Knowing me, knowing you, aha, it’s the best I can do #TLT13

Among other new ventures this year, I have started an MA in Education.  It is definitely the “done thing” at my school.  So much so, that the lecturer comes to us on a Monday evening and I don’t even have to exit the school gates to experience academia.

As part of the introductory work, we have to write a pen portrait of ourselves including a biography and information on our professional context.  I have written 100s of pen portraits over the years.  The city loves them.  Schools love them.  On the whole I find them rather dry.


In the midst of writing my pen portrait today, I have been thinking on David Doherty’s closing comments at #TLT13 yesterday.   In 30 years time, will my students look back at my English lessons and know the seas roared for them?  I was lucky, the seas did roar for me at school.  In one classroom, with one teacher.  Now it’s my turn.

roar more

Here is how the seas roared for me:

My earliest memories of education are not school-based.  In fact, I have very few recollections of my education beyond the moments of chaos and trouble and the resulting discipline and tears.  My mother was the true educator of my formative years, a single middle-class mum in the 1970s, she was an oddity.  Her strong political opinions saw me understanding more about the miners’ strike, the poll tax and nuclear disarmament than Barbie or Cindy.  In contrast, my private education, with straw bonnet and crisp white socks, resulted in the summation “Louisa will not succeed in academic endeavour” at the end of Year 5.  I am probably the only student in history, who was forced to “drop” Latin at the age of 7.   Added to this, a physical debilitating kind of blindness meant that I was unable to read for most of my primary education. eye test

My earliest memories of reading are not of stories, or books or even of being read to.  My personal reading history begins in the out-patients unit of Reading Hospital (the irony has not escaped me).  I was 4 years old and attending numerous appointments with The Eye Surgeon. Reading line upon line of letters – H, M, B, Z, F, G, L, P.  I hated it, the repetition, the bright lights flashing into my eyes, having to guess, and the pervading sense that something was wrong.  Sometime later I underwent the first of several operations that would result in my right eye being patched from the age of 5 to 7 years.  The Eye Patch is another enduring memory of my first attempts at reading.  My more functional eye was covered in an attempt to force my lesser functioning eye to work, the world to me during those years was fuzzy and uneven. It was wonky and it didn’t seem to work properly.  Nothing seemed to make sense, least of all letters, words, sentence or books.

tipping point

I suspect the end of primary was the tipping point.

My elder (and more clever) brother was off at a deliciously selective private-ish secondary school and my mother was left with the choice of the local C of E comprehensive or a failing technical college for my secondary school.  She placed her trust in the pastoral heavy comprehensive and is it there I meet Victoria Wood (not the comedienne).  Victoria Wood was my English teacher from year 7 through to Lower Sixth.  I wept the day she announced she was moving to New Zealand, it is one of very few days from my school life that I can remember with clarity.

This teacher taught me to read, to love stories and to immerse myself in the narrative world.  I have no idea what the popular pedagogy in the early 80s was, but it felt as if she would present a text or an idea and allow us to go wherever we could with it.  And we did.  Her mode of assessment seemed to be a glance over the rim of her glasses and a raised eyebrow.  A nod of the head, when earned, signaled something extraordinary had just taken place.

Mrs Wood was why, after falling ill for much of my upper sixth year, I choose to study Literature at a “lesser” university rather than retake, hoping for higher grades.  Her comments, via letter, from New Zealand were:

“an idea is an idea, whether it stems from an ivory tower or from the gutter, if it brings light in the darkness, it is always a gem”.


University was, perhaps unsurprisingly, less about academics and more about experience.   Through blind luck, I was given the opportunity to work for a world-famous film director, an opera company, be a nanny, a book editor.  I had academic articles and creative writing published.  I met my husband and decided it would have to take something pretty special to make me ever leave London.

The jump from university to an office job at one of the big 4 accounting firms was another stroke of blind luck, I was made redundant at the age of 22, when the technology bubble burst, and fell literally into a job where my boss seemed to value my talent for smoothing creases and juggling tricky customers, above my lack of technical accounting skills.  I become indispensable or so they say. I used this to my advantage (who wouldn’t) and cheekily took off for foreign parts (China) and trained to be a TEFl teacher.

In amongst the busy-ness of city life, came three daughters, and a need to regain some perspective.  As if by magic that came in technicolor in October 2008 when Lehman Brothers went under and triggered the “banking crisis”.  Although many of us ordinary types find it hard to pinpoint how the banking crisis did impact us, after all prices keep rising, pay rises keep falling, the impact I felt was monumental.  My small and beloved team in city were some of those blamed in the papers and in Parliament for being the root cause.  Remember those articles about pay consultants who push bonuses higher and forced bankers to be more risky?  Well, that was us.  The spotlight turned in our direction and we froze.  I think I stayed frozen.  Finally, it was over several glasses of wine, with my boss, after giving evidence to the treasury select committee when she asked me “What are you doing with your life, Louisa? You can do something better than this.”

My half-hearted reply was, “I always wanted to be an English teacher.”

Another tipping point reached.

So, as I write my pen portrait, I can’t help but think about my students and imagine them in 30 years – would their pen portrait say that school made them feel alive, feel like anything was possible.  Did they know that the stars were within their reach?

Yesterday, I attended Teaching and Learning Takeover 2013 in Southampton, David Doherty talked about making the seas roar in our classrooms.  That’s what Mrs Wood did for me, the tide changed.  I changed.  Now it’s my turn.

roar 2

roar 1


Get home soon little one


We have a new (old) ‘motto’ at school.  “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.”  As cliched as it is, it serves as a decent reminder that with over 1500 students, I am not responsible for just the ones I teach or the ones I know.

My brain latches onto the “walk past” comment, rather than “the standard” and I have been thinking this week about how many situations and confrontations I walk past because I don’t have the time or energy to deal with it.  It’s not the end of the world I think.  It’s not a big deal.

We are so busy, all the time.  We can’t possibly deal with everything, right?


Something happened today that made me think again.

Whilst I was up early and out the door, off to my Masters induction at St Mary’s, my husband and girls decided to pop to our local shops.  The girls are big fans of stationery and our Saturday morning trip to WHSmith is somewhat of a tradition.  Holly and Abi were flush with birthday money and a new Scooby Doo dvd was on their hit list.

After a somewhat fractious encounter with the god of stationery, Steve and the girls started home.  We walk the same route every day, to and from their schools.  Our eldest Amelia noticed a mobile phone had been abandoned on a wall by the local youth centre.  It was raining, the phone was completed soaked.  A conversation ensued about what to do next, we don’t have a local police station anymore and my husband, quite understandably, wasn’t in the mood for dealing with this.

It would be fine to walk away, it was just a phone.

Amelia, being a magpie however, demanded that the phone be brought home and rather than embarking on an outright battle, Steve acquiesced.

He thought nothing more about it, other than to put the phone out to dry in the kitchen.  Once it was dry, Steve turned it on, in an attempt to find the owner.  The phone had no lock, over 10 missed calls and unread texts.  The last text was from a parent urgently looking for their child.

Steve texted back, explaining what had happened and giving the parent his number.  Five minutes later the police arrived on our doorstep, with the father of a child who had gone missing this morning.

I can’t tell you anymore about this story as yet.  There is no happy ending but we are keeping our fingers crossed that there will be, or has been already.

But what I do know is this:  if Steve had walked past that phone, won the argument with Amelia, a father would still be texting and calling his child and the police would have no idea of where she had been.  Now they have something to work with, a place to start looking, a focus for CCTV searches.

I hope you get home soon little one.