Archive for July, 2013

The school I teach at, as part of its 150 year anniversary celebrations, has been hosting our brother school from Tonga. This is an interesting story in itself, as this College was founded by the same “first” headmaster, only 3 years later, in 1866. 

We have 90 boys and staff staying with our boys and staff, as billets. It has been an inspiring and often humbling experience. Those we are hosting come from a situation of limited means, yet their spirit and ability to give makes us look like minnows by comparison. In our chapel on Sunday evening, we were blown away by the performances of their choir and brass band, respectively and together. At the time, our Headmaster made an astute observation; despite our financial and technological strength, we are the ones who receive the greater benefit from our mutual relationship. Why might this be surprising, when we aim to support them with educational and financial aid each year?

Simply, it amounts to the idea that those who have least to give, often have the most to offer and the greatest generosity to boot. From my perspective, it highlights the power of service. Another, former, headmaster of mine, took pains to explain to the students that to be a leader in a school does not equate as the one who gives all the orders. Instead, a true leader is demonstrating their ability and capacity to serve. This observation struck me at the time and came back into view with the current visit from our Tongan friends.

While it is commendable for our community to make donations that support charities, the greater recognition for us comes from when we give of our time. There are occasions when I feel that (and this is not meant to be a nasty thought by any means), it is simpler for us to make a monetary donation and, perhaps, in doing so, salve our conscience from larger concerns. By contrast, I have appreciated the accounts from our students and staff who, when visiting Tonga, have been met with a people who give up their own residences to house us, who stay up the whole night preparing banquets and cutting down the trees to ensure that there is sufficient firewood for the feast to take place. Their love of God, of community and generosity is a lesson to all at my school. I reiterate that it has been a humbling experience.

I sometimes get asked whether, being an English teacher means that I want students to be able to learn how to read and write (put a little simplistically). I tend to observe that, for me, I would rather that I encourage students to have the ability to actively question the world around them, than they have a set of rote learnt answers. Additionally, I would like my students, to have that wider world view – one that recognises the need of others and how best to further those aims. I hope that the lessons of this week will have a lasting effect, long after our Tongan brothers have returned to their homeland.

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How many times, as a child, have we heard this phrase?

Illustration by Warwick Goble to Beauty and th...

Illustration by Warwick Goble to Beauty and the Beast: the heroine is the youngest daughter in her family. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I get you to think about what it means in your mind, like a Pavlovian response, you’d have your imagination firing off possibilities. Quite possibly incorporating images of Fairy Tales, Fantasy, stories set in an indeterminate past. Princes and princesses and simple moral codes. Quite possibly it suggests other or further ideas for you. It was only when my daughter was watching Play School on TV recently, when a presenter began a story with this well-worn phrase

Once upon a time

that I gave it closer scrutiny. And I realised that I, for one, had not really given much (any?) thought as to what this actually means. My own coding sees my mind shift straight away into the premise that I am about to be told a story, quite possibly with an authoritative voice and my own position as listener being that of (or similar to) a child. But thinking about this phrase more closely, it struck me as odd. It sounds like a point being placed on a timeline, when the event that you are about to hear takes place – surely this is not a particularly striking idea to put into a child’s mind? At worst it sounds too clinical – like some kind of science experiment, rather than a story involving flights of fancy and fantasy. Perhaps this is the reason that teachers soon steer students away from using this cliched start in their own writing.

A few years ago, I recall hearing an actor discussing his role as Richard in Shakespeare’s play Richard III. The opening lines will be familiar to many:

Now is the winter of our discontent

Made glorious summer by this son of York;

What made this interview noteworthy was his observation that he (and I apologise for being unable to remember the actor’s name) had, for some weeks, been rehearsing these lines without actually understanding what they meant. My memory of the interview was that having admitted to this and saying that this was, it appeared, a not uncommon mistake, he did not go on to clarify what the two lines meant. This set me musing on them, and wondering whether it involved the use of double negatives, which often confused people at the best of times (the “I haven’t done nothing” kind of thing). My understanding of the line is that, from Richard’s perspective, he means the following: If it is the winter of your unhappiness, then are the times actually good for you (the opposite being the summer of your happiness, rather than the summer of your unhappiness, if that make’s sense). Thus the “glorious summer” is a real downer for Richard – who revels when the times are bad, making the most of his own political run when chaos reigns.

What other phrases do we take at face value, rather than giving them the necessary scrutiny?