My Life as a Daddy in Books

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 I am a daddy. Not a ‘father’ or a ‘dad’, nor ‘papa’ and definitely not ‘Puff Daddy’ the last time I checked. This informal word encapsulates everything I hold dear in life, and as of 10.07 last Thursday 31st July, I blissfully and worryingly became a daddy for the second time.

If you’ve had the unfortunate pleasure to spend more than thirty-eight seconds with me, you will know that I have a beautiful daughter named Ellie. She is used in nearly every metaphor I make in the classroom, included in all digressional anecdotes that only I find funny, and is definitely the cause of my rapidly receding hairline. It’s her second birthday in less than two weeks, and her early birthday present was called Toby William and weighed a whopping 9lbs 9oz (or the equivalent of 74 Big Macs). Ellie already loves her little brother as all big sisters do: in a different room entirely. ‘Chubba Tubs’ as he’s been nicknamed by his evil and despicable dada, has cheeks the size of a male orang-utan and a plethora of chins to rival Rik Waller.

My favourite educational heroes are currently writing blogs concerning the books that make them the wonderful folk that they are. As I could never match their witty and erudite responses, I thought I would muddy the water a little and reflect upon the books that have made the greatest influence on my bumbling attempt at fatherhood.

The Newborn Stage: On Accepting Responsibility and Becoming an Emotional Wreck

Before daddyhood I think I could count the amount of times I have cried as an adult on one stoically-clenched fist. Only The Land Before Time and The Lion King had the ability to draw a single tear from my barren ducts, in addition to the heart-wrenching closing sequence of The Incredible Hulk (the classic 80’s TV series kids, not the recent film when Iron Man rocks up like he’s drunk and at the wrong party).

However, one book managed to break me. I often have the tough kid at the back of the room who thinks that books can’t reduce bad-asses to tears. So I tell them a story. A story of a young man who continuously fights against his social background to fulfil his dream of becoming a university graduate from society’s most elite institution. The hero falls for the wrong woman at the wrong time, before meeting the woman of his dreams, his cousin (you get over the weirdness), and settles down with her to start a family. Cue evil woman arriving back on the scene, proclaiming to our protagonist he’s got an heir, before jaunting off on her merry way again. Newly adopted son takes it upon himself to reduce the stress in the family, by hanging his two half-siblings and himself in the wardrobe. The hero’s lover abandons him as she believes that their relationship is impious and doomed; he returns reluctantly to his wife, before dying of illness and a broken heart.

The tough kid then looks at me, and I’m all like desperately fighting to retain my own street cred by not bawling pitifully, and he like, states with gusto, “Sounds pretty shit, Sir.” I pay the biggest chap in the class a tenner to take full opportunity of his ridiculously low-hanging trousers and give him the wedgie of a lifetime.

Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure is my favourite book of all time. When I first read the moment Jude and Sue find their beautiful babes hanged, I was unfortunately travelling to work and had to be consoled by an 80 yr old lady sitting next to me for about half an hour; I believe I still have the handkerchief she charitably offered me to mop up my snot-covered mush in my sock drawer. This harrowingly bleak moment in the novel haunts me, as the thought of losing a child is something quite unbearable.

However, Jude’s ambition has inspired me to constantly break constraints and try to achieve unimaginable success; yet his flaws have taught me how to value the more important aspects in life and know when to realise that some dreams are unattainable. Although Jude’s failure echoes the fallibility of Icarus, the novel encapsulates the poor and disadvantaged’s struggle to find their place in a bourgeois world perfectly, and can radicalise a young mind to take full advantage of their education in order to achieve aspirational feats.

Other significant texts that have impacted on my sense of responsibility are Mary Shelly’s philosophical epic Frankenstein, John William’s heart-wrenching Stoner, Cormac McCarthy’s gritty dystopian The Road and Tony Parsons’ moving novel that’s very close to home, Man and Boy.

The Babbling Stage: On Role Models and Super Heroes

When I was five my Mother bought me a Batman costume. For seven weeks and three days I wore nothing else because I believed that my superpowers would diminish if I wasn’t dressed as the Caped Crusader. Within a year, I also asked for a Spiderman suit and Superman cape to add to the collection. At every opportunity, I would badger my Mum to let me don my Dark Knight outfit and pretend to protect and serve the community, with such missions as saving snails from the soul-crunching genocide by Doc Martin soles after it had poured with rain. I grew up on DC and Marvel comic compilations by stealing them from my older brother; but it wasn’t until I started my degree that I found the critically acclaimed wonder that is The Dark Knight Returns.

Possibly the greatest graphic novel of all time, Miller’s masterpiece has a variety of complex themes embedded throughout. However, the transition of the ageing and morose Bruce Wayne to the gritty and dark Batman represents the difficult decisions that have to be made to protect and inspire others. Now, I’m in no way comparing myself to the crime fighting hero, but I take great comfort in the fact I’m trying to be a role model for my children as much as possible and if that means reading What the Ladybird Heard seventeen times before bath time, then that’s fine by me.

Another book that had a great impact on me was written by one of my real life heroes, the explorer, writer and lover of all things derring-do, Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Deep down I always wished for someone to define me as Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, but the fact that I enjoy listening to James Blunt and soaking in a nice bubble bath probably limits my chances. However, Fiennes’ autobiography of this name has inspired me to achieve many gruelling challenges and I look forward to all the adventures I will accomplish with my children. At the age of sixty five and the oldest Briton to do so, Fiennes finally achieved his life-long dream of summating Everest (his third attempt), and in the process made a total of £2.6 million of charitable sponsorship on behalf of Marie Curie Cancer Care’s Delivering Choice Programme. Furthermore, in 2003 he ran seven marathons in seven days in seven continents only three and a half months after a massive heart attack, three day coma and double bypass. Add to this his other achievements of crossing the Antarctic continent unsupported (the longest polar journey in history), discovering the lost city of Ubar, and being thrown out of the SAS for being ‘too nails’, and you basically get the greatest chap on the planet. The detailed accounts of his triumphs makes you want to push your own mental and physical boundaries to the limit, and the beautiful way he describes his marriage to his childhood sweetheart Ginnie, who sadly loses her battle with cancer, forces you to appreciate the wonderful people you love.

Other inspiration books about role models include: The Worst Journey in the World by the excellently named Apsley Cherry-Garrard, Alexander Dumas’ swash-buckling tale The Three Musketeers and Homer’s epics, The Iliad and Odyssey.

The Toddling Stage: On Innocence and the Power of the Imagination

Shockingly, each year I receive a few letters of appreciation from students who are leaving and it is interesting to note the similar adjectives pupils use to describe me: “enthusiastic”, “passionate”, “mental”. I take these sentiments to heart and they really are one of the highlights of the year. However, the greatest compliment I ever received was via a parent who stated that their child liked my lessons because I was the teaching equivalent of “Tigger on speed”. I try my hardest in the classroom to have the perfect blend of high expectations, rigour, challenge and fun. Critics may argue that dressing up as a tramp to teach a poem about homelessness is superfluous or singing Bob Marley while students analyse Agard detracts from the learning outcome and reduces authenticity, but I’m afraid I don’t give a hoot. At home, I don’t have to worry about the fact that my children have to pass a plethora of demanding exams yet, so I just get to be Tigger in all his drug-fuelled excitement.

A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh speaks directly to the child within us. The anthropomorphic Bear of very little brain ironically has one of the finest philosophical minds of all time and can always bring a smile to me even in the darkest days of controlled assessment season. Furthermore, his lyrical ballads and happy hums are the work of a creative genius. Pooh’s thoughtful, considerate and loving relationships with his fellows in Hundred Acre Wood should be replicated in every friendship and I can’t ruddy wait to read these marvellous stories with Ellie and Toby.

Other texts that influence me to become an excitable and passionate papa include: Danny Champion of the World by the delightful Roald Dahl, Marius Zusek’s heart-wrenching holocaust novel, The Book Thief and JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

The Terrifying Stage: On Loving Too Much

198. 178. 201. 211. 184. 192.

Each number represents my baby boy’s heartbeat on his dynamic cardiac monitor, which I have obsessively observed for the past five days.

I started writing this when Tubby Toby was three days old. On day four, he obviously disagreed with his new abode and decided he was going to return to the comfort and constant cooing of the midwives. After being pricked by more needles than an acupuncture patient, Toby’s white blood cell counted significantly above average (see, my lad’s already above average!) and the doctors started an aggressive course of antibiotics and antivirals. Within a few hours, the senior consultant visited us to state that Tubs had either viral or bacterial meningitis.

Now, the worst thing you could possibly do in this situation is whip out your smart phone and Google ‘what the deuce is viral or bacterial meningitis?’ But that’s exactly what everyone does and shares the same poop-in-your-pants experience as you read all the catastrophic after-effects of such a horrendous infection. Your eyes draw to one type more than others, and sadistically that’s the one the paediatrician proclaims your son to have, like he’s won first prize at the most bitchin’ disease awards. Congratulations little fella, you’ve successfully contracted Group B Streptococcal meningitis.

During these difficult days, a few books and lines from my favourite authors have returned to me. C.S. Lewis’ Narnia chronicles sparked a love of reading in me when I was a nipper, but while at university I stumbled across his beautiful reflections on bereavement, A Grief Observed. Throughout this collection of four notebooks written after the death of his beloved wife, he argues with, screams at and kicks God right in the gonads with angry violence. After helplessly watching ‘H’ succumb to cancer, Lewis questions his own faith and the theology he dedicated his life to. Unlike Lewis, I’m not a religious fellow at all, nor do I consider my love of Chubba Tubs to be in the context of God’s love; however, his description of the anger and most of all fear in these experiences strikes a chord with my current situation and I find his sentimental comforts honest and brave. I recommend this courageous text to all those who have dealt with bereavement or grief.

On a similar theme to Lewis’ reflections are Jean-Dominique Bauby’s masterpiece in the face of adversity, The Diving-bell and the Butterfly, Mitch Alborn’s The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and the book that’s currently making teenagers (and English teachers) cry that really ugly, snotty face cry, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Finally, my chap is more stable and is considering returning to the mad house he’ll call home. When he does so, I’ll happily have the highlights of the 2003 Rugby World Cup final ready and waiting, a song sheet of The Fresh Prince in Bell Air rap, and looking forward to read such literary classics as Owl Babies, Cows in the Kitchen and Pig’s Knickers.

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(Good Riddance) Time of Your Life

Overall, this has been another extraordinary year for the English department at Whitbread. Not only have we been privileged to see many students exceed expectations to achieve exceptional results, but we survived the most challenging year in teaching without Miss Smith head-butting anyone or Mr Morris losing any of his three remaining hairs.

If I try to define my short career in a single word for each year, it would be the following: 1st year was sleepless, 2nd year was delightful (mainly due daddyhood and 11Q/BM), and this year would be the return of ‘Crychan’. Crychan’s Challenge was the most bone-chilling, vomit-inducing, five day military thrashing in the darkest valleys of Brecon. However, at times it was so ruddy fun I was beaming from mud-caked ear to ear.

This year, battling against governmental change after governmental change meant that we were fighting fires left, right and centre. Teachers, students and parents were confuddled beyond belief. Furthermore, Ofsted decided to hit us right in the goolies towards the final weeks of Summer Term, leaving us all exhausted yet elated. This year, I earned my honorary elbow patches and became a proper teacher.

Despite all the kerfuffle, there were so many highlights. We have Year 9 students already expressing interests to read English at Oxbridge, and others who have never read for pleasure requesting recommendations. In Year 10, I believe we have our strongest cohort of young stars yet, with over 45% making four levels of progress and above. Exciting times indeed next year.

Due to our decision to enter the majority of Year 11 students early, we can already celebrate the accomplishments of many, many students. Especially Alexa Greer, who achieved full marks in her exam, full marks in her speaking and listening coursework, and was two marks shy of the whole shebang on her controlled assessment portfolio (just disgraceful). Danny Hanlon, Amy Chiswell, Jan Laming, Andrew Smith and Jonathan Hare also worked tirelessly to achieve the coveted A* grade. Furthermore, Luke Pease, who I believed must have slept though his KS2 SATS, was one mark away from achieving an A* and thus making six levels of progress; testament to his character, he of course re-sat the exam in June. George Longhurst and Jordan Drakes overcame great challenges and are two of the hardest working students I have met. And Laura Potts attended every single extra-curricular revision session in the hope of achieving the highest possible grade (she also happens to be the only student to buy me a beautiful plant as a leaving present, and I didn’t even teach her).

Year 12 Literature, Language, and Culture and Communication students have all performed admirably this year, with special recognition to Jess Fox, Rowan Lewis, Charlotte Dodd, Megan Burr, Megan Ward, Amelia Bacon, Eleanor Newton, Alex Mcinally and The Rt Hon. Head Girl Rachel G, for exceptional work throughout the year.

Our Y13 cohort was truly remarkable and each student will be sorely missed by their teachers. For two years we were impressed with your dedication to reading difficult texts, your ability to write critical and innovative arguments, and most importantly, you produced some of the finest baked delights for Cake Friday this school has ever seen. Our star students included Millie Morris, who excelled in both Language and Literature and will one day write a Booker Prize winning novel (and most hurtfully not include me in the dedication); Fiyal Malik, Ellie Corcoran, Hannah Marshall and Becky Reed for the most aesthetically pleasing notes, highlighted annotations and analytic essays; Beth Summerfield, with her wonderful combination of supreme intellect and illegible handwriting will one day be a GP; and finally Alex ‘Spoons’ GERT Ooms, who paraded himself to be as mathematically gifted as Alan Turing, but deep down was the greatest lover of all things literary and lexically pleasing. I hear he has rejected his offer from Exeter to read quasi-formulaic maths in favour of a creative writing course and a career as a beat poet.

And then there’s our bunch of pedagogical primates who have just gone from strength to strength. It has been a tough year for the department, with many feeling the pressure of striving for perfection. Yet most importantly, in addition to delivering extraordinary lessons to their pupils, the English department has grown into a more cohesive and collaborative family (Mr F is definitely the baby of the group). Highlights this year for the staff include: Mr Hetherington retaining the prestigious award for ‘Best Dressed Male Teacher’ despite worthy competition from ‘Bow Tie Friday’ and that dashing fellow from DT; Mr Constant has taken to skate-boarding and gives Tony Hawk a run for his money; Mrs Hopkins finished her magical garden containing fairies and elves; Mrs Baki remains as northern as ever; Miss Marvel has even more shoes than last year; Mrs Kerridge has become a Cambridge lady and is set to take over the world of educational research; Miss Croft became the Head of Drama and is looking forward to directing every James Joyce epic; Mrs Earp will be the Principal of Henlow Middle School next year, and will no doubt be teaching her favourite novel To Kill a Mockingbird to Year 5 pupils; Mr Forthergill got engaged (and no, she’s not a hobbit); and Miss Smith has lasted another year without shanking Mr Morris.

And finally, there’s Mr Price, who is leaving the department to become an Assistant Principal at a school in Milton Keynes. I don’t care much for the word ‘outstanding’ due to its bastardisation by the Dementor fellows from Ofsted, but Mr Price epitomises it in every essence of his character. Not only have his students consistently made exceptional progress, but have been truly inspired in his lessons. He has the remarkable capability to make the boring and monotonous exciting and inventive; he can take the most disheartened and disillusioned student and through the magic of creativity and drama, convert them into a passionate pupil who enjoys English. I have been in the privileged position of observing his teaching many times and have always left learning something new and feeling envious of the fact he didn’t teach me at school (despite the fact he is definitely old enough to have done so). Furthermore, he has always provided sage advice whenever it was sought, and mentored me to become the teacher I am today. But most importantly, he has been the greatest of friends. Mr Price will be dearly missed by all at SWA. The young pup taking over as Head of English has some exceptionally large shoes to fill.

And so, I hope that you have enjoyed your year as an English student at SWA and wish you a very happy and relaxing summer holiday. I hope that you continue to develop a life-long love of learning and literature in 2014-15!

Warmest regards,

Mr Morris

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Welcome Samuel Whitbread Academy English Students!

“And now we welcome the new year, full of things that have never been” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

This September sees the spiffing English Department at Samuel Whitbread Academy looking forward to a challenging, yet exciting academic year, in which we hope to build on last year’s many successes.  We were so incredibly pleased in August to achieve some excellent GCSE and A Level results, and congratulate all our wonderful students who worked so hard to achieve them.  Our three A-level classes performed admirably, with three students achieving the coveted A* grade, and our AS groups also did very well. Our GCSE results were outstanding, with many students achieving the highest grades in both Literature and Language. Consequently, there was many a proud teacher sniffling.

This new academic year we are looking forward to even greater accomplishments from our students… no pressure. We hope that all students reach their potential and achieve the grades they deserve next summer. Once again, we will be running many revision sessions and coursework surgeries to give students the best possible chance of success. Please keep an eye on the each Year’s page and our departmental Twitter account (@EnglishSamWhit)  for useful revision tips and materials.

The new iGCSE syllabus begins this year for the majority of students in Year 10, who will have the new challenges of coursework and exams to overcome.  It is particularly important that students attend all their English lessons this year, and avoid missing them at all costs. This includes early skiing trips which just make the teachers ridiculously jealous and more susceptible to failing your work out of spite.  The timetable to get all the work completed is very tight, and we want all our students to do the very best they can.

In Year 9 we have made some large-scale changes to our programmes of study, and introduced a whole new range of texts and assessment to help our students in their progress towards success at GCSE.  Our students will study a cluster of fictional and non-fictional texts which are linked by a common theme. It’s all rather splendiferously exciting!

Finally, it doesn’t matter who the devil you are;  whether you’re a Year 11 student hoping to achieve an A* in your English Language GCSE this November, a Year 10 following the new course or a fresh-faced Year 9 student keen to show your enthusiasm for the greatest subject offered at school; this blog has been designed with you in mind! As the term progresses, help will be at hand in the form of posts and resources for you, to help improve your exam skills and support you through the courses! Please peruse our regularly updated posts on a vast range of topics, ask that burning question you had forgotten in class, or simply leave a comment stating how wonderfully inspiring your (PE) teacher is – the choice is yours! This blog is designed to give you as much support as possible through your time at Samuel Whitbread.

And thus, I will leave you with this inspirational quote from one of the modern greats,

“This is a new year. A new beginning. And things will change.” (Taylor Swift)

Best wishes and good luck for this year!

The English Department