Learning from Not Doing


I met with a fellow English teacher this week and naturally we got talking about books and then reminisced about our experiences of English when we were school kids. It was an eye-opening conversation and very funny.

You’d think we had been diligent English students who loved books and writing and came top of the class. Neither of us fit that bill! We were both daydreamers, hated reading and did the bare minimum to just stay in the top group. One of us even made a deal with a parent to write an English assignment whilst the other did the dishes and cleaned the bathroom (Okay, it was me and yes, I really did that – I couldn’t write poetry then and still can’t!)

At school, the assignments were given back and mine was unmarked. Huh?

‘Miss, you haven’t graded my assignment.’

‘Nicola, you didn’t write it.’

Glossy blue eyes and a look of indignation. ‘I did, Miss!’

Later that day… ‘Mom, you got an ‘A’ for your Whale poem.’

What a horrible child I was. But my mom was chuffed to bits.

The point is, neither my friend nor I had a good experience in English lessons during our teens and quite frankly our teachers did not inspire us. We were forced to read certain texts, forced to show appreciation of the text, forced to analyse these texts and forced to sit exams relating to these texts. As we all know, it’s not recommended to force rebellious teenagers into anything. That’s a disaster waiting to happen!

Luckily, we both learned ‘how not to inspire kids’ and now, as teachers and parents, we are both apt in recognising reluctant readers and writers in our own classes – especially the ones that sit at the back of the classroom with a mischievous look on their faces  (that used to be us). The key is to relate to each student, see the world from their viewpoint and teach them what needs to be taught in a way that they can ‘see the point’. Luckily, schools in the UK do set more interesting texts than when my friend and I were at school and even the classics can be taught in a more up-to-date, relatable context nowadays.  

Happily, we are now avid readers and love to teach and talk ‘books’!

Did your secondary/high-school English teachers inspire you? Were you forced to read certain texts? Do share any childhood memories that stand out for you.

Have a lovely week!

Comments

  1. Hi Nicola - I was hopeless in school and definitely wouldn't have made the top class ... thankfully we only had one class for us lot - so I was good at other things ... still not an exam type student.

    I don't understand English now - the analysis etc ... once I've moved in 2 days and settled I might try and do some simple classes in that direction ...

    I did read loads - but didn't understand what I was reading ... some I did obviously ... I took a rain check when my mother and uncle were in their last years and slowed down and took on their point of view - and talked to them on subjects they were interested in ... and that helped my understanding a lot.

    I can quite see where you're coming from ... and my school has changed dramatically since I left - others achieved ... but I suspect I'm a late developer, or one who never really got the chance due to circumstances of family and not being very academic at that stage.

    Great thoughts ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Hilary. I despise analysis of texts. From my point of view, writers don't write books in order for them to be analysed in great depth but to be enjoyed by the reader. And by the way, Hilary, you write beautifully and I love to read your posts :)

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  2. I credit my high school English teacher with opening my eyes to the possibilities of literature. Without him, I might not have become a writer.

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    1. There are a lot of superb teachers out there today. I am so pleased you were inspired. I hope that I have inspired students in the same way :)

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  3. That makes you both really good teachers. Forcing it on a kid isn't going to make them like it. You have to meet them at their level and find a way in.
    And yes, I was forced to read literary classics that bored me to tears. I didn't lose my love of reading, but I never want to read a literary classic again.

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    1. :) The school experience stopped me from reading for years. It was only when I had my daughter I started again. Now I can't stop!!

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  4. None of my English teachers really inspired me. I had to learn that I liked to read science fiction and fantasy on my own.

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    1. Good for you, Ken! My science teachers were quite inspirational, even though they recognised the scientific part of my brain was non-existent :) My daughter on the other hand is a complete science nerd :) Now studying for a PhD in Chemistry. Very proud mommy :)

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  5. I must admit, none of my English teachers were particularly inspirational. I loved to read as soon as I loved to read, and most of the time, I didn't care what I was reading. I ate it up!

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    1. Good for you, Christine!! And now you write books for others to eat up :) I'm loving your posts on covers - thanks so much for sharing your wisdom in that area. It is very much appreciated!

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  6. I can so relate to this. I remember being dragged through Silas Marner when I was a Sophomore. I mean, seriously? What did that dried up old classic have to do with a fourteen year old? I was lucky enough to land a great English teacher my junior year, and he turned me around with stories and essays I could relate to. Your experience benefited your students, so that's wonderful.

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    1. Luckily, the schools I've worked in over the past ten years have had very inspirational teachers. So pleased you found a teacher who inspired you in junior year. Thank you for popping by, Lee. Lovely to see you!!

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  7. Though I qualified to graduate early, I was not permitted by my father for some reason still not clear to me. ~sigh~ As a result I took fun classes like reading. Sadly, I realized it was meant as an easy passing grade for struggling students. I happily rewrote endings of stories for my assignments and took a struggling friend under my wing. The teacher enjoyed my enthusiasm, at least. :) Prior to that senior year, one English teacher in particular inspired me and hers was my favorite class that year.

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    1. So glad you had an inspirational teacher, Darla. Thank you for popping over to comment. Lovely to 'see' you.

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  8. In Jr. High, I got an F in English on a progress report because I hadn't turned in any of my work. Bah. I brought it up to a B+ before the end of the school year, but still... I wasn't one for assigned reading either. Oi! In fact, I'm not sure I read anything I was assigned to read. And book reports--UGH! Yet, here I am, a writer.

    It sounds like you're a good teacher and someone who would have made English fun.

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    1. Thank you, Loni. And here you are - not just a writer but an excellent writer!!!! You inspire me, so thank you!

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  9. I hated having to read the books assigned to me in school. I wanted to read the books I wanted to read. I did enjoy the writing assignments, though.

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    1. Thanks for popping over, Chrys. I hope Seismic Crimes is selling well and the words for the new one are flowing :)

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  10. I loved reading, but I hated English classes. Of course a big factor for loathing them was the fact that I missed the instruction of how to write a paper. They taught that in Advanced English 9 and Regular/College-bound English 10, and I was in regular English 9 and then Advanced Placement 10. No teacher figured out that was why I sometimes wrote A/B papers and other times D/F papers.

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    1. Well, you are only writing A quality now, Cherie. I didn't learn how to write an essay until I was in my twenties. Once that was achieved there was no stopping me. But then I had to learn all over again how to write fiction without being too academic :) Swings and roundabouts :) Funny, I didn't enjoy learning until I left school. Thanks for stopping by.

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  11. There are many reasons we home school. You just named one of them. =) All of my kids are STRONG readers and interest-based researchers/writers as a result. Assigned books are good to a degree--in introducing diversity, but honestly, if a kid doesn't love to read, you're wasting your time.

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    1. Not only time wasting but also increasing their reluctance to read. I had a reluctant reader and so I asked him what he actually did like to read: comics. So we started there. Once he realised that the genre of the stories he liked came in book form he embarked upon a whole new journey that led him to more enjoyment and some excellent writing too. Thank you for commenting Crystal!

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  12. I love how you got your mum to do your homework. This post so resonated with me - I had one really wonderful English teacher who really inspired me (and got past my rebellious behaviour somehow so that I loved going to her lessons). Your experience has made you a better teacher, I imagine like the lovely one I had :-) xx

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    1. I am so pleased your teacher was an inspiration, Teresa. She would be proud of your achievements, I'm sure :) Thank you so much for sharing your experience. So good to hear.

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  13. To this day I cannot bear to read Thomas Hardy (any of his works, but Tess and Far From the Madding Crowd especially) or Jane Eyre - because I had to study them so in-depth at school. I firmly believe literature should be enjoyed, not pulled apart and analysed.

    There's a great meme every so often on Facebook, along the lines of 'The curtains were blue, because the author WANTED them to be blue!'

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    1. I agree totally with you Annalisa. I think Far From the Madding Crowd was one of my books too. I never read it - just Yorks notes for the exam :) - and stared out the window during lessons (far more entertaining).

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    2. Oh how my mother would despair if she read that :) She loves Hardy and Shakespeare :)

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  14. Having a good teacher can really make a difference. My teachers for eleventh and twelfth grade English really engaged me, even when I wasn't interested in the text. I had always liked reading, but before then, I never really cared for English class.

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    1. So glad you had a positive experience in 11th and 12th grade. Thank you for popping by.

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  15. I've loved to read all my life and read fiction from the library voraciously, but I hated the books the teachers made us read in school. The classics. Ugh. I still hate Shakespeare to this day... His works might as well be written in Chinese -- I can never connect with the writing at all.

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    1. It's strange - I can't connect with Shakespeare either but my brother needed no teaching of it and just automatically gets it and loves it! He's like Harry Potter talking to the snakes :)

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  16. I was very fortunate to have a very good senior English teacher who truly motivated me in a subject I've always liked. This was after a pretty poor (but nice) junior year teacher who seemed less knowledgeable about the subject than I and a sophomore English teacher who was an ancient relic of the past--a dear lady, but atrociously boring.

    I was often pretty bad about reading and often relied on the book summaries that came with an encyclopedia set that we had in our home--kind of like an abbreviated Cliff Notes. I missed out on actually reading a great many outstanding books, some which I later went back and actually read. Students are as responsible. and maybe more so, in becoming educated as those who teach them. Teachers are in some ways like tour guides pointing out the highlights encountered along the way, but the students have to do the actual work to learn.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing, Arlee. I'm glad you had some good experiences at school and I'm happy you've read some of those books you missed out on :)

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  17. My sophomore and junior years, I had a HORRIBLE English teacher. He was just counting the hours until retirement. I even signed up for a different teacher junior year and she quit over the summer...I ended up in that bad teacher's class. Then senior year, I got the HARDEST English teacher in the state. She even won an award for being the best. It was tough to keep up, but I did okay, considering I didn't have any real English teaching for my entire high school 'til then. We had to write a limerick and she used mine as an example of what she wanted to her other classes. She didn't tell me she was doing that--others told me about it. I think that went a LONG way toward boosting my confidence as a writer. I ran into her ten years ago and told her that--and that I'm a writer now, although I wasn't published yet at that time.

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    1. Great about your Limerick, Stephanie. So pleased that teacher gave your confidence a boost. She'd be so proud of her former student now :) Thank you for sharing your experience. Have a lovely week.

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  18. I had an amazing Englush teacher in my secondary school. My mum is still in touch with him (he's well into his eighties now) and he was thrilled when he learnt i'd become a magazine writer.

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  19. I had to read certain books that I disliked, but two English teachers inspired me to write.

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    1. I'm glad you had inspirational teachers. Their work paid off :)

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  20. I loved to read as a kid, and no English teacher could knock that out of me. Not even my awful freshman English teacher.

    Sophomore and Junior years I had the same teacher. Who spent most of the year drilling us on grammar. It was tedious. And grueling. And very useful...now. Then, it was a long slog.

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    1. Honestly, I cannot remember studying any grammar at school. Wracking my brain....no. The only grammar I had in school was in the foreign languages dept. And I've since studied grammar during my German lessons over here. English grammar in school - no. Maybe I slept through those lessons or maybe they were combined so superbly in something else we were doing I didn't notice. Thanks so much for popping by, Liz.

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  21. I think its great that you have different ways to inspire and keep your students attention. I liked english class because it wasn't my first language. So everything I learned was new and fascinating. However, the English teachers were always super strict. I struggled with the assigned books and assignment for my first language (Afrikaans) and felt the way you did about your English classes. My mom had to always help me with the Afrikaans homework:)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by to share, Murees. I loved your audio blog post. I hope you keep that up :)

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  22. I admire teachers who inspire their students to perform. I can only think of one English teacher who did that for me. She was an American nun who taught me in high school.

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    1. I bet she'd be really proud to know of your accomplishments in the writing world :) So pleased you had someone to inspire you.

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  23. Hahah! I love this story. Your mum sounds wonderful and a bit of a maverick. I had one English teacher in grade eight that inspired me. The rest didn't really like teaching, and I could figure out why they chose that profession. They didn't teenagers, either.

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    1. Teaching is a challenging profession and not suited to all. Those who stop enjoying the job should find a different path rather than be ineffective. Thanks so much for stopping by, Joylene.

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  24. most of the school teaching was a sheer waste. i see your pov

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  25. Well, sounds like your putting your childhood experiences to good use in helping kids. =D

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    1. I did and I enjoyed the majority of my teaching days :)

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  26. You know what I love about your posts Nicola, its really engaging. And I really enjoy reading the subsequent conversation happening in the comments also!! I think teachers like you are rare- who really want to make that connection with a student and see a student who shies away actually bloom by the end of the year. Most learning systems, I feel have texts that like you mentioned that are forced. And it takes special teachers to still make it fun and interesting and encourage a reading habit in students.

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    1. There are a lot of special teachers out there. I was a teaching mentor for many new teachers and saw first hand how the teaching profession has changed, for the better. Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Seena.

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  27. I was lucky to have some good English teachers in school :) and today, I am an English teacher myself!!

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    1. YAY!! Really pleased you are part of the teaching profession :) Thank you for coming over to comment.

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  28. Hi, I enjoyed reading your account of lessons. I honestly can't remember much apart from loving Romeo and Juliet. We definitely never studied any grammar. Thankfully things seem to have changed lots and my 8 year old already knows more about grammar than I ever knew and I older children passed their GCSE's with A's.

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    1. So pleased your older ones passed with 'As'. Great news. I hope your 8 year old enjoys school and has some lovely teachers. Thank you so much for stopping by to comment, Marie. It's lovely 'to see' you :)

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  29. Except for one, I had some really great English teachers. Two taught me to write and a few others taught me to love reading, including sharing books from their personal libraries. I was lucky but I think too often all the testing required by schools turns kids off to writing and reading.

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    1. I think testing turns kids off school! :) So pleased you had good teachers.

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  30. Lol! I was the same, loved books, but not the structure of school...I really liked literature once I was out of high school:)

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    1. It was after I left school that I regained my passion for reading - thanks to my lovely daughter :)

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  31. I really enjoyed your post, Nicola. In school, I used to get my now husband to do my precis homework - I'm still too wordy in my writing even now! - but literature came alive for me with a wonderful English teacher. I have always loved poetry, especially, because of her.

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    1. Thank you, Jan. It's so nice to hear about inspirational teachers. Have a lovely week.

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  32. I had an amazing 12 year English teacher that encouraged me greatly. I did well in her class and even wrote several poems. I remember getting a near failing grade on my Anna Karenina paper though. Ouch! But I redeemed myself with an excellent paper later on Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan.

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    1. Good for you, Tamara! We're all allowed to mess up from time to time. So pleased you redeemed yourself :) Thank you for popping over.

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  33. Although my mother tongue is English, I am fluent in French. I had a few great French teachers in high school who were a big encouragement to me and I am very grateful for them. You have a lovely blog. Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. :)

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  34. I agree! I never liked the classes and reams of analysis and questions, and mostly my Literature teachers were not inspirational. I was an avid reader outside the classroom though :)

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