Lesson 20 on the Importance of Holding our Heads up High
The stigma of being relegated to a Remedial group was a hard thing to conquer. Even when the work was accessible, enjoyable and successful, the rest of the world could be thoughtlessly judgmental. For pupils (and teachers) it could be a cross to bear. I was told quite early on that it was pointless to aspire to headship. With a background in “Remedial”, the career path to senior management was closed to me.
The standard English syllabus, such as it was at that time, was governed ultimately by the examination boards. Most pupils were required to study Shakespeare.
“Miss, all the others are doing Romeo and Juliet,” my second year group at the convent announced. They had heard of Romeo and Juliet. They knew it was romantic. They felt excluded.
“We can do Romeo and Juliet too, if that’s what you want. It isn’t a problem. We just need to have a look at the catalogues to see if we can afford some books,” I confidently responded.
By this time we had our very own budget, so we were not limited by the constraints of the stock cupboard. Each year we scoured the catalogues to choose our resources and work out what we could buy. We had a useful lesson on how schools came by their money and how parliamentary democracy worked to fund the various services we used and needed. Civics lived in our remedial department in the 1970s!
I had remembered from my primary days that there were various Stories from Shakespeare books on the market, but we needed ones suitable for our secondary age and status. We found some designed for adult English as a Second Language learners which were affordable and wouldn’t disgrace us in the eyes of others.
Early on in teaching I had discovered the benefits of an “edited highlights” approach to great literature. We had used this approach in Philosophy at university. You studied a reputable summary of a particular person’s work, then read a few key passages of the actual text. If this could get you through a degree, it could get the remedial group through Romeo and Juliet.
It helped having a number of language backgrounds in the group, because second language learners were not phased by older forms of English. It was just another language, nothing to be frightened of! We played games of “Guess the Meaning” with carefully selected passages of the actual text.
Then there was the video that everybody else in the year was watching. We needed to take our turn at watching that too. It was very important to be seen to be on the rota for the AV room.
Thankfully it was being produced in episodes by Schools Television. It was wonderfully acted by famous stars. I selected key episodes that we would enjoy, but I forewarned them that they would probably not be able to follow all the words.
How I underestimated them!
It was one of the early scenes with the Nurse we saw first. I need not have been afraid they would be bored. Never doubt the power of a good story in the hands of a great master and his team of players. They lapped it up.
And, marvel of marvels, they laughed at all the dirty jokes!