Wednesday, February 25, 2009


A) The blog is working. Illustrative is Ken Millar’s response. Ken and I worked in the Curriculum Development Division of the old Department of Education. We were both Assistant Directors during the Merv Wellington period - a particular trying time, made worse by a switch to Open Plan. We’ve been supportive of one another with our respective health problems.

Hi Harvey
I enjoyed stoatspring so went to your blog link and tried to respond. But I have much to learn!!! Couldn't do a thing, so here is my response in email format.

To Harvey from km


slashed me
two years ago

The years
the days
the hours
spring past
and winter

Friends with health
and friends without
are support

Their advice is
enjoy today
But no -
too long

I must enjoy
this moment

B) Here are two of my own poems. The first written last year is an accurate account of three actual events. The second is a few year’s old. I try each winter to reread one of the old masters. I cheat, in that Hardy keeps jumping the queue. This was written during my Austen winter. William, our cat, was an excellent mouser


Think of it as a journey
brightly says the welfare worker

Hell, it’s an operating theatre
not a jaunt to darkest Africa

I’ve a student with me, do you mind?
Avoid that artery - careful, there’s a nerve

Hell, that running commentary intrudes
scalpel, blood, existence, vulnerability

We’ve a diagnosis; bad news I’m afraid
some time though before a wheel-chair’s needed

Hell, should one scream and shout? Stoicism
under siege buckles but rallies; old habits hold.


Austen shouldn’t be read until middle age.
False start - wrong to start with obvious facts

Her young sailors sought fame, prize & fortune,
her heroines never experienced matrimonial felicity.

What would she have made of Helen Clark
or Mrs Clinton’s spouse?

Interruption - the cat brings in such a little mouse,
demands praise, performs acts of great rage
capering the tossed and uninhabited corpse.

Magnificent Mansfield Park
‘Most troubling of all is its preference for rest over

Only the bloodied head left to be buried

Time to reread the folio of that maiden aunt’s
pen, such steadiness midst all that gothic chaos.

‘Do you remember the first lesson you ever taught?’ people ask. I do. Teacher education means some time in schools, a semi-exercise in class-room learning. These periods were called sections; three terms then, so three sections for secondary trainees. For my first (1959) I returned to Akaroa District High School where I had spent my first three years as a secondary school student. The primary and secondary departments were on different sites. On the second day the primary headmaster fell ill with scarlet fever. I found myself without warning in front of his Standards 3 and 4 class. They sat in rows, silent, small hands on their desk tops, bright eyes sizing me up. "We know you", one said. "Well, I don't know you but I'd better begin. Could you each tell me your name and a few sentences about yourself." I learnt my first trick fast. They all started speaking at once. I glared. The noise subsided. "One at a time, we'll start with you."
A teacher poked her head in, "You seem in control," and withdrew. Hastily I looked around. At the back of the room there was a large map of Antarctica. On the shelf behind the desk lay a rather battered life of Birdie Bowers. Introductions finished, I asked if they knew about Captain Scott and the South Pole. Vaguely a few had but not much. I told the story, read a bit from the book, got them drawing the men pulling the sledges across the snow. "We usually do maths this period, sir," one boy said. Several hissed "Ssshh" at him. Having got their attention I wasn't going to change tack.
"What do you do next?" I asked the informer as they raced out to play. "Phys Ed. Here's our timetable." He produced it from his bag. When I went into the staffroom someone said, "The Boss normally takes phys ed next period." "I know" I said. "Quick work. Here take my whistle and there's the key to the store cupboard." College lectures had not prepared me for this. I was a history graduate, not a primary teacher trainee. When the bell rang I met the class at the door with four large medicine balls at my feet. "Carry these". I marched as far away from the classrooms as I could while remaining on the asphalt. "You and you and you and you pick four teams. We're going to have some relays." The reaction was one of enthusiasm. "Can the girls have two teams and the boys two teams?" "Why not?" Medicine balls passed over heads and under legs with general cheerfulness while I umpired. At the back of my mind I heard Dr Crawford’s [my tutor at Christchurch Teachers’ College] voice, ‘Every lesson should have a purpose.’
"Arithmetic next, we did Social Studies this morning" said the informer. He must have seen the look of panic on my face. "Don't worry, the answers are at the back of the book. I'll show you what we did yesterday." I decided arithmetic was a piece of cake for they worked while I walked round assisting them. As my own primary schooling had been one-teacher I was accustomed to one on one teaching. At lunchtime one of the staff said, "you kept them busy I see, that's the stuff." Somehow I got through the afternoon. "Here, we should have given you this," someone said in the staff room, giving me the class plan. "We thought you'd stand in just for the day but you could do it tomorrow couldn't you." Pride forbade a negative answer. No mentors now. I was on my own. A transition threshold crossed, at long last I was doing adult work.
Back at Miss Opie’s boarding rooms I collapsed exhausted. University seemed light years away. After dinner, declining an invitation to play euchre with the other boarders as I had on the previous evening, cursing my lack of resources, I began to prepare something for the following day. Next morning three girls from the class waited outside to carry my case with its hastily prepared lessons. One with a warm smile gave me a fresh Granny Smith. An apple for the teacher - it really was true. They chattered all the way to school. For three weeks this continued - each day a fresh apple. I learnt a lot about three Akaroa households. Indeed much more than I should’ve. Baby-sitting, entertaining, surviving, trial and error, inventing, I got through the days. It was not good teacher education. I never observed a lesson or for that matter received much assistance or advice. But I did notice when attention was captured. There was an engaging innocence, enthusiasm and vulnerability about them at all times. But there were moments when their interest was engaged and the tempo of learning moved up a notch.
In evening preparation I began to think about how to encourage and enlarge upon this when it happened. Obviously a striking beginning helped but the tough part was to keep up the momentum. The risk of failure existed, my personal failure. But it began to dawn on me that if that happened it would affect the learning of others – an awful and frightening responsibility. This recognition gave purpose to my lesson preparation plus a questioning as for what purpose the lesson existed. The curriculum had meaning - it was not just tablets of stone from on high. An amateur, my learning curve as a teacher had begun. Today’s teacher education is so much better.
When Sheila Crawford came to observe my ‘crit lesson’, which was with this class - historical whaling in New Zealand - she made it quite plain she did not approve of my teaching at this level. Teaching she told me is more than keeping a large number of children occupied. At the same time, contradictorily, she told me I was doing well. She particularly praised my getting the children to pretend to be whalers, the captain, the harpooner, the oarsmen, the vessel owners and to talk about their feelings as they hunted the animals, rendered down the carcasses or counted profits back in Boston. Then, with a flash of intuition I asked one group to imagine themselves as the whales. ‘Just feeding when these brutes arrived in their row-boats.’ ‘They harpooned my baby.’ With such ignition material the lesson took off, indeed too much, uninhibited they began to show off shrilling chattering all sorts of unarticulated resentments and desires. ‘You need to learn how to defuse a situation,’ Dr Crawford said in her written critique. Her spoken comment was interesting. ‘Fascinating, the imaginative life of young people.’
I became dog-tired, but remained happy, indeed elated. There is a buzz in a good lesson. In the last week I returned to the secondary sector where my old teacher Miss Greenwood blowing smoke rings said "I always knew you'd be a teacher. You didn't ask for help? We could have given you assistance you know. Your problem is you always want to do things your own way."
Mr Mahar, her colleague, expressed a different opinion. ‘You’ll end up an administrator.’
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘All good teachers do which is a shame.’
‘He’s far too creative to fall into that trap,’ said Miss Greenwood.
I felt a captive lamb being argued over by two tigers. In their different ways both foresaw my life as an educator.
I’ll make a confession. Those three weeks were fun - skills which became habitual not yet formed. I treasure that time, a rite of passage.

D) Postscript.
It has been pointed out that yesterday’s comment about dwindling could be misconstrued. I meant opportunities for companionship. I can see my habitual carelessness will get me into trouble with my blog entries if I’m not careful.

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