Two of my favourite videos on the web at the moment – and both from pals!
First of all, this is a short animation by my friend Cinders McLeod, the brilliant Canadian activist and cartoonist behind “Broomie Law”. Cinders works for the Globe and Mail in Toronto, and this is one in her series of child-friendly introductions to economics. It’s charming, and is beautifully voiced by Cinders and her daughter Anya.
The second clip isn’t actually a talented, beautiful friend: it’s actually the talented, handsome son of a talented, beautiful friend! This is Theo, the son of Clara Glynn, the film maker who directed “The Practicality of Magnolia”. Here he is with Brian Cox, who also starred in the film. Isn’t Theo just fantastic!
Just lovely clips!
Usually, I’d rather have my eyeballs pierced than go to a Christmas gig to promote a Christmas album. However, given that Thea Gilmore is a left-wing, atheist, activist folk-rock singer with a penchant for paganism and recording fierce protest songs, this was always going to be a bit different.
Oxford-born Gilmore is an engaging hostess who seems to be more at home in King Tut’s world-renowned sleaziness than the glossy arts centres she says she’s been playing since late November, and that makes the evening go with a swing. She has a beautiful voice, rich and honey coated and pitch perfect: her acapella “Sol Invictus” is mesmerising, as his her wistful interpretation of “Blue Christmas”. She showcases most of the new album, “Strange Communion”, and songs like “Drunken Angel” and, especially, “December in New York” are lovely songs that exploit the poignancy of winter rather than Christmas itself, and are therefore worth hearing at any time of year.
There are plenty of danceables too. “That’ll be Christmas” is a typical poppy festive single with a playfully cynical edge, full of tired waiters in stupid hats and drunk relations telling dirty jokes. Her folk roots are revealed in the fantastic “St Stephen’s Day Murders” (multi instrumentalist Fluff provides a brilliant violin riff), a song that’s reminiscent of “Fairytale of New York”, which – coincidentally given that it’s chosen by a cheeseboard of Christmas songs, a dart and a bit of audience participation – they do energetic justice to during the encore.
She finishes with “Old December”, another beautiful ballad. The audience sings the show to a close with the line “Sing for old December”, and I’ve never heard a hairy-arsed Scottish mob sound so angelic. Gilmore enjoys herself immensely – she is clearly mad about Christmas – and the enthusiasm communicates, especially to the big bloke in front of the stage who seems to think his black fedora makes him look attractive and who dances like no-one is watching. A good night out.
A couple of school visits to Inverness and the recommendation of a taxi driver brought me to this lovely new restaurant with great views over the River Ness. I really like Inverness – it’s a little Paris, I think.
First visit, I suspect I found the restaurant’s forté. Sea bass fillets were on the menu, served with mozzarella and cherry tomatoes on a salsa. An eccentric combination – never mix fish with cheese, they scream on Masterchef – but it works well, largely due to the meaty, fresh, perfectly cooked fish. As for dessert, I’ve never yet found the ideal apple tart – I reckon it’s a Platonic myth – and this isn’t it either, but it’s sweet and sloppy and very nice, thank you very much.
Second visit this evening, I went for its other speciality, local beef. It’s a good sirloin with a peppercorn sauce that is a sharp, peppery jus rather than the creamy goop you get in more careless kitchens. The caramelised shalots could perhaps have done with a bit more caramelising, but the sweet potato wedges are great. As for dessert, it’s the best bit yet: a wedge of custard tart bursting with plump blackberries, accompanied by a tangy coulis. I was sorely tempted to order another slice.
It’s great to see a simple, elegant and reasonably priced restaurant that offers really fresh and local food well-cooked and served with pride, and certainly made up for a five hour train journey with only a mid-afternoon Greggs’ sandwich to keep me going. A real find.
I’ve been involved in an increasingly nasty debate in the letters page of the Times Educational Supplement (Scotland) over behaviour management. It all began with an anonymous critic trashing the new Curriculum for Excellence, claiming that the only problem with Scottish education is that disruptive pupils can’t be suspended as easily as previously. Paradoxically, this comes at a time when, according to the latest independent survey for the Scottish government, teachers are far more positive about the behaviour they encounter in classrooms
Quite apart from any reference to CfE – and while I generally support it, I know there are huge problems with its implementation – I refuse to believe that the only way to improve education is to punish children more severely. Most teachers of this opinion – cynics to a man and woman – claim that their concerns are for the majority of children whose education is disrupted: I don’t buy that. My experience over eighteen years in schools is that these teachers prefer classes which are quiet, undemanding, biddable: in other words, they want an easy life with children who never cause them any problems.
Central to this belief is that teachers are disempowered in the classroom: bad behaviour is the fault of bad parenting skills, of “feral” children who lack any respect for authority, of senior managers who aren’t tough enough, of local authorities who pressurise schools to keep miscreants in class, of teaching unions who don’t support classroom teachers. The pattern is obvious: never, ever need such teachers look at their own practice, because it is just never, ever their responsibility.
My crime? I dared to suggest that teachers are better equipped than ever to deal with misbehaviour, and that I have seen many teachers employing a vast range of fantastic strategies to build relationships with their pupils, from assertive discipline techniques all the way through to restorative practices. I am heavily involved in behaviour management training on our own course, the PGDE(S), at the University of Strathclyde, and I see every year the fruits of the work we do. New teachers go out into the profession with a level of skill in managing behaviour that took me years to develop during my service in schools.
The response was predictable . First, there was the “who the fuck does he think he is” attitude, with correspondents claiming that “self-styled experts” like me are to blame for the faults of the system. When I pointed out that I would never be so arrogant as to claim “expertise” over others, and that I wanted to congratulate “expert” teachers, the response was, “well, if he’s not an expert, what is he doing training teachers?” It’s culminated in one writer suggesting that I have no right to earn a living, and that the money spent on my salary would better be spent lowering class sizes. Such is the incoherence of the true cynic.
Of course, I can stand up for myself, and I refuse to bow to vitriolic bullying like this. But, unfortunately, it’s always been the case that such people drive debate. Bunkered behind their illiberal, lazy refusal to accept their need to develop professionally, they shout down the vast majority of terrific teachers who happen to think that the education of every child is a job worth doing and strive to find ways of doing it. The cynics’ attitude was summed up succinctly and eloquently by Alan McLean as long ago as 2002, but still they hold sway, and are rarely called out for what they are.
During a behaviour management training session, a teacher once said to me that there was no way he/she would ever thank pupils for doing something he/she expected them to do. Gobsmacked, I calmly tried to relate it to life outside the classroom: we thank people for opening doors for us, even though we expect that they won’t slam it in our faces; we thank waiters for delivering our food, even though we expect it of them. In other words, I tried to reason with the unreasonable. Perhaps I should have said what I really thought: if you can’t treat the children you work with every day with the same level of basic respect with which you treat total strangers, then just get the fuck out of teaching. But of course, now that I work outside the classroom, I don’t have a right to say that, do I?
The views expressed above are, of course, entirely personal reflections, and should not be associated with The University of Strathclyde or with the work I or my colleagues do there.