Prejudice Is Ugly, Kids.

I was saddened to read what happened to Sharon Cathcart the other day in response to a blog post about racism. Nobody should have to put up with another person’s bad behaviour simply because they are standing up for what is right. 

Sadly, there can be no doubt that racism and white supremacy are still living and active in our world. 

We see their outworking on the news, on the streets, on social media, and in the actions of hateful people. It can be public or private. It can be overt or concealed. 

It seems the only thing it cannot be is eradicated. 

I do try, in my own sphere of influence, to teach and challenge others to embrace equality, acceptance, and empathy for what others have endured, and what is still experienced by many. 

I try to make people aware of what white privilege is, and why it’s wrong to perpetuate it. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’ve been a beneficiary of it all my life. I’ve had advantages others haven’t, simply because I’m white. That doesn’t mean I am willing to sit back and allow it to perpetuate.  

This is why I teach my students about the effects of European settlement of Australia on the indigenous people, then and now. It’s why I teach my students about segregation, oppression, and the Civil Rights Movement, and have them listen and respond to speeches by Martin Luther King Jr and JFK. It’s why I thave them study texts such as ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, ‘Rabbit Proof Fence’ and ‘No Sugar’. It’s why I teach about inequality, wellbeing, and social justice. And I make sure they understand that for everything that has happened in the USA, Australia’s track record is no better. 

It’s why I challenge people who tell racial jokes, or call people names, or avoid people who don’t fit their ideal. 

It’s why I object to the way in which my country continues to detain people who are legitimately seeking asylum on small third-world islands nearby. It’s why I object to policies and practices that continue to discriminate against indigenous Australians. 

And it’s why I write blog posts like this. 

I do not ever claim to be perfect, but I detest prejudice, discrimination, and everything that goes with them. It’s not just about race: nobody should be excluded, abused or marginalised for being different in whatever way. 

I, too, have had hateful messages left on a blog post or three. I know they are intended to upset me, and to deter me from posting something similar again.

Sadly for those responsible, it has the opposite effect. I always figure that if someone is vehement enough to threaten or abuse me over something I have written, I have probably touched a nerve that deserved touching. As my grandfather used to say, “If you throw a stone at a pack of dogs, the one it hits will yelp the loudest.”

He was a wise man, my grandfather. That statement was never made about actual rocks, nor about actual dogs. It was invariably made about bullies, and various other sorts of horrible people, and the way they would always lash out or blame someone else in response to any accusation or opposition directed at them.

That’s the same reason people leave nasty messages on blogs and social media. They resent the fact that someone is calling them out on their hate.

It’s okay for them to say what they want, though. They have rights, you know.

Sharon E. Cathcart

I was coming back here to write about something else, and found that I had a threatening e-mail (via my contact page) and comment (permanently deleted) from a white supremacist in reference to the link I shared about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Suffice it to say that this individual now has the rare distinction of having been blocked.

This is what white supremacy looks like: threatening anyone who dares to show support for people of color, or to speak out about what happens to them.

And that is actually what I came here to write about. When my dad died, I mentioned that he had given away the bride when one of his African-American students, Joe, married a white woman. Her own family refused to attend.

Anyway, we tried very hard to find Joe in time for Daddy’s funeral. The number my mother had was disconnected, and the…

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I Deal with Imposter Syndrome Daily and I Haven’t Quit Writing Yet

I can relate to this post on so many levels. As a writer. As a teacher. As a performer. As a director. Sometimes, even as a decent human being.

I may have proven myself time and time again, but it doesn’t stop that sensation that maybe I’m not any good, nor does it quell the fear that one day someone will expose me or my work as being rubbish.

Fear isn’t rational.
Anxiety doesn’t care about track records.
And Impostor Syndrome is relentless.

I don’t know why it happens, but I know it plagues creative people and sometimes renders them unable to keep going.

I haven’t given in to it yet. I don’t ever want to. But my goodness, trying to resist it is tiring.

A Writer's Path

by Meg Dowell

Writing is hard enough. Add imposter syndrome into the mix and it becomes the kind of challenge you have to remind yourself, quite often, is still worth pursuing.

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Classy Humour.

I love the fact that my students have great senses of humour. They’re quirky and fun, and they know they have the freedom to express that in my classes.

Last week, one of my students told me a funny story about what he did in Biology class. To his delight, I appreciated the humour a lot more than his classmates or the Biology teacher had done.

He was more than willing to give me permission to write his story creatively. I decided a Drabble would be perfect for creating a snapshot of that moment in the classroom.

I hope you enjoy his very classy humour as much as I did.

And thank you, James, for making me laugh on a regular basis. You’re a legend.

The teacher stood at the front of the room, textbook in hand, as the students settled down to business. 

“Please open your text book to page four hundred and four, and… yes, James?”

The teacher looked with anticipation at the young man sitting in the second row, hand raised and an awkward smile on his face. 

“That page cannot he found.” 

His classmates looked confusedly at James, and then at the specified page in their own books.

The teacher frowned. “Are you sure? There must be some kind of mistake.”

James’ smile became a triumphant grin. “It’s an error 404.”

***

Credit for this story must be given to my student, James, who actually did this in one of his classes, and gave me permission to write it as a drabble.

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The Day After Yesterday

Yesterday was abysmal.
That’s not even an exaggeration. In my string of at least a month’s worth of rotten days, yesterday hit new lows. 

I can’t even pit into words how bad it was. It was a day in which I began to question everything I thought I knew about myself professionally, and some of the things I thought I knew on a more personal level. 

It was a day of alternating between being in tears in my office and being in class pretending nothing was wrong.

If the fact that my students have no idea what I have been going through for the past five weeks is testament to my ability as an actor, then yesterday’s performance was nothing short of stellar.

Even leaving work didn’t help: things just kept getting worse.

Today has been better – not because anything has actually changed— it hasn’t at all— but because of the people who told me they believe in me.

It does not change the way things are, but it does empower and encourage me to keep going. For every person who has no faith in me, I have two who do. 

So, I’m going to soldier through it and get things done. I’m going to focus on the positives. And if people try to bring me down, I’ll show them what I’m made of, and then I’ll probably put them in a story and kill them gruesomely. 

Hey nonny nonny. 

On Verbing

Most of the time, when people protest about the way the English language is abused, it’s a case of the language continuing to evolve as it has always done.

One such example is the practice of verbing, which takes the noun form of a word and transforms it into a verb form… like ‘verb’ and ‘verbing’. 

Just last week, I was talking with a friend about how annoying she finds it when people say “I’m going to action that.” I’m sure she sought me out for the conversation because I’m both a word nerd and an English teacher. 

“Action is a noun! A bloody noun! How can so many otherwise intelligent people get that wrong?”

“It grates on us because it’s recent,” I said. “We’ll get used to it.”

“No, I won’t! It’s just wrong!”

“You know Shakespeare did it?”

“What?” 

“Verbing. He did it all the time.”

“You and your Shakespeare. It’s like he’s the answer to everything.” 

“You know he invented the word ‘friending’, right?”

She rolled her eyes and walked away. She didn’t even flinch at my use of the term “verbing”, which is exactly the same thing as “actioning” in terms of the language. After all, ‘verb’ is a noun, too. 

It is the recent examples of verbing, such as “actioning” an idea, that we notice because we’re not used to hearing them yet. When Facebook was new, people complained the same way about “friending”, but these days nobody thinks twice about that. At some point in time, someone decided that it was okay to talk about bottling  fruit, or shelving books, and now those terms are just everyday language. 

It is also true, however, that some things people commonly say are, quite simply, wrong

My pet peeve is when my students are talking about sport or some other kind of competition, and they say “We versed Team X”. 

This is a common bastardisation of the Latin versus, which means ‘against’. It is commonly used for sporting matches and legal cases, and is generally abbreviated as v. or vs., as in Black v. White or Blue vs. Red. 

My first response is always to ask whey they wrote poetry about another team. “You played them. You opposed them. You clashed with them. You competed with them. You did not write poetry about them.” Then I explain how the different words work, and what they actually mean. 

The reason “versed” is wrong is because the words ‘versus’ and ‘verse’ have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Because ‘against’ is a preposition, it simply doesn’t make sense to say “We againsted them”. It is not verbing, by any stretch of the imagination. 

The first time we have that conversation, they look at me with confusion. Some have a glazed look of fear, like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights. This never fails to entertain me. The second and third times, they roll their eyes.

Over time, the tedium of having the same grammar-nerdy conversation persuades them to start using the language correctly. They learn, I win, and so does the English language. 

Two More Reasons Why History is Not Boring

I’m always a bit lost for words when people remark that history is boring. Not because I have nothing to say— far from it— but because I know they are never going to be anywhere near ready for the conversations I want to have with them.

I accept that in the past, some teachers have been guilty of making history very, very dull, but it was not the history that was boring: it was the teacher. 

I’ve had some of my own students question, “Why do we need to learn about this? How am I ever going to use this in real life?”
My responses vary depending on the topic at hand, but they are consistently positive and enthusiastic about how interesting and inspiring history can be. 

I have recently discovered two new examples to offer to students or friends who complain about history. 

A week or so ago, I read a story of a 14th century nun named Joan who faked her own death to get out of the convent she was living in.
How’s that for dedication?

Apparently, she wasn’t the only one who wanted to escape either. Having studied medieval history and knowing the lifestyle adhered to by monks and nuns of the time, I can’t say I blame any of them.

Faking your own death is definitely taking it to the next level, though, so I feel that Joan deserves a bit of recognition and applause for her commitment to the performing arts. 

Original painting: Jan Van Helmont Portrait of the Sisters of the Black. Public Domain
The clever edits are my own. 

Then, today, one of my favourite History blogs on WordPress posted about “the mythical animal with a deadly rear end”. I followed the link to the full story about the Bonaccon, and did a little more research after that.

I now know more about this amazing creature than my friends will ever think beneficial. You can bet I’m going to tell them all about it, and I know my Year 9 boys are going to love it, too. I almost can’t wait until they complain again, so that I have a good reason to get the story out and share it. 

Seriously, take a look at this beast. This picture from a medieval bestiary, or book of animals, portrays this particular bonnacon as being rather pleased with himself and his toxic poop. He’s never going to be sorry. 

Go on. Tell me now that history is boring. I dare you. 

Exploring Shakespeare’s Language With Teenagers

As I mentioned last week, my Year 9 class is studying ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ this term. 

Today my students investigated the words and phrases coined by Shakespeare. 

I started by giving them a list of the words and asking them to highlight which ones they knew and used. This really engaged them, and it was great to see their motivation change as they realised that Shakespeare’s language isn’t all lofty poetry and words that finish in -eth. 

I followed that up with some great videos and a website resource to extend their knowledge and reinforce their learning. 

An unexpected bonus for me was the overall positive response to the exit quiz I made for the end of the lesson. 

Of course, it wasn’t all enthusiastic. I’ve been teaching Year 9 English for long enough to know not all kids are going to respond positively, so I do at least try to make my quizzes fair so that they can express their feelings honestly, and kind of fun so that they actually want to do them.

They know there is no obligation to respond in a way that will make me feel good, and I know my students, so I’m confident that these responses are an accurate reflection of attitudes throughout the group.

Wait, what? Boring? 

Thankfully, the next set of responses explained that. The 26% who found the videos boring are probably the ones who preferred the website based resource instead. That’s a relief!

There was a surprise waiting for me, though.

The funny thing is, I didn’t even know there was an option 7. I must have accidentally hit ‘return’ while making the quiz on Google Forms. I don’t know if Option 7 was perceived to be better or worse than ‘boring’. I’m telling myself that since they could choose multiple options, Option 7 was checked by those with a good sense of humour. 

This was the closest I got to asking the students to identify themselves. If they don’t have to tell me their names, they are more likely to give honest responses. I’m not-so-secretly excited that so many of them identify as dragons. 

Thursday Thoughts: I’m Textually Active.

If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you’ll probably know that when I’m not blogging, reading or writing, or strutting my stuff on stage in musicals, I’m a teacher. 

Teaching is demanding and tiring and stressful, but I am always up for a great booknerdy discussion with my students, who I happen to believe are some of the coolest kids on the planet. That is one of the parts of my job that I really love. 

Last semester, my Year 9 English class studied ‘Beowulf’ and Year 11 studied both ‘Richard III’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’

The fun continues this semester. I’m excited to be teaching four more texts I really enjoy. 
My Year 9 English class are going to study ‘Much Ado About Nothing’  and ‘Treasure Island’
My Year 11 English class will be studying ‘The Complete Maus’ and ‘The Book Thief’. 

Teaching teenagers can be a tough gig sometimes, but it also has its perks.

If you had a teacher you liked, I’d love to know what it was about them that appealed to you or inspired you. Leave a comment and inspire me!

The Squirrels Have Checked Out.

It’s the last day of term. 

Even though I am, like every other teacher, exhausted and keen for that bell to ring at the end of the day, I am still trying desperately to keep the kids on task and get things finished before then. 

The problem is, they’ve already checked out. 
They just don’t care. 
They’re restless. 
They’re talkative. 
They’re twitchy. 
Their eyes have glazed over with the promise of freedom, of late sleep-ins and no school uniforms or restrictions on their social media life for the next two weeks. 

If you’ve ever watched a squirrel running around in a park or a forest, that is the precise image of the mental and emotional engagement in my classroom today.
One or two are evolving into chipmunks as I watch. 

Except for that one kid at the back, who is working like a champion to get everything completed. 
I don’t have favourites, but today I really love that kid. 

Being Fontist.

I am a person who takes others at face value. I don’t immediately classify someone as pretty or ugly, gay or straight, progressive or conservative (unless, either way, they are hateful or prejudiced – then the deal is off) , black or white or some other colour, blonde or brunette, or anything else. I don’t care if they’re plain or fancy, nor do I care if they’re pretty or not. I try to take each person as they are and let their integrity speak louder than their features. I like to get to know them before I make any decisions about them.

When it comes to fonts, however, i am nowhere near as open-minded. Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of fonts I like, and many others that I will view with an open mind depending on context and purpose. 
But there ARE two or three fonts I really hate. I refuse to use them. I have handed back an assignment or two, asking for it to be reprinted in a more acceptable typeface. It’s true: I am Fontist. 

I wasn’t raised that way.  We didn’t really need to think about fonts back then. When I was growing up, it seemed as thought books were printed in two, maybe three different standard fonts. From memory, there was something like Times New Roman,  a basic Sans Serif, and possibly another standard typewriter-style serif font. There was never a question of what typeface to submit our work in, because computers weren’t a thing and our school work was all handwritten. When I started university, assignments and essays had to be typed and double-spaced, so I used my parents’ typewriter. Of course, it only got to the typing stage when one or two hand-written drafts had been painstakingly written, proofread, edited, and revised. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad those days are over. I appreciate the ease of writing using my laptop as much as anyone else, and I’m happy for my students to do some – but not all – of their work on their devices. 
My underlying Fontism rears its ugly head, though, when someone hands in an assignment or broadcasts a presentation on the screen that screams “ridiculous font” louder than anything the student is trying to communicate. The same thing happens in meetings and seminars where the important information is obscured by the poor choice of font on the screen or handout. 

You might think I’m overreacting. But consider this: I might read fifty student assignments in less than a week, or sit through twenty five student presentations in two or three days. When their font suggests I shouldn’t be taking their work seriously, that’s a complication neither they nor I need. 

Right at the top of my hate list is Comic Sans. It looks childish, and gets increasingly ridiculous as the size increases, to the point where it is almost impossible for me to take anything printed in that font seriously. It is a font that should never be used for school work of any description by anyone older than six, nor should it be used for slide shows and presentations.  Yes, it is “nice and clear for people to read”, but so are about 3000 other fonts one could choose. If your audience is not entirely in the First Grade, choose something else. 

Another font I hate is Arial. Yes, it is also nice and clear for people to read. It is also entirely bland and unimaginative. Arial is the font equivalent of still having that original iPhone Marimba ring tone from 2008 on your new iPhoneX when you have 2500 different songs on your playlists.  It is the font for lazy people who don’t care how their work looks. It doesn’t take much effort to switch so something equally clear but which looks a lot more polished and professional. In a word: boring. 

The other fonts I really dislike fall into two groups: anything over-decorative and wrongly sized formatting

Over decorative fonts have their place, but trying to read a block of text printed in anything full of swirls and flourishes or trippy lines and shadows will make a teacher’s eyes bleed in less than three minutes. Decorative fonts can work really well for titles, or for a special capital letter or character to start a page or chapter, but they fail miserably for anything that needs to communicate information or arguments clearly and effectively. 

In a similar vein, text printed too small or too large is equally frustrating. If it’s too small and condensed, it’s hard to read and… you guessed it, bleeding eyeballs. At the other end of the equation, students may think they can fool me into believing their 337words meets the 500 word minimum word count if their work is formatted in size 15 Helvetica, but my teacher brain knows better. My teacher brain has been doing this a lot longer than they have. 

So, I guess this is me coming out of the classroom cupboard and acknowledging the ugliness of the deep-seated prejudice that lies deep within me. It is equally as rampant and undeniable as the grammar nerdism that I make no attempt to hide.

Call me fussy. Call me Fontist. I’m okay with that. But don’t call me to complain if I’ve asked your teen cherub to reprint an assignment so that I can read it without tears. Trust me – it’s better that way, and I’ve tried to be nice about it. Well, I’ve probably been nice.. 

Maybe. 

Unless they are a repeat offender. In that case, there are no guarantees.