||Oct 15, 2011
An amusing collection of twenty anecdotes and character sketches written in free verse based on the author's experiences as a teacher in a girls' private school in the U.K.
No doubt you remember your life at school as a pupil - the long lessons, stringent rules and chaotic classrooms - but what was it like from the teacher's perspective? Did they savour the experience of setting and marking our homework? Did they get a kick out of writing our reports? And, most intriguingly, what did they get up to in the staffroom?
If you've never been there yourself, you need to follow the author into this alternative world of coffee addiction, frantic marking, lesson-planning and inspections. She answers all of your questions and more, and her insightful, evocative and often sardonic descriptions leave you more appreciative of the trials and tribulations (and the occasional pleasures) of being the dragon in front of the whiteboard.
It's a Teacher's Life...! will open the eyes of the pupils who always thought that teachers didn't exist outside of school hours... On the other hand, with such a long roll-call of meetings, assessments and after-hours activities, perhaps they were right all along!
The School Ethos — gently does it: kid gloves needed!
The Workplace — old and new: in harmony or at odds?
The New School Year — meetings, meetings, meetings, meetings! Brains creaking, creaking, creaking, creaking!
The Staffroom — a blessed haven, a refuge from all this teaching insanity!
The Lessons — rush, rush, rush! Sigh, sigh, sigh!
The Workroom — moaning, groaning, gossiping...moaning, groaning, gossiping...moaning, groaning, gossiping...
The Duties — brightening every teacher’s day
The Prize Giving — examination success applauded, independent thought neglected
The Carol Service — angelic voices and appearance: would it could always be like this!
The Trips — definitely, definitely, definitely not a good idea! Infamous risk assessments hanging like lead around the neck...eating and drinking, blinking and breathing must go in...hang it all, where’s the bin?
The Open Afternoon — uniformed angels painting the school in such a beautifully perfect light!
The German Teacher — hawk-like eyes, bubbling laughter, prejudice and French her common foes!
Matron — a cup of tea, a kind word, a listening ear: all provided with TLC
The Cook — Joy, her name, and joy her very nature (an unsung hero of everyday life)
The Caretaker — Emilio from Spain in the land of rain, glorious rain
Amy, the Able — Queen of Resources, organised, efficient, expert and skilful (another unsung hero)
The Inspection — smoking-hot photocopiers, senior managers and HODs on their knees...
The Exams — eyelids growing heavy with hours of sleep denied...
The Reports — the once a year chore, delight bursting forth in every breast at the joy of the long nights in store...
The End-of-Year Bash — bleary eyes shaking off tiredness for one last evening of merriment true
THE NEW SCHOOL YEAR
The staff meeting first,
then departmental meetings,
Staff Consultative Committee,
Health and Safety,
Catering Forum -
Oh yes, General Studies
Musn't forget the extras...
whiteboard training -
oh, it's all so draining!
Rude, early morning awakenings
by alarm clocks
grown rusty after weeks of disuse.
Got to prepare lessons -
but it's such an effort!
'Why is it taking so long, brain?
Brain, you've got to get going!
Come on - do you hear?'
It protests with groans
and dragging of feet,
and sluggishly creaks
back into gear...
The holiday's a century ago now,
yet, finally, the first week ends.
That was a feat -
only two days teaching
but everyone's beat!
Now it's home post-haste,
hurry, hurry, hurry,
for God's sake!
It's rest we all seek,
some precious R&R,
before the onslaught,
campaign and manoeuvres
of a full school week!
Copyright © 2008 Helena Harper
A Work With Feeling. By Don Blankenship, Amazon Top 100 Reviewer
Free verse has become a universal mode for expressing thoughts, feelings, reality and unreality for many. Some writers write very bad verse (I find myself in this category), while others have mastered its form and are able to use it as a sharp tool, a soft pillow for pleasing landings and most importantly, sharing the many little pieces of their world with others. Helena Harper is quite obviously one of those with the skill and the feelings to accomplish the last mentioned.
"It's A Teacher's Life" is a small volume of free verse telling her story; her experiences and her thoughts during the time she taught at an all girls school in England. Now I judge poetry, in any form, by a few simple standards. First, is the author conveying her or his true feelings about and for the subject being addressed? Secondly, does the subject touch me; can I relate to what the author is trying to tell me. Thirdly, does the author use metaphors and similes that are realistic? As an example, if the author suddenly tries to compare a walking stick to some dead Etruscan God that no one but one extremely familiar with Etruscans and walking sticks could possible relate to, much less understand, then it is a useless attempt at communication. (Walking sticks possibly; Etruscan Gods, well that is rather problematic for most of us). The obscure becomes irrelevant, the more obscure; the more irrelevant and the fewer there are to enjoy and appreciate the author's work.
Fortunately for me, and for all of us, Ms Harper has fulfilled each of my requirements and given us an understandable work that most of us can perfectly relate to, even if all of us are not in the teaching profession. I have to admit that without exception I enjoyed each of the twenty offerings in this wonderful little book. As I read each piece, I could actually feel the happiness, frustrations, and indeed a twinge of anger and sadness here and there. Her obvious love for the children comes through, as well as her rather sardonic, caustic and realistic view of many of them, and her complete confusion and non-acceptance of many of the modern "things" that fill our lives is also shown. Her impatience with the mundane meetings, parents that to a certain extent make life difficult for both teacher and child, and the endless institutional requirements is quite apparent. Readers should not expect that each and every image presented here is a "happy' little glimpse into the life of a teacher, there are very realistic and rather whimsical "down" moments.
"The teachers feed off the food
and the words of thanks
that fall occasionally from
pupils' and parents' lips.
These scraps of appreciation
While thoughts of doing
surface - though just temporarily -
until fatigue overwhelms
and drives the teachers home...
The meager morsels of gratitude
becoming rarer each year,
yet somehow teachers survive
on this diet of starvation
for year after year..."
Read these lines well. While we find here the words of a very dedicated individual, we also pick up just a bit of justifiable bitterness. Again, these words touched me, they communicated and I could relate; I could feel. On the other hand, there are many light moments expressed in this work to which I could also relate. That is one of the strong aspects of this collection as a whole; we get a taste of both the up and of the down. I must warn you though; due to the small size of the little volume and the author's propensity to use, at first glance, to use simple and easly understood language, a reader may be tempted to rip through this one. That is a big mistake as there is much more here than meets the eye!
This is a wonderful collection of poems that were written from the heart. This work would be an absolute wonderful gift for any teacher in your life; it would be a wonderful gift and read for anyone wishing to understand not only teachers, but all people who dedicate their lives to service.
Love this small glimpse into a remarkable woman's life, and I do hope more is to follow.
Entertaining Poetry About School. By Peter Durward Harris, Amazon Top 50 Reviewer
The author began her career in the banking industry but took the brave (at the time) decision to train as a teacher and her subsequent career inspired her to write poetry about school. There are 20 poems here covering different aspects of life as a teacher at school. And, yes, the word school is used throughout the book, so you'll have to look elsewhere (Knowsley, perhaps) if you want to find out specifically about centres of learning. The teacher has worked at a variety of private schools for girls, but many of the poems could apply to any type of school and some might even be applicable to centres of learning.
The first poem (The school ethos) looks at discipline, pointing out humorously that teachers can't win whatever they do. The second poem (The workplace) is inspired by a school that occupies what was once a grand old house. The longest poem describes a day in the staffroom, which is seemingly inhabited (when they`re not in the classroom) by caffeine-addicted teachers. (They're surely not that bad?) A separate poem covers the lessons, including a piece where one pupil thinks Cornwall is in Wales. (Actually, if the pupil and teacher knew their history, they'd know about the Celtic connection between Cornwall and Wales. Unfortunately, this was a geography lesson.) Other pupils can't do multiplication, but there's nothing new about that. I remember a few years ago when the British government politician responsible for education got a multiplication wrong live on BBC radio.
There are lighter moments at school and these are covered in poems about prize giving, the carol service, the trips and the end-of-year bash. Five of the poems are about individual people. I particularly liked the one about the German teacher although I never had the chance to learn foreign languages at any school that I attended. Other poems cover the new school year, the workroom, the duties, the inspection, the exams and the reports. Just about every base is covered except politics and those long school holidays.
This little book will amuse teachers in particular, but as we've all been to school at some time (except those who attended centres of learning instead), I suspect that plenty of people in the general population will also find it entertaining. Meanwhile the author, safe in a secure job, must now be glad that she didn't stay in the banking industry.
The Other Side of the Front Desk. By Grady Harp, Amazon Top 10 Reviewer
Teachers are lauded by parents, former pupils, and have become icons of what just may be our diminishing educational system. But what Helena Harper manages to offer in this brief but highly readable and refreshing collection of poems is the teacher's vantage at work. From her experiences as a teacher in a Girls' Private School she presents many warmly humorous anecdotes about pupils, parents, the trials of being an educator and a disciplinarian simultaneously, and in the most entertaining poems in the book Harper shares the private lives of a those whose 'day job' extends into every facet of their being.
Harper writes with disarming clarity, poems unfettered by constraints of rhyme or meter, but instead allows her thoughts and reactions to many many aspects of education to flow like a private conversation. Of particular interest is the inclusion of the many non-teacher personnel in a private girls' school - the caretaker, the cook, the matron - giving the reader not only entertainment but insights into some of the differences between public and private education.
This is a fine book for teachers, for parents, and for students who strive to make sense out of the idiosyncrasies of that person in front of the white/black board in the world of the classroom. Highly entertaining, well-written poetry.
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