First of all, I should say that I have never been a schoolteacher or a college lecturer. My working life was largely office based, which I mainly enjoyed. As far as teaching goes, my experiences are over forty yearsago. In my twenties, I assisted students with reading in an Adult Literacy Class. As a late reader myself, I remember the effort to learn to read at the age of eight, and grew to hate the “Three Little Pigs”, the reading book used at the time. Then I was a Mother Helper at my daughter’s Playgroup. There I realised how difficult it is to control large groups of children, when a three old boy injured another child, by throwing a toy car at him. His swift and expert aim, missing an eye by a fraction, was a complete surprise to me and no doubt to the unfortunate child. Finally, I became a Sunday School teacher. I fared a little better here, as the majority of the children were on their best behaviour. There was only one child, who I often had to physically reseat in his chair!
I can only speak of my own experience of teachers in primary school in the 1950s, up to leaving university in 1969. I am not qualified to write on the changes in education that have taken place over the years. My own children’s schooling in the 1970s and 1980s passed off uneventfully from comprehensive school to sixth form college and university.
I read in the media of parent’s difficulties in getting their children into schools of their choice and of the stress of teachers, dealing with ever increasing workloads. Since Covid-19, teachers are now front-line workers, risking their health and forced to use online technology for remote learning.
In the 1950s my own primary school experience coincided with the conquering of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary, believed to be the first man to reach the summit. I recorded the progress of learning my multiplication tables, by ascending to a new base camp each time a table was mastered. I did this by placing a peg in the appropriate place, on a picture of the Mountain, until finally a peg was placed triumphantly at the top! I remember having difficulty with one teacher, when I persisted in writing the figure eight, by drawing two 0s one on top of the other. She became exasperated when she thought that I was adding up incorrectly, until I explained to her that was the way I wrote 8. I don’t think that she was too happy with the explanation either.
After the initial success of climbing Mount Everest, my progress in Maths was close on zero in secondary school. Algebra was a complete mystery to me, and so at the age of seventeen, I found myself taking a GCE 0 level in Biology, as either a Maths or Science subject was needed to get into University. Biology itself had been a struggle, until a teacher arrived in the nick of time to capture my interest in human physiology, enabling me to pass the examination.
It has to be said that there are elements of luck in education. The previous science teacher had sadly been unable to teach and was dismissed from her job, which was unusual at that time. In 2010 a BBC Panorama programme revealed that only eighteen UK teachers had been struck off for incompetence in forty years. It was estimated that seventeen thousand more teachers were not up to the job. Luckily, having read “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” by Muriel Spark, I can say that I never met such a character in the course of my school days. Miss Brodie exerted undue influence on her pupils, with her extreme political views and favouritism, while asserting that she was in her prime. The book illustrated the responsibility of being the teacher of young impressionable children.
Whatever excuses can be made for bad teachers, in my opinion there can be none made for bad college lecturers, who do not have potentially unruly or difficult children, with which to contend. Those students who reach them should already be “creme de la creme” I had a bad experience as a fresher, going to a redbrick university to read laws.
I opted to study Roman History, which I thought would be interesting. However, I could see that this was not working out, when a few weeks into the course, the lecturer announced, quite proudly I thought, that, nothing he said in his lectures would be of any help in passing the examination at the end of the course. I swiftly changed to Roman Law, where the lecturer was proficient and I quickly grasped the concept of the paterfamilias and how to sell a slave! I can see from reading forums that students are still having trouble with bad lecturers. One suggestion for dealing with this was that the student’s union should be consulted!
Given the high personal cost of further education, it is imperative that any such failings are addressed.
In the nineteen sixties I worked in London stores. Worked as an Insurance Clerk in the City of London during the nineteen seventies. Divorced in the nineteen nineties. Now I am a retired Civil Servant, managing home and garden and escaping onto social media whenever possible.
How was your day? This has become my standard greeting, when opening an evening chat with a friend. Back comes the reply “the usual” This means that the day has been like the day before and probably the day before that. Is that a bad thing? I suppose it depends on what “the usual” means for you. It could be a cause to celebrate. Another day has passed, with nothing to disturb the daily routine, and this brings with it some contentment.
If your usual day is grim, for whatever reason, the reply ” the usual ” will come with undertones of resignation, meaning that you have faced and survived another day. People for whom “the usual” means “pretty good” may have no conception of your usual, which to them would seem unbearable.
No doubt there are a myriad of self-help books, with advice on “being positive” and on not “catastrophising” and it is true that if these books inspire fortitude , they can be of help. Especially during the pandemic, there are people, who find themselves in desperate situations, cut off from family and friends. Nevertheless, it is essential that they do seek help and if asked “How was your day?” they do not reply “the usual”.
Originally the phrase meant exactly what it said. Before houses had gaslighting installed in the early nineteenth century, the only forms of lighting were candles and paraffin lamps. A candle could be placed horizontally with both ends lit for maximum effect. The expression “not worth a candle” came to be used to describe something that was worthless. Candles that were in constant use had a monetary value, being in fact an early fuel bill!
One of the improvements Prince Albert made to Buckingham Palace, was to improve the quality of the candles used. He replaced the tallow candles, which smoked and had an unpleasant odour, and impacted on the enjoyment of Royal Balls. George V1 employed thirty staff to keep the candles lit in the Royal Chandeliers, until the candles were replaced with electric bulbs.
Another expression used to describe someone deemed superior in looks or in talent, is a statement that it is not possible to “hold a candle” to that person. There is no light, either actual or metaphorical, in which the person could otherwise be viewed, other than as superior to the other.
In modern times the expression usually describes someone who gets very little rest, being active very late at night and rising early in the morning. The reasons for this may vary. Some may be enjoying an excessively active social life and be out at some amusement, from dusk until dawn. The pandemic has largely put a stop to this and it is more likely that people up half the night are on social media, or checking their mobile phones. Even before the pandemic, excessive use of the internet had been identified as a cause of sleep loss.
Students may be studying hard for examinations “burning the midnight oil” and others may be working in jobs or professions that demand long hours. Carers of sick partners or children may get very little sleep, being up half the night and early in the morning, to attend to the person’s
needs. So, the expression does not always describe a life of pleasure, as the candle can be burnt at both ends in a life of service.
People talk about getting their “beauty sleep” to avoid long hours awake showing in their faces, with drawn features and dark shadows under the eyes. Anything less than a minimum of four hours sound sleep may result in damaged health, as the body needs to rest to repair itself.
It is best, where possible, to metaphorically snuff out the candle at a reasonable hour, to avoid “burn out” ourselves.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” I ask myself. Could I have prevented him from marrying Jezebel? “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” they said at the wedding reception, but I could already see the “writing on the wall” for the marriage. My brother says that she is “the apple of my eye”. However, after only a few weeks of wedded bliss, she is already on the lookout for “forbidden fruit”.
My brother is “the salt of the earth” and I will always go “the extra mile” for him. How is he going to keep Jezebel “on the straight and narrow”?
My brother is now at his “wits end”, well on the way to a “broken heart”. I tell him to “be a man” and to “get to the root of the matter”
“Can a leopard ever change her spots?” Whatever promises she makes to change her ways, they are just a “drop in a bucket” My brother is “turning to skin and bone”, with the stress of living with an unfaithful wife. I tell him “Do not cast your pearls before swine” He has worked hard for his living and everything he has achieved comes from “the sweat of his brow”. We shall never see “eye to eye” on this. He would go to the “ends of the earth ” for Jezebel, whatever she does. I can only hope that he will come to his senses “at the eleventh hour”
Note: There is no evidence that the biblical Jezebel was a prostitute or even a loose woman. She was killed for her political activities and later vilified and her reputation trashed in these terms.