kidattypewriter

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Strophes, Apostrophes, Shouting, and Tits: Some teachers who have actually taught me something

Diogenes gets stuck into the universities and the decline of 'clear, elegant, grammatical English.' thanks to bad university management. He could have a point, but my guess is that it all starts in the schools.
If I had my way, we'd start teaching kids about Iambic Pentameter and versification, but that's not going to happen.

***

Miss Christy was my English teacher in year ten. She had big red hair, large glasses, a small voice, and big boobs. Our English classroom was on the second floor, and she was often late for class. When we got to class, all the boys would sit on the balcony and watch while she passed below.
Once in class, when she was trying to get us to do work, she shouted, "Don't procrastinate! Hamlet procrastinated, and look what happened to him!"
Most of the kids had no idea who Hamlet was, and none of us knew what procrastination meant. Eventually, someone stuck their hand up.
"Miss, what does procrastination mean?"
Ah, Miss Christy. Thanks to you, I will always remember your boobs the meaning of the word procrastination ...

***

When I was sixteen, I went to boarding school. My English teacher there was an Indian called Manoj Honda. We called him Mr Manoj.
Mr Manoj was fat, and tended to shout when he got excited, when he wanted to emphasise a point, or at random moments in his conversation. On my first day in his class, he got some people to dramatise the poem 'Weapon's Training' by Bruce Dawe. At some point, I got up and shouted the poem for him. He liked me immediately.
He was passionate about poetry, so it's a pity that he had to teach us Bruce Dawe and Robert Gray instead of William Shakespeare and Percy Bysse Shelley.
Honda, first name Manoj, taught me how to analyse poetry and write proper essays.

***

Merle Mitchell wasn't an English teacher at all, she was my piano teacher. She was grey haired, had glasses, and wore her hair in a bun. She was a member of a religious sect that was spread all over country NSW and Victoria. Her children all wore denim jeans or skirts and left school at the end of year 10.
She was also an excellent piano teacher, and she taught me how to play the instrument properly, perform fluently, recognise four part harmony, and identify the structure of music. I still think, if I have any writing skill at all, it's largely because of my musical training.

***

Barry Spurr was my best tutor and lecturer at university. He was small and balding and worked in an office lined wall to wall with books. Once when he was making small talk with a group of students before beginning the tutorial, he cast his eye wistfully over these books, and said, "It is a terrible thing to have an unread book upon the shelf ..."
Another time, we were talking about music, and he said to a student, "Have you heard of 'The Whitlams'?"
His eyes sparkled, as if to say, 'Yes. Yes, young people. I have indeed heard of this musical ensemble that you talk about. Don't think I don't know about them, because I do!" Apparently, some years before, he had had Tim Freedman in his tutorials.
Years later, I was in Newcastle Library, and happened to come across a whole series of HSC guides to English literature by him. Funny, really, because all I can remember him teaching us about was grammar. I'd send in my essays to be marked by him, and he'd take a mark off for each spelling error and misplaced apostrophe.

Interestingly enough, I can't recall anything my other lecturers taught me. Barry Spurr was the best damned lecturer I ever had.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you TimT. Barry Spurr was indeed the best lecturer I was privileged to encounter at Sydney University....a fact I have only come to realise years after the event. He stood (and stands) for something sadly at stake in contemporary academic life, and indeed cultural life at large, in this country. Josh H.

Email: timhtrain - at - yahoo.com.au

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