Wednesday, July 15, 2020

School teaching vs home teaching

Teaching 30 children professionally 

Okay. What book do you want to read today?

"I'd love to read the book about sharks!"
"Can we read something by Roald Dahl please?"
"The Dr Seuss book! Please please please!"

Wow, I love your enthusiasm! Let's do the shark book today and we'll look at the others later in the week. Boy A. Could you start reading please? 

"Blah blah blah fluent fluent fluent blah blah blah."

That's really nicely read Boy A, well done! Girl B can you have a go at the next page please? 

"Blah blah blah fluent fluent fluent blah blah...stuck."

Okay let's break the word down. Can you read the first part?

"First part fluent."

Well done. Now, looking at the picture, what do you think the rest of the word might say? Can you read it all now? 

"Think think think...fluent fluent fluent."

Excellent Girl B! Well done for persevering. 

Boy C? Your turn now...fantastic! 

Girl D off you go...brilliant reading! 

Well done everyone. Off you go for break time. 

Teaching one child at home 

 Okay, what book do you want to read today? 

"Can I have a biscuit Daddy?"

Later. What book would you like to read. 


One book and then you can have a snack.  

"A chocolate biscuit?"

No. Something healthy. 

"A piece of cake?"

No. Something healthy. 

"Ice cream?"


"Stop shouting Daddy."

Sorry. Yes you can have some ice-cream, but please let's read this first. Shall I choose one? 


How about this one? 


Right...which one do you want to read? 

"That one."

Okay...we did have this one yesterday...


Okay okay, fine! Right, page one, off you go. 

"Daddy does Batman have a motorbike?"

No...well, sometimes I think. Page one. Off you go. 

"Does he have a helicopter?"

No. Page one. 

"If he doesn't have a helicopter then..."



It's okay. Right. This is Chip. This is Kipper. Who's this? 


Well done! Great sounding out. Just one letter wasn't quite right...the last one is the same as the third one. So who is it?


Not quite. Remember that the third letter and the last letter are exactly the same. Have another go. 

"B...I...F... Daddy is Moana a goody or a baddy?"

Definitely a goody. What's the last letter sweetheart? 


YES! YES! Praise the Lord yes! So...have a go at the whole word..." 



"Don't shout at me!"

Sorry...sorry sweetheart. You remember we said the third and fourth letters are the same? So what do you think it might say?


Okay, okay fine. Let's move on to page 2. 

"No Daddy, not yet! We didn't read this sentence about Biff!"

Sorry, you're right. Well done you read it! Off you go then, from the start. 

"B...I... Daddy could eighteen velociraptors beat a T-rex?"

No. Yes. I don't know. Please read son. 

"B...I...F... But Daddy if the...

Son if you love Daddy you need to read this word. 

"But you said we were reading the next page."

Yes I know I did but then you said you didn't want to! 

"Okay okay okay. B...I... Daddy...?"




"What's the matter Daddy?"

Just eating my face son. 

"Can I have some ice-cream now?"

Yes. Yes. Yes. Anything but this. 

"Well done Daddy. Same time tomorrow?"

Sunday, June 28, 2020

A few honest opinions...

Today I spent about seven hours building Ikea furniture: by the sixth hour I wanted to take my hammer to the smiling man with his phone attached to the Ikea building and smash his face in with it.

Then this evening I enjoyed listening to this video clip from Jonathan Pie which a friend posted on Facebook.

For these two reasons I'm feeling slightly reckless, irritated and brave. I'm fed up of woke culture and, despite being someone who proudly identifies with (broadly) left-wing values, I'm both embarrassed and concerned about the way that some 'liberal' factions have taken it upon themselves to regulate other people's thoughts and demonise those who have the 'wrong' opinions. I'm also proud to call myself a Christian, but am similarly embarrassed and concerned that I recently heard a colleague at work, in a discussion about religion, say "Christians? They're the anti-gay ones aren't they."

So, in the interests of complete honesty and in a reckless "up yours" to the thought police, I'm going to express a few opinions.

1. The decision to remove programmes like Little Britain, Come Fly With Me and episodes of Fawlty Towers from various TV channels - as well as the decision by the creators of The Simpson's to no longer employ white actors to impersonate BAME characters - is either (at best) a misguided attempt to do the right thing, or (at worst) a commercially motivated effort to be seen to do the 'right' thing. The murder of George Floyd was reprehensible, outrageous and tragic and the Black Lives Matter movement, along with all attempts to create a more equal and tolerant society, have my whole-hearted and undying support. But let's think about ways that we can genuinely make a difference and not succumb to knee-jerk tokenism.

2. It's both ridiculous and dangerous to try and pretend that gender is some kind of out-dated, unnecessary or oppressive concept. Some people are born male. Some people are born female. You have the freedom to live your life in any way that you like and so long as you're trying to be kind and compassionate, I won't be judgmental. But don't try to deny or repress one of the most fundamental facts of life.

3. Sea-gulls are bastards. So are pigeons. They steal your food and they shit on your head in front of large groups of children that you're trying to teach. No? Just me then...

4. Piers Morgan sometimes...sometimes...makes a good point.

5. Some Conservative voters are kind, compassionate, good people. As are some Brexit voters.

6. The belief that gay people will go to hell if they do not commit to a celibate life is plain wrong. It's based on a 'rule-book' approach to scripture, failing to consider the holistic, love-centred arc of the Bible's narrative which shows us that God's plan for His people is constantly changing and adapting so as to be gracious and inclusive: 'See, I am doing a new thing!' (Isaiah 43:19)

7. 'All's fair in love and war' is bollocks.

8. I greatly respect and admire JK Rowling as a person, but as an author she's average.

9. Roald Dahl wipes the floor with her.

10. Car mechanics, IT specialists and people who are competent at DIY have a sole purpose in life - to make me feel inadequate, stupid and useless.

If you disagree, please tell me. Explain to me why. I promise to take your views seriously. I'd rather poke myself in the eye than assume that I'm right and you're wrong and I'm genuinely open to the possibility that you'll change my mind.

But don't rage and scream and shout at me for having opinions of my own. I have a wife and five-year-old child who do that for me.       


Saturday, June 6, 2020

Thank you Donald!

Now look - please just hear me out.

Like many others I too have felt shocked, outraged, appalled and dismayed about a certain 8 minute and 46 second video that came out of the USA last week. Words have felt totally inadequate and I've been too depressed and overwhelmed to write or even speak very much about it. But then this morning I read this article by ex-footballer Liam Rosenior in The Guardian and it got me thinking. And what it got me thinking was something that I never imagined I'd ever think in a million years.

I am just a little bit pleased that Donald Trump is the American President at this particular moment in time.

Let me try to explain.

I'm one of many teachers who will tell you that arguments, fights and disagreements between boys are often a great deal easier to deal with than those that happen between girls. A few years ago, I had two volatile, belligerent and bad-tempered boys in my class. They didn't like each other and enjoyed finding ways of winding each other up to the point where blows were exchanged. Their strategies for doing so became highly time-efficient. One of the boys - let's call him Malcolm - had yellow teeth. The other - Derek - had a mother with a mole on her cheek that looked a little bit like a dark red rice krispie. These unfortunate features were the lines of attack that Malcolm and Derek used to taunt each other. The whole thing would kick off in seconds. Malcolm would walk into the classroom, make eye-contact with Derek and point to his cheek. Derek would respond by miming the action of brushing his teeth. One or the other would then let out a cry that was usually some variation of "Fuck off!" and they would fall on top of each other, punching and kicking.

It wasn't pleasant and it needed to stop (although it was also hilarious at times) but at least the problem was obvious, blatant and in-your-face. Two boys are insulting each other. Two boys are punching each other. Something has to be done. Something needs to change. This can't continue.

But girls? Don't even get me started.

So often they are charming, polite and compliant on the surface. Then you find out about the most appalling bullying and you question them about it. Why have you done this? Why have you said this?

"Well Mr Shepherd, I know we're in Year 6 now but when we were in Year 3 she didn't play with me once at lunchtime and it upset me." 

"Well Mr Shepherd, she invited me to her party but she also invited some other girls and I'd told her only to invite me because I'm her best friend and I didn't want all those other girls to go, so that's why I wrote it." 

"Well Mr Shepherd, she's been really nice to me ever since I've known her but in a previous life in the eighteenth century she wore the same bodice as me to a party so that's why I don't like her." 

And to be honest, as a teacher you sit there thinking: "How on earth do I deal with this? This is so subtle and disguised and yet so deeply embedded that I don't even know where to start."

And in this admittedly limited and tenuous analogy, I suppose that Donald Trump is a boy and so many of the leaders that came before him are girls.

I think it's both naive and cynical to believe that all political leaders are corrupt and wicked, but so many of them for so long have been very good at saying the right things and conveying the right image, but underneath the surface the prejudice, inequality, bitterness and resentment have gone largely unchecked. The lies have ultimately been exposed and the trust has gone. Margaret Thatcher inspired people by quoting St Francis of Assisi - "Where there is despair, may we bring hope." But for many millions she brought the exact opposite. Bill Clinton told his nation and the world that he did not have sex with that woman - ever. But he did.

What's the problem with these people? Simple. They're girls.

But Donald?

He's the boy who walks into the classroom and starts punching people. It's odious and repulsive and wrong. But at least it's blatant. At least you can see it. And if it's blatant and visible then you and I and millions of others can stand together and say "NO! I won't stand for it! This is not how I want the world to be!"

Don't you dare use military force so that you can stand in front of a Church with a Bible and claim to champion the beliefs of a faith that stands for freedom, inclusivity, diversity and tolerance.

Don't you dare threaten to kill (largely) peaceful protesters who are outraged that they live in a world where people are murdered in the street because of the colour of their skin.

Don't you dare try to create and stoke division and hostility in society to serve your own ends.

We won't stand for it. And because you're not clever enough to be subtle about it, you will - with a lot of hope and prayer - help to create a society that stands for everything that you seem to be opposed to.

So, thank you Donald! Thank you for being a boy. Thank you for making it so easy and obvious. Thank you for bringing all of this ugliness to the surface and not hiding it away. Because now we can see it for what it is. And believe me, we won't stand for it.         

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Dominic Cummings - what should he do next?

Off with his head!

Not literally, but when I saw that even The Daily Mail was calling for the sacking of a Tory government stalwart, it well and truly felt like we'd fallen down the rabbit hole and quoting Alice In Wonderland felt somehow appropriate. Mr Cummings has been a naughty boy and has upset a lot of people. His fall from grace may not come very soon, as Boris first needs to figure out how to make decisions without him, but this whole episode will probably prove to be the beginning of the end for Dom.

What should he do next? If the way he looked at the press conference yesterday is anything to go by then keeping score at primary school sports days might be one way that he can make himself useful. However, I think he can do better than that. As we all know, Dominic likes a catchy slogan. He is also one of the most famous names in the country, so I've been thinking of a few alternative careers that could combine both the name and the slogan to help him establish a lucrative life after Downing Street.

1. Demonic Cummings
His very own occult business. Specialising in summoning spirits that are now long dead, such as the Spirit of Political Campaign Integrity, or the Ghost of Tory Credibility Past.

2. Dominic Cumins 
His own range of herbs and spices. Each one would have its own catchy slogan, such as 'Thyme to go' and 'Oregano resign or what?'

3. Dominic's Cumings 
A one-man sperm donor business.

4. Dom. I nick cumings 
The black market or 'dark web' equivalent of the more respectable 'Dominic's Cumings'. This would essentially involve the theft of sperm samples for fathers who wished to remain anonymous. His old boss would be his first customer.

5. Dummy Nick Coming 
A logistics and delivery company that would provide temporary relief for HM Prisons by providing pop-up, 'dummy' jails at a fraction of the cost. Not to be used for hardened criminals, of course, but those who need just a few nights in the slammer as punishment for minor criminal offences, such as driving 30 miles to a beauty spot when you can't see properly.

6. Dumb Nick Coming 
A signal system to let people know when anyone who doesn't have the faculty of coherent speech is about to enter the room. Tory Party conference would undoubtedly be a target customer.

7. Dummy Nit Combings
An Idiot's Guide to getting rid of headlice.

8. Dummy Not Coming
A guide-book for parents who want to wean their infants off a pacifier. Either that or a means of informing the media whenever the PM is due to be absent from the daily briefing. 

9. Damn Eye! Not coming
A database of ready-made excuses for when you really don't want to go to a social event. Alternatively, a database of entirely valid excuses for why one shouldn't drive 30 miles to a beauty spot.

10. Tummy Nip Coming 
A range of DIY at home procedures for helping people to lose weight. Very appropriate for an individual who has himself become excess baggage.

Of course, all of these ventures would take time to set up, so if Mr Cummings does lose his job then I'd recommend he spends the first few moments reading 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf', a cautionary tale of what happens when someone who prides themselves on their ability to bend the truth suddenly finds that he desperately needs to rely on the trust and goodwill of other people. 


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Let's (not) play the Blame Game!

With hindsight, I should have organised a sweep-stake nine weeks ago.

It was inevitable that this would happen. The sense of togetherness and unity that characterised the early weeks of this pandemic was never going to last: they wouldn't have allowed it. It's not in their interests. The only question was...who was it going to be?

Sorry, I'll try to be more clear. The sweep-stake that I should have set up nine weeks ago was - specifically - this:

"Who will the Daily Mail try to scapegoat first??"

But I'm too late! We know the answer now. And a depressingly predictable one too.

Teachers! Of course!

Feckless, lazy, obstinate, work-shy, union-loving bastards the lot of them!

Actually, on this occasion, I think the beloved DM might have misjudged the mood. Criticism for the government's plans to re-open schools on June 1st have come from a range of sources: parents; the British Medical Association; the devolved governments. There is a lot of genuine sympathy towards a group of people who are concerned about returning to a potentially unsafe working environment in which an infection that could kill them or the people they come into contact with is still rampant. Shocking, I know!

Still, even if they have got it wrong, nothing would have stopped the Daily Mail from adopting its strategy of choice: Who can we blame?! Which group can we demonise in order to distract our readers from the real problem?!

We've had some gorgeous weather lately. Because of this, and because we're British, lots of men have started taking their shirts off. I was looking at a shirtless guy just the other day (in a totally non-pervy way obvs - although he was pretty ripped...) and noticed a tatto across his back: 'Only God can judge me'.

Now my instinctive concern whenever I see someone displaying this is that they use it as an excuse for being a tosser, but aside from that, I couldn't agree more. Only God can judge me. Only God can judge you.


Because no-one else can do it right. And it's a tragedy that we even try. One of the traps we fall into is to judge by category. We have no way of knowing all of the millions of different factors that determine a person's character and behaviour, so we look at a group they belong to and judge them according to that.

"Blame the teachers!"

"Blame the Tories!"

"Blame the football fans!"

"Blame the social workers!"

"Blame the Muslims!"

"Blame the Jews!"

It's dangerous and wrong and we shouldn't do it. I'm guilty of doing it too and I want to try and stop. In that spirit, I'm going to say this:

Our next-door-but-one neighbours are an elderly couple. He loves a can of Fosters, enjoys sitting in the garden and I like talking to him about football. She looks after our cat every time we go away, with no expectation of thanks or reward. She puts pages of colouring activities through our letter-box which she thinks my son would enjoy doing. At Halloween, they invite us to go and see their pumpkins. At Christmas, we go and see their decorations.

And they read the Daily Mail.

I don't know why and I'd rather they didn't. But I do know that there is far, far more to both of them than their choice of paper. They are, in so many ways, kind, decent, good people. So I'm not going to judge them. Because that would be wrong.

And hopefully, when they read the last few front pages of their favourite newspaper, they won't judge me either.       

Saturday, May 9, 2020

You can't handle the truth!

This is a story about three boys: a fourteen year old; a ten year old; and Luke Skywalker.

The fourteen year old was me in 1994. I went with a youth group to the local cinema. The younger half were going to watch some kiddies' film whilst the older and cooler ones were seeing 'The Bodyguard', which was a 15 certificate. I was determined to be older and cooler. I approached the ticket desk with absolute confidence: I'd recently started shaving and my voice had broken the previous Summer. I was Barry White with bum fluff. There's no way she wouldn't believe I was fifteen. Unless, of course I did something really stupid like...I don't know...this:

"Ticket for 'The Bodyguard' please."
"Here you are, that's £5.10 please."
"No, no. I pay £3.50, I'm only fourteen."
"Then you can't go and watch The Bodyguard can you?"

I spent the next two hours with the local kindergarten watching a bunch of animated puppets singing, feeling depressed partly because I wanted to watch 'The Bodyguard', but mostly with my own stupidity.

The ten year old boy is an ex-pupil. I shouldn't really use his real name. I can think of lots of different names to call him, some of which I used when he wasn't listening, but none of those would be appropriate here, so I'll call him...Trevor.

Trevor was a very clever boy who could be charming and funny, but he had a volatile temper which was often triggered by the most innocuous of circumstances. Teaching him was like walking through a mine-field: one minute all would seem calm and peaceful, then with virtually no warning at all he'd be punching another child in the face, or throwing a chair across the room, or standing in the doorway and informing me (in a voice that the whole school could hear) that I was a female reproductive organ who was currently engaged in sexual activity.

The most challenging thing about managing Trevor wasn't his day-to-day behaviour. It was the attitude of his parents. I honestly believe that I could have sat them down at the end of the day and told them that their son had single-handedly triggered a nuclear holocaust in the West Midlands, and still the response would have been: "Well who's wound him up then??!...Who's done something to him to make him behave like that??!...Who gave him the Uranium??!!...He doesn't do that at home!!...What are you teaching him that for??!...Why aren't you doing nothing about it??!!"

I kind of get it, to be honest. As a parent it must be upsetting and humiliating to be told that your child has very serious behaviour problems and probably needs professional help. The problem is, it was the truth. A couple of years after teaching Trevor, I bumped into a colleague who still worked at the school. I asked after Trevor. He'd been permanently excluded from secondary school because his behaviour was completely unmanageable. His parents had had to take time off work in order to try and home-school him. I feel sorry for Trevor. In spite of everything, I genuinely liked him. And I wonder how things would have turned out if Mum and Dad had been brave and humble enough to accept the truth.

If only they'd been more like Luke Skywalker. He had the courage and the humility. The most psychotic and evil individual you've ever met. Your sworn enemy who's just chopped your hand off. And what's the next thing he tells you?

"I am your Father!"

NOOOO! Anyone but HIM! I can't deal with that!!

But Luke did deal with it. He was in denial, then in shock, then depressed...but he eventually accepted the truth, difficult as it was. And at the end of the next movie, it was only by crying out "Father!" to Darth Vader that he saved both his own life and the soul of his Dad.

If Darth Vader is the voice of uncomfortable truth, I wonder what he'd have said to my fourteen year old self?

"Accept that you're fourteen. Either that or don't be a colossal idiot."

What would he have said to Trevor's parents?

"This is your son. This is how he really is. Be upset and angry if you need to be, but don't deny it. Accept the truth and we might be able to get somewhere."

What would he say to Matt Hancock...Boris Johnson...Donald Trump? 

What would he say to me. Right here, right now?

Get to know the truth. It might be hard, but the truth will set you free. 


Sunday, May 3, 2020

My Favourite Albums

People are getting a bit reflective at the moment, aren't they? Facebook is full of it:  '10 photos that make me proud to be a Mum'... '10 movies that have made an impression on me'...'10 albums that have changed my life'...'10 shoe-horns that rocked my world'...'10 types of instant gravy that led me to a higher plane of consciousness' and so on and so on. Maybe we're all contemplating our mortality a bit more at present and feel more inclined to be open about the things that have shaped and influenced us.

I'm feeling a bit left out, to be honest, because I haven't been nominated to do any of these 'Top 10' things. I probably wouldn't do it anyway, mainly because I'd struggle to think of ten anything that have influenced me in a profound way. So, I'm going to do music albums, right here and right now. There won't be ten of them, I'm not going to spread them out over a number of days and I don't intend to nominate anyone else. Apart from that it'll be the same as everyone else's. Here goes:

First album I owned. I was eight and having my first celebrity crush on Kylie Minogue. I didn't really get pop music at this point and thought that Terence Trent D'arby's song 'Sign Your Name' was about open heart surgery. I was also confused by Sinitta's 'So Macho', because it contained the lyrics:  I don't want no seven stone weakling.  At the time I weighed about four and a half stone and so assumed that Sinitta only wanted to be friends with fat kids.

I spent most of my teens and twenties hating this music but have got more into it again recently. Prefab Sprout's 'The King of Rock and Roll' is brilliant. 

About four years older and so much cooler! Naive and foolish people have since claimed that by the time I got this in 1992, the cool kids were actually releasing their rage and angst by listening to Nirvana, but I'm having none of it. I was by this point a nerdy church kid who wore plimsolls to football practice and had a hair-cut like Ronald McDonald. Listening to Axl Rose swear and smashing the hell out of my drum-kit like Matt Sorum was all I had. Don't take it away from me!


Of course! Who didn't? I was actually more of a Blur fan, but this was iconic and it was all everyone listened to for about a year. It gave hope to those of us who played an instrument as well, because I'd listen to the drumming on all these tracks and think: "I can do that." It kind of became a victim of it's own success though, because it really was played to death in 1996. The first time I heard 'Wonderwall' I thought it was magnificent. Six months later?  Today, Is gonna be the day... Shut up. Shut up. SHUT UP.

I discovered this one late. A friend from sixth form who was on a music course asked me to drum with his band for one of their assessed performances, and 'Killing In The Name Of' was one of the tracks they covered. What a blast! If there's a better rage-release song then I've yet to hear it. Who doesn't occasionally want to jump up and down screaming  "F*** YOU I WON'T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!!!"

I started listening to it at home, but was always worried that the swearing would get me into trouble, so if ever I thought Mum and Dad were within ear-shot I'd replace the word 'Fuck' with a loud "WOW!!" My altered lyrics went something like this:

"WOW!! what you tell me!" 
"WOW!! what you tell me!" 


My brother-in-law is a particularly brilliant mathematician who may one day change the world, but as far as I'm concerned his greatest gift to humanity will always be introducing me to this album. Effortlessly brilliant. Although I quickly learnt it wasn't appropriate to walk into Church singing  'Ring-a-ding ding ding, I'm going down.' 

And finally, how about a renassisance? My five year old absolutely loves this at the moment:

And...guilty confession...I love his music too. It has resulted in some tricky exchanges with said five year old though:

"Daddy, you know Thriller?"
"Yes son."
"Michael Jackson isn't really a zombie, is he?"
"No, no, sweetheart. It's just make-up and costume. It's not real."

"Daddy, you know Bad?"
"Michael Jackson isn't really bad, is he?"
"Err...well...not bad, no, but...oh look it's lunch time."

"You know 'Smooth Criminal?"
(Oh please son, no...)