Teaching


Photo From Rocky Valley, Ilkley Moor, with Brocken Spectre. Photo by Bob Hamilton

From Rocky Valley, Ilkley Moor, with Brocken Spectre (tap/click the pic to see it large). Photo by Bob Hamilton

Although I have ‘performed’ at an event as part of the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’ in the two past years, as a member of our local writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, this year it’s a step up to be part of the main festival programme. Scarey!

The performance, named ‘Evocation’, will be similar to the two in Leeds Art Gallery earlier this year, eight of our writers reading a piece which a painting evoked for them, brilliant flamenco guitarist Samuel Moore interpreting both the writing and the painting. This time, however, we’ll be presenting what a photograph from around Ilkley has evoked. The photographs are all by another member of our club, and a superb photographer, Bob Hamilton.

I’m attempting to write a kind of parody on a poem from a well-known 19th century author. Can you guess the poem from the picture? A rather indirect clue: Alice in Wonderland.

All will be revealed after the performance which is on Saturday 29 September at Ilkley Playhouse, 7.15pm. A ticket costs just £5 (none of which comes to us).

More ‘gems’ but not from my attic

I related in a recent post how I had found VHS video tapes of a nativity play I wrote for my English class to perform almost a quarter of a century ago. I suppose it is not surprising that I kept them but a couple of days ago one of my former students, who took part in the play, gave me a big surprise. She sent me a scan of the programme I made for the performance, which includes the names of the complete cast. She, Paula (who I was delighted to meet this summer), told me she found it in a drawer in her home, together with an invitation I made to a Christmas party I organised for the class at the same Christmas time, 1994.

Ema Tudoreanu, named on the programme, was their English teacher but, as so many English teachers at that time other than in ‘top’ high schools, was unqualified; nevertheless, she was a super partner for what was achieved with this class.

What is particularly thrilling is that Paula is now not only a high school teacher of English, her recent thesis for a higher qualification is on the subject of using drama and song as part of Teaching of English as a Foreign Language, which was always part of my approach to teaching English.

 

 

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Finding 3 VHS tapes featuring aspects of my teaching of English in Romania a quarter of a century ago (post on 8th August), together with meeting two of my former pupils, were definitely the highlights of this summer’s visit to Romania. If another project comes off there will be another highlight but ‘Murphy’ being as he is I will only post about that if it comes to fruition.

However, after finding the tapes while clearing my parents-in-law’s attic I was disappointed not to find two books I had hoped were there. After clearing the attic we set about a store room at our small apartment nearby and another couple of ‘gems’ emerged from 14 years of dust.

Enlarging English vocabulary

A picture of the opening pages of the book, generously inscribed by Gheorghe, “To my friend Roger Livesey. My greatest thanks. If you had not helped me this book would not have appeared. Iași, May 21st 2000.One was one of the books I hoped to find in the attic. Titled Everyday topics it was written by my good friend Gheorghe Stan, Head of English at Liceul National in Iași when I taught there. Its declared aim was to  provide a larger vocabulary for intermediate and advanced learners of English. I may well have been able to find a copy of this book at a second hand book dealers which abound in the university city of Iași but, not teaching English any more, I wanted only the copy Gheorghe presented to me with its generous inscription. I was delighted to find it.

An ecumenical English course

Picture of A leaflet about thr course showing Students with (then) Archbishop Daniel, with me on his left.

A leaflet about thr course showing Students with (then) Archbishop Daniel, with me on his left.

Another ‘gem’ was a complete English course I wrote for an ecumenical project set up by the then Archbishop Daniel, now Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The students came from many different east European countries. Mostly beginners, the idea of the course was to enable them to describe their church, both in a spiritual and a physical sense, in English, quite a tall order as they came only with their own languages (or some also with Russian) – Albanian, Armenian, Bulgarian, Czech, Estonian, Kazahkstani, Kyrgystani, Latvian, Russian, Slovakian, Ukrainian and, of course, Romanian – from many different backgrounds and several different churches. It was a wonderful few weeks with many social events between lessons.

I had taught on a similar course two years previously but in 2003 I was course director and wrote all the lessons, so finding them (around 50 overhead projection transparencies) was particularly interesting.

Love letters and all

A final collection of ‘gems’ was cards, photos and letters to Petronela from the beginning of our relationship, including the first ever letter I wrote to her, before our relationship began.

Well worth choking on the dust of so many years of hibernation!

Romanians are wonderful people but as far as the authorities are concerned if  there’s the most difficult solution to a simple problem you can be pretty sure they will apply it. Being in the European Union has given the bureaucrats another million reasons to make almost anything as difficult as possible. After a week of wrestling with this amazing bureaucracy, to the point where I was tempted to give up and go home early, along comes a young man who arrives when he says he will, does the job quickly and efficiently and the cost at the end, very reasonable, was at the bottom of his estimate range rather than the top. Details at the end of this post.

Missing books

It began with a search for two books in the attic of my parents-in-law, where some 14 years ago I had stored a lot of ‘stuff’ and hardly approached it since. The books: proceedings of a conference in, if I remember correctly, USA and Mexico simultaneously, on using internet in English teaching, at which I presented a paper from Romania, Bucharest, at around midnight – very unusual in the mid 1990s; the other book was about English idioms, by George Stan, head of English at Liceul National in Iași where I was teaching at the time – a great guy who gave me a really generous acknowledgement in the book for my editing of it.

Sadly, neither book was there. Most of the ‘stuff’ was now junk but I was excited to find three ‘gems’ – three VHS tapes, one labelled ‘An English Nativity Play’, another ‘Școala nr.1 (School no.1) Suceava/email project’, the third was a recording of a show celebrating 8th March (1998) at a different school.

First tape

Petronela’s parents have a working VHS player and with some trepidation I put in the first of the tapes and pushed ‘play’. I was taken back to Christmas 1994 and the nativity play was as I hoped, that performed by my students at School No.1 in Burdujeni, Suceava; it was also broadcast by a local tv station on Christmas Day itself. The angel who brought the good news to the shepherds I met about a week ago though she is now a lawyer in Baia Mare – Anca, who I wrote about in my previous post. Other former students who I hope to meet over the next 2 or 3 weeks also feature in the play.

Second tape

The second tape was a presentation of some of the email projects (my conference paper was about these) done by the same group of students, who eventually named themselves the ‘Allstars’. The presentation was to an American couple who delivered ‘obsolete’ IBM laptops to Romanian schools. I used one, eventually two, in email projects as part of my English teaching, linking up with, eg, schools in Vancouver and Northumbria, UK – no Windows, but using MsDos.

Third tape

The Allstars also formed themselves into a Leo Club, 'adopting' a special needs class (the Bunnies) in another school. Here they are shown on a picnic the Allstars organised for the Bunnies


The Allstars also formed themselves into a Leo Club, ‘adopting’ a special needs class (the Bunnies) in another school. Here they are shown on a picnic the Allstars organised for the Bunnies

The third tape, the recording of an 8th March Show, I will not try to insert here as it is almost 1 hour long and only a small part towards the end is a performance for which I was responsible. This performance is by a special needs class in School No. 11 which became ‘The bunnies’ and incorporated the song ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’. They did their own email project with a special needs class in the USA and were ‘adopted’ by the Leo Club formed by some of the students at School No.1. When I get back to UK and on my Mac I should be able to extract the relevant part and do a post about that.

The efficient Romanian

I’ve been able to post the recordings on Youtube, and so hopefully within this post (I’ve never attempted such a thing before – it seems to be working). I cannot cut out the ‘rubbish’ at the start of each till, again, I get onto the Mac at home but after a few seconds the actual film should appear.

I’ve been able to do this only due to the great service from one Romanian young man. Following a phone call he collected the VHS tapes Monday lunchtime, transferred to DVDs and delivered them early Tuesday. The cost? About 1/25th of the cost of transferring the one tape of our wedding (also VHS) to DVD in the UK.

The ‘structure of a fairy tale’ as drawn in my notebook and copied from that to blackbosrd.

The ‘structure of a fairy tale’ as drawn in my notebook and copied from that to blackbosrd.

Looking for misplaced documents for our forthcoming drive to Romania (mostly proof I had paid a speeding fine last summer in case stopped at the border) I was really excited to discover the tattered remains of a notebook from my earliest time in Romania in 1993/94.

Not only did I not know I had it, I don’t remember keeping any kind of diary but there it is, a daily handwritten journal of my first two months in Romania, from early March to late April 1993. Unfortunately I did not record my first three days, but I remember some experiences of those few days very well: snow inside the train; breathing stopped by climbing out into -22degC; meeting with the Zaharia family with which I was to spend 6 wonderful months; a walk to the Ukrainian border from which I was escorted the 7km back to the town of Siret, having taken a ‘forbidden’ photograph’, by two armed (but friendly) border guards.

Teaching English

The journal stops abruptly on 27th April but the handwritten pages jump to November 1993 by which time I was teaching English and, more excitement, records working with some classes VI (12-13 year olds) at school no.1 in Suceava, to write a ‘21st century fairy tale’ for a competition in a British magazine.

Rambunctious

Recently I posted on this blog about discovering a new word, rambunctious.

https://wp.me/pkm0h-1Kt

and suggested this as a theme for the meeting of our writers’ club, Writing on the Wharfe, on 7 July. My contribution was not a fiction but a true story, about teaching the classes VI. Here’s part of what I said:

… …

As I say often, ‘now for something completely different’. The only link to the word ‘Rambunctious’ is that had I known it then I would certainly have applied it to class VIa at School Number 1 in Suceava, Romania, which I taught for a while in 1993/1994.

Here’s the story class VIa submitted though eventually the story they wrote had to be edited down to 500 words for the competition.

A 21st century fairy tale

A poster made with the ‘21st century fairy story’ created by the four class VI

A poster made with the ‘21st century fairy story’ created by the four class VI

Once upon a time there was a handsome young man called Mihai. Although he was only 22 years old Mihai was a very clever computer programmer and he worked in a radar station near to his home near to his home town of Putna, in northern Romania.

One day he saw a strange object on his radar screen. It seemed to come from nowhere and land deep in a forest nearby. Mihai went to investigate.

When he came to the spot he saw not an aircraft or spaceship but a strange machine which was surrounded by bright beams of light. Mihai knew they were laser beams. But his attention was captured by a very beautiful young girl who was standing completely still, also surrounded by laser beams.

Are you alright?” asked Mihai.

Yes, but I cannot move at all,” said the girl. “I am Irina. I was walking in the forest when suddenly the machine you see there appeared. A terrible man got out of it. He said his name was Zod. He said he lived at the end of the 21st century but he had seen me on his time scanner and wanted my beauty for himself for ever. He came to our time in that machine; it’s a time machine but something happened and he cannot go back. So he has trapped me here and looks at me every day. The laser rays will kill anything which tries to take me or enter the time machine.”

As Irina spoke, Mihai knew he had fallen in love with her and must rescue her.

I will come back for you,” said Mihai.

He returned in his latest invention, a large transparent globe which could fly, powered by light could transport him as energy to another place, and could deflect laser beams.

However, Zod’s protection was not just the laser beams. He had powerful robots which could transform themselves into anything they chose. When they saw Mihai’s globe they immediately changed to a black slime and coated the globe. Without light the globe was powerless. 

Thinking that Mihai was dead inside it, Zod ordered it to be thrown in the forest. It lay there for days and Mihai was almost dead when along came a bear.

He smelt the globe. It smelled sweet. He licked the black substance. It was sweet – like honey. Soon he had licked it all off.

Light entered the globe and soon it was active again. Mihai returned to the time machine and beamed himself into Zod’s machine.

Zod was a big, powerful creature but, thought Mihai, the bigger the better. I will transform into energy then transport him far away but not materialise him.

This he did. The giant burst of energy burned out all the circuits of the time machine, the lasers were destroyed and Irina was free.

Will you marry me?” asked Mihai.

Of course,” said Irina.

They returned to Putna where their families arranged a big feast.

Mihai and Irina were married and they all lived happily ever after.

THE END

Rambunctious

As I said, if they were excited to produce the story they were beyond control when they learned they had won a prize. We might say they were absolutely …

… rambunctious!

However, in my notebook, I had also written a letter to the editor of the magazine running the competition, before typing. Here’s an extract:

Letter to the editor

What is remarkable is that at the time they had been learning English for only two years – with me only a couple of months.

First each class was given the structure of a fairy story (see my sketch which I had recorded in my notebook) which was copied onto the blackboard (no computers then, so chalk on a real blackboard).

… the class was divided into groups of four and each group wrote their own story then read it (to the whole class). This was followed by a discussion during which I tried to suggest some improvements in the plots to get closer to a fairy story (the boys particularly tended to produce ‘Star Wars’ type science fiction tales).

At the following lesson I held a ‘workshop’ when again the structure of a fairy tale was explained and the vocabulary of the structure relearned. The outline plot and characters were defined.

The children were so keen they asked to come to school on a Saturday morning to produce the final entry. Again this was organised as a ‘workshop’, one pupil writing out the story as it was developed using many of the best ideas from the various groups.

Finally, after typing, a further lesson was used to give the opportunity to recognise and if possible correct any mistakes in English. Any mistakes they could not correct themselves have been left in the final entry.

The story production sequence has been of enormous benefit. Their already high motivation has been even further increased. They have considerably extended their vocabulary and they have had to explore different grammatical structures to reduce the number of words (to meet the competition criteria of 500 words).

RL

There’s more on teaching classes VI at school no.1

Allstars members, all from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, gained many things from their involvement in the internet projects; the confidence to present their work to an audience of adults was one. Here am Allstar/Leo presents to an annual conference of Lions Clubs

Allstars members, all from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds themselves, gained many things from their involvement in the internet projects; the confidence to present their work to an audience of adults was one. Here an Allstar/Leo presents to an annual conference of Lions Clubs

I have many fond memories from my time – 11.1/2 years – in Romania but none more fond than my time ‘teaching English’ to a class in an industrial high school in an industrial area of the city of Suceava, an area therefore depressed after the destruction of industry following the collapse of Communism.

A few days ago someone from this class contacted me, see below. I cannot begin to write how exciting this is but I just had to blog about it.

Not the Mafia

The story behind moving to Suceava to teach was all due to my misunderstanding of a Romanian word – ‘Marfă’. I began in a ‘top’ high school, Liceul Ștefan cel Mare, when my intended 6 months stay working in a voluntary humanitarian project in nearby Siret ended. How this happened has been documented on this blog in the past. However when I suggested I wanted to teach less advantaged students there was considerable opposition from the authorities. The overall view was ‘why bother with them, you’re wasting your time, concentrate on the best schools and the brightest students’, an attitude I met in Romania many times then, to the point of causing me many personal problems at the time. Foreigners could then be given a hard time. That is changed now and followers of this blog will know I have spent substantial periods in Romania most years since I left in 2004 and have many friends there.

However, the problems were a contributing factor in my moving to Iași, where I then taught in an ‘industrial high school’ and a couple of ‘top’ schools.

A different way of ‘teaching English’

I didn’t ‘teach English’ in a conventional way; I tried to do it in a way from which my students would not only learn some English, enthusiastically, but build confidence to believe they could achieve anything they wished. This was by involving them in projects with classes in English-speaking countries, UK and Canada if I remember correctly, and subsequently helping them to get involved in volunteering, leading eventually to formation of the third Leo Club in Romania. The projects were on email, beginning with one donated ‘obsolete’ IBM laptop. No Windows – everything was done with MsDos; does anyone remember that? Eventually the class involved in the email projects called themselves the ‘Allstars‘ and went on to form what was the third Leo club in Romania and probably among those with the youngest membership anywhere – the Suceava Burdujeni Leos were then 12-14 years old. Late teens early twenties is more usual.

A ‘Messenger’ request answered

A few days ago I had a request on Messenger from Anca … (the family name I did not recognise). Usually I ignore such requests (my dislike of Facebook except in small closed groups has been well documented) but for some reason I opened the message and was delighted to see it was from my former student in the industrial high school mentioned above. The class have a Facebook closed group and Anca posted that she had ‘found’ me and asked if anyone else from that class remembered me.

What happened as a result was humbling. The general response was “How can we possibly forget?” accompanied in some cases by thanks to me for what they had achieved since, eg a lawyer, an IT specialist, an English teacher, even a tattoo artist! (I didn’t tattoo them, honest!). One was particularly amazing; she said that only a day or so previously she had been teaching her daughter a limerick I wrote for her almost a quarter of a century ago. I didn’t remember it but she had and sent it to me. I remember all the names though I knew them only by their given names (I’ve generally not put them in the photograph captions).

Last year during a short visit to Suceava I did try to find some of these former students but without success. In a way not surprising as I’ve now learnt that many of them are now in other parts of Romania and it’s quite likely some have moved abroad – so many Romanians have. Now I’m hoping that my health will allow me at least one more visit to Romania, when I’ll do my best to meet as many as possible of them in person. Meanwhile, somewhere I have the documentation for the Leo club and will try to find it, together with more of the photographs taken during activities of this wonderful group of youngsters.

I was so surprised to find myself sitting under a picture showing my high school and a brief history

With that title it may seem odd if I tell you I’m sitting in Wetherspoon, one of a large chain of pubs where they open early in the morning, have free WiFi and serve good (Lavazza) coffee which is cheap: £1.30 for a double espresso (which is what is in front of me as I write this). They also serve a ‘large’ English breakfast for £4.99 if you want it. I do not, I ate my usual raw oats with milk at home.

It is, in fact, the first day of school for Petronela after the summer break. She resigned from the school she had been at for 11 years before we went to Romania as, among other reasons, there seemed little opportunity to teach history, the subject she loves and her speciality,  though she taught Humanities, Religious Studies and Citizenship as well as beginners’ French, even a little Geography, there.

Supply teaching

Time to move on so she has gone ‘supply teaching’, in the UK that means filling in for teachers who are absent for some reason, and this week was the first time a requirement for a fully qualified history teacher had come up. At the moment it is just for this week. As the school is difficult to reach by public transport from our home, I’m the taxi driver.

Right opposite the pub in which I am sitting is recently grassed over space which until a few months ago was what was left of my high school

It is, people might think, a coincidence as Wetherspoon is just across the road from a green space which was, until recently the building in which I went to school – Keighley  Boys’ Grammar School. The school has not existed for many years but the building was demolished only in the past few months.

There are a few more ‘coincidences’. The grammar school was housed in what was the ‘Mechanics Institute’, a magnificent building with a Big Ben type clock tower, built in 1870. A large part of that was destroyed by fire and the wonderful clock tower fell down but, I assure you, I didn’t do that despite my notoriety for building a smoke ring generating machine to disrupt lessons. Anyway, the fire was long after I left.

The magnificent town library. You can just see a corner of what is now a Wetherspoon pub, on the far right

For this week I’ll probably not go home but stay in the town until Petronela finishes, either in Wetherspoon or the magnificent library next door, which also has WiFi. I used to escape to this library when I played truant from school –  a frequent occurence in later years when I disliked school intensely – particularly history (!) and French. I loved maths, physics, English (language, not literature, two separate subjects) and art so attended those lessons diligently and did extremely well in final exams in those subjects. French I had ‘dropped’ earlier when I refused to go to school unless I was allowed to do so.  But the history exam was my glory day. I wrote my name and details as required at the top of the paper, waited the regulation one hour without writing a single word then left.

Apoplectic headmaster

The headmaster was my history teacher; he went apoplectic, even berserk, and I had to go into school on a Saturday morning and sit the history paper; quite pointless of course. There must have been something wrong with the teaching as later in life I set up and ran a history society and, of course, married a history teacher.

Another ‘ coincidence’: my high school was created when a forerunner of the school where Petronela has just gone to teach, a little out of the town, was moved into the Mechanics Institute.

Finally, I sat down with my coffee not taking note of my surroundings, looking at the space which was my school through the large windows in front. Then I noticed the ‘picture’ on the wall to my right, featuring photos of the Mechanics Institute and forerunners with a little information about it and the ‘grammar school’.

As I’ve probably said before I do not believe in coincidence, so await what comes next.

The only books on display in our home, the complete works of Dickens.

Lurk’ was the latest, yesterday’s, word chosen by my blogosphere friend Iulia, a teacher of English in București among other things. In her regular series of words, she finds a quote to demonstrate its use, together with a beautiful piece of art, and posts them. She sometimes writes thought-provoking, often beautiful, poetry too but it’s today’s word, from a quote by Ray Bradbury, which has prompted this post.

I used to lurk in libraries a lot. The motive for going in was almost always the need to research some feature I was writing as a journalist (I wrote mostly on science and technology, businesses based on them and the management of them).  I wonder how many journalists do that now when Google is just a click away.

Lurking was an appropriate word for my activity. I’d secrete myself away in some dark corner having collected as many books as I could on the subject of interest, hoping to be missed at closing time so I could go and seek out the growing bibliography I scratched on my notebook indicating further interesting reading. Often this ‘further interesting reading’ had nothing to do with the subject in hand. It’s an aberration of mine: I’m interested in anything and everything so am easily led off track, which is why this blog is such a hotchpotch I guess.

Reading fiction

Before I began to read for researching features to write, and omitting the large amount of reading I had to do when studying physics, I was an avid reader of fiction, including poetry. It began at an early age; my mother had taught me to read before I was four years old. Later she had some regrets; I was repeatedly admonished for having my head in a book rather than “go out and play!” It’s probably why I’ve never been much interested in sport (other than walking, though in Yorkshire that’s more something we do, must do, than sport).

Now with rare exceptions I read little other than blog posts from all manner of people on all manner of subjects from many different countries (providing they’re in English or Romanian, the only two languages I read fairly proficiently). The only books on display in our home are the complete works of Dickens into which I dip occasionally (‘A Christmas Carol’ every Christmas). The cupboards are stuffed with books however, mostly on history and teaching English. I am reading a book at the moment, in fits and starts: ‘Carmen Sylvia, Regina poetă’ by Sylvia Irina Zimmerman. Carmen Sylvia was the literary name of Queen Consort Elisabeta of Romania from 1869 until she died in 1916, better known as the first translator of the works of Romania’s most renowned poet, Eminescu, and a poet in her own right. (I said I was easily led off track!)

Libraries being closed, and saved

Where is all this leading? Well, libraries are being closed all over Britain and that in our village was threated. However, it opened again after a brief closure with a team of volunteers. We are having our writers’ club meeting there on Saturday morning to plan our appearance in the Ilkley Literature Festival ‘Fringe’. During the past year we’ve done two ‘performances’ in another local library, Ilkley, which in some ways was even more satisfying than the bigger Playhouse stage for the fringe. I’d hope soon we might do one in our reopened local village library.

One thing’s for sure, I’ll be lurking in it from time to time.

For Iulia’s blog go to:

https://blogdecompanie.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/engleza-de-joi-lurk/

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