Monday, 15 November 2010


Who would have thought that sharing a tin of Welshcakes could be incorporated into an English lesson on poetry from other cultures? Well it can and very successfully. I was rather sceptical to start with, hell, when I was at secondary school, the way they got us to understand poetry and I use the term ‘understand’ loosely was to learn it off by heart. It never occurred to me that people around the globe were penning their own verses. Our teachers doled out antique, dusty tomes of the Romantics. Wordsworth, Blake, Keats and Coleridge were almost daily torturers and most of the books had vulgar graffiti written inside the dust jacket that implied the previous student had not particularly enjoyed Tintern Abbey or The Ancient Mariner either. Imagine our delight, when occasionally, to be edgy and alternative, the odd Roger McGough poem was thrown into the syllabus. That was about as unconventional as English teachers got in the early 80s at my school, either they didn’t ‘get’ African poetry or they felt that there was enough talent in this country so, why bother our impressionable little heads with anything vaguely foreign. I’d imagine there was more truth in the former and so the Irish W.B Yeats was about as international as we went.
The teaching of poetry has changed significantly over recent years, and whilst some children will still groan, “Oh Miss. Not poetry” and put his head on the desk in despair, a lot of the learning is through what is now termed as ‘active engagement’. Henceforth children are not droned on at for hours on end but are expected to be active learners and find things out for themselves, or in other words to work as a group within the confines of the classroom or adjacent corridor.
The week before, I had demonstrated rap music and the rhythm therein. I had the words in front of me and decided to just ‘go for it’. I adopted some sort of ‘gangsta rapper’ stance, put on a bit of an accent and ‘made it real’ or some such expression. I looked up from the paper at one point to see a girl in the second row with tears coursing down her cheeks.
“Oh miss”, she tried to say, breathlessly whilst laughing, “That’s the funniest thing I’ve seen for ages. You’ve made my day”. Three tiny little boys at the back of the class looked more shifty. I’m not na├»ve. I confiscated their phones and later gave them a stern telling off about filming teachers and did I really deserve to be plastered all over YouTube? This was not the sort of active engagement that I’d had in mind.
Apart from the three errant boys the lesson was a joy. The other boys immediately got into character and not only wrote some fantastic rap songs but were at pains to rehearse their performance. I was apprehensive about making the decision to allow them to practise their routines in the corridor but, they were so engaged in the activity, they were as good as gold. It was a far cry from sitting in serried ranks learning, ‘Tyger, Tyger burning bright’, but I must say, far better for it.
So, with one lesson on poetry from other cultures under my belt, by Monday, I was brimming with confidence. I’d made a pile of Welshcakes, had brought in my great-great grandmother’s ancient bakestone, had designed a PowerPoint presentation on Welsh culture and which had a group photo of me reciting poetry as a little girl and they had to guess which one was ‘Miss’. We had a lot of fun. Imagine such a thing? I can vividly remember one master roaring at me when I got the giggles once, “You girl! Stop this silliness immediately. See me for detention. You’ve come to school to learn not to have fun”. I might have learnt more had I been terrified a little less.
I looked at my watch. There was only five minutes of the lesson left. Time for my piece de resistence. I handed around the tin of Welshcakes. No sooner had I turned my back and headed to the front of the class when projectile vomit shot past my right shoulder and splattered the interactive whiteboard. Oh my God. What had I done? I hadn’t checked my special needs roster first. Was there some poor child with a severe allergy to wheat and raisins? What if they went into an anaphylactic shock? Could an innocuous scone kill a kid? I swung round. It was easy to determine which child it was. He was green and looked like Moses in the Red Sea, the waves of children on either side of him had parted in revulsion.
“I’m so sorry Miss”, he said, nose dripping and still retching, “I never had one of your Welshcakes and they looked so nice. I just haven’t been feeling well” and to prove a point, he puked, rather profusely, once again.


DL said...

Spoilsport! At least the Youtube initiative would have allowed us all to benefit from the experience. Who knows, you might even give that nice little Cher Lloyd a run for her money!

It seems a bit of an exclusive little club these days, being an AB commenter. Keep 'em coming though. You're appreciated up here in the Forest of Dean.

Best wishes,

Welshbird said...

Oooooo welshcakes.

I might have to go bake some now.

Alice Band said...

Thanks DL I appreciate your devotion!