Posts tagged: teaching

Philosophy, Booklists and The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Under the Rainbow at the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival

Blue sky, white clouds and a rainbow over a beach scene

My day at the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival began with John Gray on ‘The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom.

book cover The Soul of the MarionetteThere were a lot of questions:

  • Can knowledge set us free?
  • Will we ever understand ourselves well enough to design a better version?
  • Do we really want to be free?

There weren’t a lot of answers but I did come away with a list of authors who might help with my research: Philip K. Dick, Theodore Powys, Gertrude Bell, Michel de Montaigne might help me see life a little more clearly which might mean less disturbed by the beliefs of the world around me.

I’m all for a closer examination of beliefs, their nature, their shifting sandiness and our unwitting of living as if they were true and this was a thoroughly enjoyable stroll in that direction.



On, then, to A Celebration of the Life and Work of Judith KerrA little girl opens to the door to a huge, lovable, cartoon tiger

What a life and what wonderful work Judith Kerr continues to create. 92 years old and as entertaining, gently profound
and moving as ever, Judith Kerr is an absolute delight.

I read ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ to children at school, to my own children, and now to my grandchildren and it has an irrepressible charm. Who knew that the illustrations include two versions of the father? I must go back and have another look.

And then, of course, there was ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ and now we have ‘Mister Cleghorn’s Seal’ based on her father’s real experience of saving the life a seal pup and taking it home to his flat to live on the balcony.

I hope I can be so irrepressible, good humoured and lively when I’m 92.


“Can you remember a time before you could read?

Hilary Mantel’s Life in Books conversation picked up a thread touched upon by Judith Kerr who questioned the content of the Janet and John books she encountered in school.  Whether it was Janet and John, “John has two caps.”; Nip and Fluff “Nip is a dog. I see a dog.”; or Peter and Jane, it seems wonderful that we ever saw the point in learning to read unless, like Hilary Mantel, you managed to discover a world of books actually worth reading.

Amid this fascinating conversation books and authors tumbled like a glorious domino rally with one book prompting another until my notebook was almost full.  ‘Kidnapped’ clearly deserves revisiting as I had completely failed to notice the perfection in its form. Oliver Sacks, Beryl Bainbridge, and Ivy Compton-Burnett are all favourites of my own who were highly commended while I admit my ignorance re Molly Keane, Sybille Bedford and Alison Lurie.

I’ve added them all to my ‘must read’ list, and I still haven’t finished reading “John Aubrey – My Own Life” by Ruth Scurr so I’m ill-prepared for tomorrow!


Science, Maths and Lady Macbeth

Why Poetry? Why Art?

I like to get up early, an hour or so before I need to, and read poetry. In that quiet time when the rest of my world is still dreaming, my mind is loose. It is as if I am still dreaming. I read and then I write and in the writing I discover thoughts and ideas that I might never have encountered in any other way.

When I was teaching I would tell stories.

nlp Devon - Atoms combine in a petri dish

Stories which might seem unconnected with the work at hand. One of my favourites was to tell was the story of Lady Macbeth at the beginning of science and maths lessons. It was unexpected. What did I think I was doing? How did it fit the curriculum planned for that day? How could it possibly be relevant to the maths or the science on the timetable?

I didn’t know. There’s the rub. I couldn’t say in advance what connections pupils would make, how their developing, imaginative, creative brains might link two thoughts, two experiences, one lesson and one dream, and come up with something entirely new that transformed their understanding.

But they did. Time and time again they amazed me by learning something I could not have taught them in any other way.

Science and maths

In a lesson timetabled SCIENCE we were studying autumn and natural cycles. I told the story. A six year old boy, already labelled ‘difficult’, stood up and said “The leaves smell brown”. That was the first indication that he had engaged with the topic at any level.

A 13 year old girl whose special needs report stated ‘unable to sit still for more than 2 minutes’ and was being considered for the label ‘autistic’ because of her ‘complete inability to empathise’ took on the role of Lady M and strode around the classroom quoting “Out, damned spot! out, I say!” for a few minutes after which she looked me straight in the eye and said “Thank you Miss, I feel better now” before sitting down and concentrating for the entire MATHS lesson.

These snapshots from my past inform my future. We cannot know for sure what response our communication will evoke but if want to create new possibilities for the future we can turn to art for a moment and allow our minds to loosen. Maybe we will dream up something we could never have imagined in any other way.


WordPress Themes