Meet our Cohort 2018/19Back
Sacha Carroll: English trainee
22nd February 2019
‘Facts alone are wanted in life’, expounds Mr. Gradgrind in Charles Dickens’s Hard Times. ‘I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it’, exclaims Ms. Trunchbull in Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Wicked teachers, much like wicked step-mothers, pervade literature. They are obstinate, obtuse, and overbearing. And where there is a wicked teacher, there is a vulnerable child with premature and profound wisdom. It is the child who teaches the teacher a lesson. It is the teacher who must learn humility. Whilst the caricatures of Dickens and Dahl are, fortunately, caricatures that we are unlikely to encounter in the classrooms of our schools, there are real lessons we can learn from the words of Mr. Gradgrind and Ms. Trunchbull.
‘Now, what I want is, Facts’, implores Gradgrind to one of his students, Sissy. Sissy, whose father works with horses at a circus, is instructed by Gradgrind to define a ‘horse’. When Sissy fails, her classmate Bitzer offers a zoological profile. Sissy is scolded by Gradgrind for her inability to produce facts and for her childish fancy. Gradgrind must learn that teaching is more than dispelling facts and that flights of fancy are both valuable and venerable. This is a lesson that is easier to learn than it is to put into practice. Time, data, progress – it all gets in the way. Sometimes it seems that all you have time for in a lesson is to secure those facts; to make things stick and then move on. I’d like to share a piece of advice given early to me by a colleague: ‘Don’t let pedagogy crush you’. When you begin teaching it often feels like there’s no room for manoeuvre; like you’re being crushed beneath the weight of time, data, and progress. The trick is not to let it grind you down; to remember the value of fancy and the fruitlessness of factually defining a ‘horse’. There is always time to consider, as Sissy does, the carpeting of floors with pictures of flowers.
Who could forget the moment when Bruce Bogtrotter is forced to feast on Ms. Trunchbull’s 18-inch chocolate cake in front of the whole school? As he’s close to giving up, close to letting Trunchbull win, Matilda and the others encourage him, cheer him on, and he succeeds. Being a teacher requires many hats. All at once, with 30-plus charges in your care, you’re a motivator, negotiator, comedian, mentor, referee, entertainer and drill sergeant. But when you’re faced with a class of unruly year 10s in a hot room period 3, or a class of year 7s whining wearily after their lunch, it’s hard to be a mentor and a motivator. You’ll wear that drill sergeant’s campaign hat as if Matilda has superglued it to your head. Sometimes you’ll wish that isolation was a chokey – or maybe not. Either way, remember that Bruce Bogtrotter could not have finished that cake without support, challenge, motivation, kindness, and resilience. Ms. Trunchbull’s high expectations, coupled with a drill sergeant’s rage, were not enough.
You may be big, and they may be small, and facts may be important, but carpeting the floors with pictures of flowers and eating 18-inch chocolate cakes can make us better teachers.
5th December 2018
Upon completing my MA degree at Queen Mary University I decided that I wanted to begin sharing my knowledge and passion for English that had, at its roots, the lessons that had so influenced and inspired me at school.
Before joining Harris I had many preconceived ideas of what the experience of teaching would look like, both as a teacher and as a School Direct Trainee. The biggest misconception I had when beginning the teacher training sessions was that there would be an absence of critical exploration surrounding my subject. I assumed that pedagogy would be pragmatic; that we would be dealing with the practicalities of teaching in the classroom, with little, or less, emphasis on theoretical, conceptual exploration. My concerns, however, were unwarranted. The weekly training sessions at Bermondsey have been one of the most enriching aspects of training to teach with Harris.
Indeed, each session encapsulates so much more than what is typically associated with becoming a teacher. While they are certainly designed to complement and enhance our teaching in a practical sense, they are also academically inspiring and thought-provoking. As an English specialist, I have found many of the sessions to be invaluable, not only to the development of my pedagogical methods and practice, but also to my on-going academic pursuits. Sessions surrounding the teaching of controversial issues, for instance, have allowed me to reflect deeply on my own subject knowledge and to re-approach or re-design my own thinking before influencing the thinking of my students. Moreover, sessions on inclusivity such as ‘Trans Children: Myth-Busting and Best Practice’ and ‘Autism and Education’ have encouraged me to challenge outmoded and ubiquitous narratives in society that perpetuate through the literature that we teach and the ways in which we teach it.
Training to teach is more edifying than I ever could have imagined. Teaching is, perhaps, the most human job there is and training with Harris has afforded me with an unparalleled start.