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My English teachers 1

17 Oct

Fifty years ago my English teacher was a Mr Harrison. He could claim just enough eccentricity, often a quality in an inspiring teacher, as he was famous for weaving and making his own suits. What he was especially good at was reading aloud. I still remember his reading of The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico as particularly magic. In my own teaching career there have been times, I like to think, when inspired by Mr Harrison’s memory I too have held a class captive by reading something or other. This has been especially valuable with classes who are not all that good at reading. I can remember doing things like serialising novels: Robbery Under Arms and Kidnapped come to mind, not to mention a Macbeth where I took all the parts for a scene or two, and it was only when in a Wollongong HSC class I began to read parts of Patrick White’s The Tree of Man aloud that I saw for myself how good it in fact is! I would urge all English teachers to develop this old-fashioned skill.

In senior years my teacher was Mr Smith, or “Rockjaw”. Younger than Mr Harrison, and of the belief that Rugby Union is “poetry in motion”, he did manage to stimulate much interest in the texts we had to study even if his dramatic skills were not as good as Mr Harrison’s. He did give us a good grounding, for those times, in critical reading; he rubbished me at one time for suggesting that film might be worth studying! Called me “Wordy Whitfield” too on occasion. I wonder why?

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