriptive in its lay-out. I guess they’re more used to dealing with people who’ve done more practical under-grads, like archaeology, or anthropology. Being told to use “at least 20 major sources” and to “remember to rely primarily on refereed journals” is rather strange, until you remember that ‘post-grad’ could mean this is the student’s first paper/course outside of undergrad. I wouldn’t have even thought to look at unrefereed journals, and nor would I have gone straight to the museums’ web-pages (which are not to make up more than 20% of our references) to answer the question. Different strokes for different folks…

In other projects, I’m currently reading a very well-written biography of St Catherine of Siena, which is making me re-think the scope/angle of the novel I’m wanting to / trying to write. I want it to be historically based, and even to use primary sources. I’m just trying to work out how that might fit into a speculative non-fiction text.

Also, note that I’m avoiding writing by writing about writing. Go me!

Progress at last!

I know. Once again, it has been far too long since I wrote anything here. On the other hand, I actually have some news this time. I have finished (for a given value of finished) my article and sent it off.

Work and not having a regular office in town have been hindering my writing. However, I think I now have a system up, and when I get to work at home, I have managed to get a fair bit done. Thus, it was only two days of solid work to finish the missing 3,000 words. Now, why didn’t I think of that sooner?

The buzz of finishing the article was soon eclipsed by the realisation that I now have essays due for my Museum Studies. I guess I will get back to work. Tomorrow.

And there shall be work on my novel. It might take the form of actual writing in a book, but that’s something I can do at the library.