Wearing my English/ESL tutor hat 15 years ago + breaking news from Ukraine

Yes my more professional blog which was actually used in the tutoring I was doing at the time in Sydney’s Chinatown, but also by some at Sydney Boys High where it had originated during my time as ESL teacher there. It also had another role for other English and ESL teachers, and in fact garnered some praise. “A great resource for all students and teachers…” — Frances M, N.S.W. English Teachers Association Bulletin Board, Mar 25, 2005.

So October 2007 then!

Good question: are fractions and decimals singular or plural?

31 OCT

Over on Old Teachers Never Die… a couple of weeks ago Antony Shen asked:

Speaking of “subject-verb agreement”. I hope you don’t mind answering me a simple question (not directly related). With countable nouns, in scientific styled sentences, do you say “0.1 apple” or “0.1 apples“? (as in zero point two rather than one fifth of an …) Also, in the case of negative numbers, do you say “-1 apple” or “-1 apples“? Or shall I ask, what is the definition of “plural”? “greater than one” OR “anything other than one”?

I replied:

To deal with your second question first: countable nouns form plurals; mass/uncountable nouns don’t. This gets a little more complicated because some nouns may be either countable or mass/uncountable, depending on how they are being used. “Wheat” for example may be both: ten kilos of wheat is uncountable; several types of wheat is also uncountable; there are several wheats used in this mix is countable.

OK, with countable nouns: I would say 0.1 apples for grammatical reasons, though I agree it is not logical! I guess you could say 0.1 of an apple just as you say one-tenth of an apple, but it seems we don’t. Interesting question.

Antony:

What about “-1 apple(s)”? “-1” (minus one) is less than “0” (zero). Since we say “zero apples” or “no apples”, and in the case of one less apple than nothing, should it be “-1 apples” or just “-1 apple”?

Me:

If the number one is used, whether it is +/-1, the following noun will be singular. So it would be -1 apple. We’re talking grammar, not logic; and yes we say zero apples, probably because zero is thought of as a number that is not one, even though zero is neither singular nor plural logically.

Antony:

Thank you very much for the answer. In Mathematics (Number Theory), unity means 1 (one), and only the positive one, and there is only one unity. In grammar, it seems like there are two cases for singular nouns. If plural is defined as “any amount other than one”, then, zero is plural, as well as -1.

Me:

Unfortunately mathematical theory may have little correlation with grammar or usage. The concept of grammatical number is not a mathematical concept strictly, so the word one is always singular, whatever mathematical theory may hold. English probably treats zero as a plural because the grammar gives only two choices, and the word zero is not the word one: we also say, incidentally, there are no apples on the table (countable) but we say there is no rice on the table (uncountable). At least we don’t have to worry, as the French or the Italians do, whether applerice and table are masculine or feminine! And Chinese survives quite well without marking nouns as singular or plural, as I am sure you know.

Anyone want to contribute more ideas? I found it quite intriguing — but then perhaps I am strange…

Another Groundhog Day moment

24 OCT

Listening to much that passes for bright ideas in education today — our Prime Minister in the Election Debate being but the most recent example — one could be forgiven for thinking that we are in a time warp. Here is a 1940s view:

My grandfather was on top of these debates from 1906 on. He favoured and practised an eclectic, undogmatic approach. Most good teachers do. Education ministers and bureaucrats are rarely so wise, especially when an election is in the wind. Right-wing talkback hosts and newspaper columnists are often even less wise.

Groundhog Day!

My English teachers 3

22 OCT

As best I recall I first encountered Dr Derick Marsh in 1962 when he was tutor to the Distinction Course group I was then in, which included future High Court Justice John Dyson Heydon who went on to pursue History rather than English, I believe. Back in those days tutors tended to smoke pipes, and Dr Marsh had mastered the art of volcanic eruptions of smoke whenever things were getting dull. He would also sometimes start on a quite risible interpretation of a text just to see whether we dutifully agreed with him, a technique I have since used with cleverer senior classes.

He came to us from South Africa where he had been, it appears, a supporter of Helen Suzman and an opponent of apartheid. He was jailed for his efforts; while in jail he was apparently allowed access to pen, paper, and an unmarked complete works of Shakespeare, the result being The recurring miracle; a study of Cymbeline and the last plays in which he thanks the South African government for affording him the time he had been vainly seeking to write the book.

I recall one tutorial where he alluded to South Africa. We were reading W B Yeats:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

“That’s the problem with the South African regime,” he said. “It is not that they are totally evil. It is that they are so sure they are right.”

His lectures later that year on Shakespearian tragedy were simple in structure. He would come in with no or very few notes, just the play in hand, and scene by scene would begin an explication and discussion. We never did quite finish all the tragedies, but the plays were opened up for me in a way that lives with me still.

I notice Latrobe University now has an annual prize in Derick Marsh’s honour for the best undergraduate essay on a Shakespearian subject.

Been running hot here lately…

16 OCT

Some of you will know why.

A record 67,189 students are to sit for the HSC this year, up by more than 1000 over last year. The HSC is the most rigorous school finals exams on offer in Australia, Mr Della Bosca said.

English is the only compulsory HSC subject. The first of the English exams will be on Friday, when the number of students starting their HSC exams will rise sharply. Maths remains the most popular elective subject, followed by business studies and biology.

Almost one in 10 students studies a foreign language. French is still the favourite, although fading in popularity. It is followed closely by Japanese and then Chinese. Almost half of HSC students are enrolled in at least one science course. Thirty per cent are studying history. Ancient History continues to lead Modern History in popularity.

The top 10 most popular elective subjects remain unchanged this year, although visual arts ranks ninth, pushing physics down to 10th. Of the most popular vocational courses, hospitality is followed by information technology, business services, construction and retail operation.

One interesting fact earlier in that report is that “one in three Higher School Certificate students are now studying vocational courses such as hospitality and business studies.” Certainly true of my coachees.

You can see some effect of the upcoming HSC on visits here. The Sitemeter graph below is day by day for the past thirty days:

hsceffect

I make a difference! What about you?

11 OCT

You may have seen this, but maybe not…

PS

Horrible developments in Ukraine. Will be monitoring the news and the Ukraine and Russian vloggers over the next day.

Back a week or so when I was telling you about the Wollongong High Class of 1980 Reunion I said in passing:

Meanwhile in Ukraine and Russia

And Wollongong-related, as it appears Smiths Hill High ex-student Misha Zelinsky is back in Kyiv:

Of course he is there right now, and I follow his Twitter feed and he is a Facebook friend. So I will be reading his every word!

Including a report by Misha Zelinsky.

Blog time travel back 20 years to August 2002 — because I can

Here is an apt musical intro:

Thanks to the Wayback Machine here are posts from August 2002.

This is a funny time personally. Last night I slept rather badly, unusual for me. I woke around 4 am, though I did get off to sleep again for a while after 5, but broken sleep is never the same, is it? Subconsciously, I think, I must have been listening for the time M would usually return from work. He was just here a short time ago and tells me he is finding the new place will take some getting used to, and he also had not slept well. “It’s so quiet here,” he said. He liked my rearrangements and had a few suggestions too.

Twelve years is a long time in both our lives. Almost a third of his!

–1 August 2002

Any of you remember Doogie Howser on TV, the cute young teen genius MD who finished each episode writing up his computer diary? Intrigued me and seemed unlikely at the time. Well, here I am an online journal junkie (read them too) but not half so cute as Doogie was. Wonder what he is doing now?

Yesterday was just terrific, beginning with Yum Cha and ending with a steamboat that I cooked myself; I think M would have been proud of me. Actually it is dead easy–boiling water, the right ingredients, and just the right company–and I had all of them. Magic. And it provided tonight’s dinner as well…

Going to a play soon too, it appears. It should be a contrast to The Importance of Being Earnest, even if the production we saw was a touch, well, postmodern–a lot of gender bending and transgression of time periods, but it worked. More after I have seen the play, including its name, which I hold in reserve.

I prepared for the Department of Education the annual census of students from Language Backgrounds Other than English (LBOTE), the new jargon that quite rightly has replaced NESB, which always had a connotation of NOT doing something, as if they should bloody well have been brought up speaking English, so there (seeing as God does, and George W Bush almost does.) In 1997 our school had 571 such students out of about 1000; today it is 879. One in three students (at least) are from Chinese-speaking backgrounds. Quite a social change, though it is amazing how the same playground games go on, and the same classroom ones when the students get a slack moment–noughts and crosses, hangman, table-top soccer, and so on. One does however see more students engaged in games of Chinese Chess. In fact one sees them; I don’t think we did in 1997.

From The Record 2002

Social change (partly related to such phenomena as those I have just described) is the concern of much in this month’s Quadrant, which I have bought for a change, attracted perhaps by its delightfully mauve cover. There are some promising things: the poetry and short stories are always worth a look, even if they are not always the most exciting stuff around; there is an interesting-looking article by Sophie Masson (who had some comtact with us at Neos back in 1984-5) on M. le Pen; there could be more too. The bulk though struck me as being a sunshine home for the embittered intelligentsia. Really. I mean, in twenty years I may qualify to write for them myself! It is good to see people whose work I saw forty years ago still on the job, I guess. Harry Gelber, for example, seems to think we can understand 21st century Australia by reading the poems of Banjo Paterson and gazing at the paintings of Sir Arthur Streeton–just as one might understand modern Britain by reading Kipling (who wrote rather better than Paterson perhaps, but in a similar style) and gazing at the paintings of Landseer. Sad.

Ultra-conservatives find themselves doing contortions to make the world fit their preferred reality almost as much as Marxists used to. Their crustiness has a certain nostalgic appeal though, and I must repeat there are some articles of interest in this Quadrant, such as the exchange on religion between poet Alan Gould and that surprisingly common oddity, a Bible-believing scientist.

–5 August 2002

When your heart is in something there is not much you can do about it. How can you prove it to another? You can’t. You take it on trust. Or not. I don’t usually say things I don’t mean, or use important words loosely.

Intellectualising about it will do no good at all.

Even more concerning is the pain that the other person must have been feeling. Was I too imperceptive earlier in the day? That’s probably what I really should be thinking about.

Can’t report on the play–didn’t make it.

Sunday 11 August 2002: not a good day

3 am: Not a time I am usually up, but I woke a short time ago, not surprising really, and have some clarity on yesterday’s events and their context. Some of what I wrote yesterday was unnecessarily self-centred, I now feel, so I have edited it a little now that events are gaining some perspective.

I do not choose to elaborate; it would be inappropriate, but if the message that I understand pretty much what happened, disturbing as it was, gets through this way that cannot be a bad thing.

Quite a few things add up really. It is not a problem that is down to me to solve, though genuine understanding and real friendship and a degree of objectivity, which I am capable of since I don’t have a hidden agenda in this regard, may, I certainly hope, be of use. Only experience can solve the problem, and in that area are clear limits which I generally would not transgress, and certainly would not in this instance.

At 3 am with no company but my own and my conscience, and a very strong sense of what I think is right and important, I am not about to write crap here: every word thus far is as trustworthy as human language can be.

Well, back to sleep. There is a lot to do tomorrow even if it is a day off.

* * *

…and later still!

M came and collected a few things just now; the new place is working out OK.

At the newsagent I collected the June/July issue of Philosophy Now which promised some relevant reading. A rather conservative article by Gerald Lang makes a defence of a limited moral relativism (see “Moral Relativism & Cultural Chauvinism”). I too am unhappy with a complete moral relativism, yet on the other hand the moral systems we have inherited are often based in religious and cultural practices of dubious currency, and lead to an arbitrary practice that is often quite sinister and dangerous. Witness the crimes and oppressions too countless to repeat here in their names. Yet NO morality is not possible. Nor is cynicism the answer. Lang has not solved anything but nor have I.

I have on reflection not always acted in life even my own principles, though I try to; if I lapse I either (if that is all that is to be done) walk away and learn from it, I hope, or (better) acknowledge it and attempt to redeem it. Sometimes the questionable act is the product of a mixture of motives, not all of them bad; one can sift through the motives and rectify them, or one can act from better motives from the point of error onwards. Exploitation of others for one’s own purposes is always immoral; to me relativism does not apply to that one, although it is still not as simple a concept in practice as that form of words suggests. Support of another’s self-esteem and human potential is, conversely, always good, though even there one can err in the way it is done.

Nothing is really simple, is it? Honest if fallible is all I can claim, and like any person moving through the changes of life, able to take account of circumstances and sensitive to them. I suspect recently I have fallen down in that last part, though I can say absolutely not in the first.

There is also a movie review of some interest, the upshot of which is to affirm how peculiar the 70s were in some respects; at that point I think the case of Mardi Gras is relevant. Aspects of it were a product of those times, and its relevance now is questionable. Perhaps that is really what happened to it. On the other hand, the movie apparently explores very sensitively the cost in human misery of an unreflective heterosexism, something this otherwise quite conservative reviewer endorses. Oh the movie? Together, directed by Swedish director Lukas Moodysson. Hey, now there’s a name!

12 August 2002

It’s quite early again, but nothing as early as yesterday morning, that I find myself at the computer; in fact I have slept fairly well.

Here is part of a meditation I just found on Interlude, a site I find a comfort quite often when the world seems a bit awry. Here is an extract:

“The willingness to harm or hurt comes ultimately out of fear. Non-harming requires that you see your own fears and that you understand them and own them. Owning them means taking responsibility for them. Taking responsibility means not letting fear completely dictate your vision or your view. Only mindfulness of our own clinging and rejecting and a willingness to grapple with these mind states, however painful the encounter, can free us from this circle of suffering.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Which is a bit Buddhist, but that’s OK.

Things are a bit tough right now.

* * *

To follow on from yesterday for a bit.

Morality obviously includes far more than sex; there is a range of interpersonal issues, and indeed recent corporate scandals, not to mention war and so on, raise yet more issues. At the interpersonal level my own bottom line is that each of us is entitled to his/her integrity, freedom of choice, self-respect and personal safety. Families at best are meant to foster that bottom line. In sexual morality one enters a minefield; the hard Church teaching that sex is somehow evil (and gloss it as they may that is what they have taught) and that the only legitimate sex is in marriage for procreation rather than pleasure is unsustainable, and even the Church itself very often backs off from that. That leaves a lot up to individual choices.

My own choice is very conservative. There are practices that some, gay and straight I might add, consider highly pleasurable, but I don’t. I have been rebuked sometimes and called boring, but it is what I am comfortable with and that is where I must stand. I have had delightful times of intimacy with those I have been in relationships with where sex is part of the program. At the same time I have had delightful moments of intimacy (but not sex) with some where sex is NOT part of the program. I like human contact, it can’t be denied. But love, friendship, affection and all that are the most important things, and we all need to experience these without feeling got at somehow. I think so, anyway. What do the rest of you feel?

* * *

Marcia [the Head Teacher English at SBHS] says I look tired, which is to be expected. Work is climaxing with the Trial this week, and a few other issues such as having to speak to the Parents and Citizens Association on multicultural matters next week, and some students who have pressing problems to be dealt with. But in its own way this is rewarding–assuming I survive of course.

Colleagues 2002

It is particularly galling to know that I am being misjudged in another quarter, perhaps, which explains my tendency lately to argue so much on various issues (that we all have).

I now have more socks than you can poke a stick at, thanks to M. The soup is good. And I just had a phone call from Marcel Proust, who seems a decent guy.

Well I have dinner to get, and two essays to mark. There may be more lurking in my email!

13 August 2002

Heartfelt

My heart goes out to this student involved in the overambitious HSC English Extension course on postmodernism; email arrived yesterday and issue talked through in class today:

Sir,

I was hoping to see you today (Tuesday) but due to my devotion to doing well in school I was unable to attend class. Nevertheless I was hoping to see you tomorrow after our lesson Period 4. I’m aware that you have other commitments and this may not be possible. If you could email me a reply tonight (if you get it tonight that is) it would be greatly appreciated.

Now to the heart of problem (n.b. this does not have to be dealt with asap), I’m having trouble with essay writing, not the actual writing cause I’m good at that, but grappling with ideas of postmodernism. I am not totally convinced by post modernism (as are many) but I understand enough (I have done extensive theoretical reading) to be completely unsure of what it really is. So when I am writing an essay describing postmodern elements (like pastiche and parody in the last task) I feel very inclined to keep making the point that this is a postmodern device. This is because I don’t believe that these are postmodern devices and although they are open to any interpretation by responders the postmodern descriptions don’t sit well with me. This amounts to an essay that does not flow well, as I can’t really get comfortable with the pretense that the text is postmodern. I find myself justifying, every time I make a statement in an essay, that the text is truly a postmodern text. Do I need to do this? or do assume that the marker is believing that the text is postmodern?

I need help in pinning down what the markers are looking for. Do you need to show that you know the texts are postmodern and these…blah blah… are the reasons why? (what I’ve previously been doing, without believing they are postmodern) Or do you show the various elements that are used by the composer and say that these are believed to be postmodern and then voice some kind of opinion on the issue? If I went through and identified all the aspects of the texts that tied in with (say) pastiche and gave textual reference in the way of quotes and compared it to my supplementary texts; does this answer the question (getting me full marks). Or do I make a commentary on the nature of these elements (which is what I naturally feel inclined to do) and get weighed down in the complex theory of postmodern philosophers.

I realise that postmodernism can be taken seriously or lightly and that authors don’t feel the same passion towards destroying the grand narratives that philosophers do, but I need to know what level I need to analyse at? Who do I look at when talking generally about postmodernism? do I talk generally about postmodernism? what questions would I not talk generally about postmodernism?

I understand that there is no definite answer to these questions (God I’m sounding postmodern already) but if you could throw me a line and show me the general direction it would help immensely. I’m sorry I lumped all this on you at one time, don’t feel pressured to answer it straight away, I’ll probably make it through the Trial all right if you need a long time. If you could answer even one of these queries then I would be very grateful.

It turns out his mother has a Ph. D. in Philosophy!

Refers to this class and this online class material, originally on Diary-X

Other

Since I am here, I do have to say I like Dimitri at the local coffee shop, where I felt I wanted to go so that normality might to some extent be restored. He is a very calm person.

Madam and Dimitri — Cafe Max Surry Hills

Patrick Cook has good fun with the ALP this week in The Bulletin, almost as funny as his treatment of the Democrats last week, but not quite. I passed my time at the coffee shop reading that.

Yes, I know… but there are still things to be said

I have over the last few years said a lot about coming out, and the pain of my own life (as well as the positives) over the years up to that. When I finally did, I repeat (yes, I know, a sign of age) it was in my own terms. All I was recognising was an aspect of myself–my close relations would be with men. Not because I chose that, but because that was the way it is. I did make choices though. Some were prudential, but happened also to suit my sense of myself–such as avoiding sexual excess and exchanges of bodily fluids. I still think that I could not base a life around sex. It is too transient.

I am not a seeker of new bodies and new sensations. I have never had sex in a bathhouse, a park, a toilet, or any of the places some men find, well, congenial. I reject the necessity (what necessity?) of engaging in certain practices which others engage in. In at least one case this cuts me off from what someone I know wants from me, for although I am very fond of him, he and I would be sexually incompatible, as his tastes are quite different to mine. We continue to be friends however, as he is a mature person who realises what I have just said. (I hope! He sometimes reads this diary, and I do hope he is not hurt by this.)

I (and you) have a right to our choices, and a right to our bodies, and a right to our individual senses of self. I much prefer friendship anyway to passion; it was friendship not passion that sustained my recent long-term relationship after the passion had faded (as it does); essentially it continues, though circumstances have recently changed.

I have probably turned off a whole army of potential suitors now 😉 but it is interesting that since expressing such thoughts on my OUT profile (but more concisely) I have scored a few ticks. Apparently we are not all hedonists or sensualists after all.

I do feel I have taken perhaps too much emotional comfort from a source where giving such was more appropriate; at least I did also give (very much) — that is something, and did not merely take. My expression of my feeling may not always have been appropriate either. People do need to feel safe together though, don’t they? Even if they are safe, we should be sure they feel safe.

Such issues need to be thought of, and one’s own synthesis found; not necessarily a condemnation of those who think and act differently, so long as their actions do not encroach on the welfare of others. It does take all sorts, as they say.

14 August 2002

I am, I have to say, more than a little happy tonight.

I suspect my sleeping problems are behind me, and have also come to realise that one can be mistaken about mistakes. 🙂

Good chat with Sirdan at the Irish Pub to round off the day, followed by a phone call only outranked in its uplift by one I had last night.

15 August 2002

Later

Yum Cha earlier today; the food was good as ever, especially the mango pudding. One determined certain limits through the experience today, ensuring a priority I had announced the day before. Reading King Lear this afternoon, a shared experience, enacted the reconciliation the play dramatises, and made the catharsis of last Sunday into something of a prelude to better times, confirming where my life is best spent right now. I am well pleased.

Sunday 18 August 2002

Two things today.

First, last night I had to speak to the school’s Parents and Citizens Association on the subject of multiculturalism, a task I looked forward to with some foreboding, as controversies over the “imbalance” of the school have been raging (as you would know if you are a regular here) for most of this year. We have been a ridiculously frequent subject on the front pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Daily Telegraph, editorial columns, letters pages, talk-back radio (which I just correctly typoed as “talk-cack radio”!) and even TV current affairs shows. We even get a column in this week’s Bulletin courtesy of Catherine Lumby, who is actually quite right in the trend of her analysis of the power structures involved, though some may bridle at her mode of expression.

Usually there are between ten and twenty people at these meetings; last night there were forty, including, I am pleased to say, a greater than usual representation of our Chinese parents. Also present (at my invitation) were two consultants in multiculturalism from the Department of Education, one male and one female, and Tony Hannon, the 1st Grade Rugby Coach, whose coda to my speech endorsing the current school situation as something he loved carried some weight. I gave a dispassionate account of government policy, then pulled all stops out in my account of why there are so many students from backgrounds other than English, especially Chinese ones. Afterwards, one of the consultants hugged and kissed me (the female one) and declared herself a fan! The audience were won over; not one nasty remark or provocative question.

Thoughts had been sent my way at 7.30 and I am sure they arrived 🙂

My Anne Wilson Schaff Meditations for Living in Balance for yesterday was on, would you believe, “Expanding Our Horizons” by learning from other cultures! Serendipidous indeed.

Speaking of living in balance, I come to the second thing. I was fascinated to read Queer Scribe’s well-written but often very raunchy diary yesterday. Here is a very bright man, twenty years younger than I, whose libido is somewhat more active, shall we say, than mine tends to be:

Writing about insecurities and fears here always make me feel vulnerable, but it seems those are the entries folks most respond to. I have had several emails from readers—many of them gay men around my age—and it would appear I’ve struck a chord. (Or a nerve?) That makes me feel good, not only that I am not the only one going through (putting myself through?) this shit, but also that others out there might feel less alone too….

But more than that, there’s a terrific opportunity here. Because I have been depending too much on my body, my—for a thirty-six year old—youthful good looks. Although this is less true than it was, say, three or four years ago, still much of the sex I look for and sometimes find is a way of hiding, of keeping myself small, safe, apart. It’s time, again, to look at what might be underneath all that, at what, exactly, it is I’m hiding, or hiding from.

I suspect that what I’m hiding—and hiding from—is love. Big surprise eh?

22 August 2002

It’s a while since I had a “sickie”, but I decided I needed one today. So here I am at home. I work part time anyway and can adjust my days to suit, up to a point. Mid-term is a time when the need for a “mental health day” strikes many a teacher, and the past few weeks have had their share of stresses. And triumphs, I hasten to add; but the only way I will break the back of the Trial HSC marking and cope with a few other things down the track is to take a little time out.

The stressors? Well, adapting to new circumstances at home–and that is going well really, and M has been terrific. Also, the pressure of taking over that Year 12 class had a cost, though well worth it. Some other dramas also occurred, but again the outcome has really been good. It all takes energy though, and that sometimes needs replenishing. I am aware too that I am not getting any younger.

Yesterday evening, I hasten to add, was one of life’s more wonderful offerings. I look forward to more of them. My Chinese cooking is improving.

Things are looking up for Sirdan too, who has a nice new place to live. He particularly complimented me on Sunday’s diary entry.

27 August 2002

With March 2022 nearing its end I travel back…

Twenty years in this case and to an archive lurking on the WayBack Machine of the Sydney Boys High School Communities and ESL site on Angelfire, which later morphed into English, ESL — and more! on WordPress. In the capture for July 2002 is this:

I wonder if that is still where it was then? I am sure the principles will not have changed. To see visit the school site.

Anti-Racism and Anti-Discrimination

Sydney Boys High School has procedures for dealing with complaints about discrimination against students based on race, sex, marital status, disability (including HIV), age and transgender or homosexuality. These procedures complement the existing Anti-racism Policy and related grievance procedures. The anti-discrimination officer is the first point of contact for any related problems.

The role of Anti-racism contact officer is to help parents, students or staff experiencing problems with racism and to provide interested parents with copies of the relevant Department policies on this issue. The anti-racism contact officer will listen to the problem and, with the relevant executive, find ways to resolve it as quickly as possible.

In my work site of 2002 there is an explanation of the pledge:

This pledge now hangs on the wall in the main entrance foyer of the school.

In 1999 Sam Bush (Year 12 2001) was elected to the NSW Student Representative Council, the highest student body in the state. Sam was representing 22,000 students in the East Sydney Region and was one of 22 members of the State Council.

One of the stated objectives of the Council in 2000 was to fight discrimination in all forms in NSW government high schools. Sam was a member of an action task force which suggested the idea of an Anti-Discrimination Pledge. The plan was adopted by the SRC.

Year 7 2001 all signed the pledge and you may read their signatures on the framed version in the foyer.

We congratulate Sam and Year 7 2001 for carrying out this plan. The very attractive framed copy was designed by Sam and was the first to be completed in a NSW government school. Sam has thus made an extremely significant real and symbolic step towards eliminating racism in our schools.

The SRC in this school, as well as in the state, is still committed to the ideas in this pledge.

Visitors to the school see this pledge in the foyer and many stop to read it. We can all feel proud that it is there, and thankful to Sam, the SRC, and Year 7 2001 for bringing it into being. Let us make sure this spirit never dies.

A reminder to students and all the school family that if they feel they are being discriminated against in any way, they can contact the Principal, the Deputy Principals, Year Advisers, or the Anti-Racist Officer, Mr SC.

[Adapted from an article in High Notes August 17 2001.]

There was a guest book too — a common feature back in 2002! There are a number of dubious entries dating from around 2006, but if you go to 2002 some genuine stuff is preserved. Like this one, from Russell who is now in the USA and a Facebook friend.

And from a year after I had retired an example of how I reacted to bot or fake guest book entries:

And this is kind of interesting — written for Year 7 Parents:

ESL at Sydney Boys High School

Most students at Sydney Boys High School are bilingual-that is, they speak more than one language. Some speak more than two. About forty language and dialect groups are represented in the school. None of this disadvantages students, in fact quite the reverse.

There are some problems that arise, however. If a student has been speaking English for less than five years, it is possible that the academic demands in many subjects will test the depth and variety of the student’s knowledge of English. While it takes six months to a year to acquire conversational English, the average time for higher levels of English is five to eight years. There are also some students who have been speaking English for a longer time but who have stalled at a certain level.

At this school two days per week are allocated for English as a Second Language. In practice, this means that support is best given by gathering accurate information about the students’ background and level of English. This information is made available to classroom teachers, who may themselves be supported by discussion of methods and strategies with the ESL teacher. To gather this information, we test and survey all new students to determine length of time speaking English and level of English and mother-tongue literacy.

Second, the ESL teacher may also work in class with the classroom teacher. This may happen in any subject. Third, some students may be given personal tuition on some aspect of English. We try to avoid disrupting normal classroom work when we do this. Senior students come voluntarily in free periods or after school. Past senior students have shown the benefits of this in marked improvements between Years 11 and the HSC.

Parents: we have found that the best results come from a balanced approach to all the school offers. Participation in extra-curricular activities does not limit a student’s academic achievement. Further, the more opportunity the student has to practise English for all sorts of purposes in all sorts of situations, the better the student’s English will become. Just sitting in class or at a desk at home is not enough, either for life or for academic success.

We plan to have at least one meeting for parents of bilingual students in Term 1. This will give parents an opportunity to raise problems and discuss matters of common interest.

Neil Whitfield 20 November 2001

Class of 2000: L-R Xiang, Mitchell, me, Shanghai Bob, Zhaonan. 2021: Xiang is now a mathematician, Mitchell is a teacher, Bob is a doctor, and I think Zhaonan studied Engineering.

Another look at my mothballed English/ESL blog

Yesterday’s post on this attracted quite a few visits. So I thought why not? This one is from near the end of its life.

A five-finger exercise

13 November 2009

I published this before the 2009 HSC on my personal blog. You can’t use it, because it’s my life, but it may give you some ideas… (2022 note: My father in fact was only overseas in 1945, but was in the RAAF from before my birth finally getting home late 1945 or early 1946.)

***

While my coachee slaved away on a Trial HSC English Advanced paper this morning I undertook to answer the creative writing question from our previous session: “Select one of the following quotations. Use this quotation as a catalyst for your own piece of writing on belonging.” I think I rather overdid the thematic side, but I was hoping to demonstrate how this rather artificial task may be done. It isn’t fiction, but that’s in the parameters given.

c) “My fondest childhood memories”

When you think about it there is a lot of truth in the old Catholic saying “Give me a child to the age of seven and I will show you the man.” By that age our sense of identity, which is so much shaped by our sense of belonging to family, home, town and country, are basically set – if not in stone, at least firmly enough that escape if needed is quite difficult.

In my case my grandfather rather than my father was the key influence. My father, you see, was rarely home, being overseas with the RAAF, so my family were living with my grandparents, and the one who had time for me most was my grandfather.

My grandfather was a retired teacher. I don’t know how he did it, can’t remember, but before I went to school I could already read and tell the time. This led to early alienation in Kindergarten. Invited in week one to “write” on the blackboard I wrote “Sydney Morning Herald” and the date. I gather the teacher was not amused and rang my mother to complain – strange as that may seem.

He was a mine of information, my grandfather, and I was a hyper-inquisitive child. Once he was gardening and I asked him: “What are snails for?” He stood up and took me round the garden, showing me snails, describing their life-cycle, their means of locomotion and their feeding habits and why, if we wanted our lettuces, he had to get rid of them. “Yes,” I replied with precocious analytical skills, “but what are they FOR?” Since the metaphysics of the snail was not something that had occurred to him he became uncharacteristically short with me and called out to my mother, “Get this bloody kid out of here!”

I never have found out what snails are for, but I guess they fit into the web of life. Even snails belong, don’t they?

Another thing about my grandfather was that he talked to just about everybody. He was genuinely interested in their lives and what they did. I would accompany him on his walks and get impatient as he stopped at this fence or that gate to chat to someone for what seemed like hours to me. I was not displeased though when he would climb over the railway fence to chat to the driver of the milk train when it was waiting at the siding for the express train to go through. There were steam engines in those days and I was enthralled standing on the tracks with my grandfather as the fireman and driver leaned down from the cab to share finer points of their trade.

On the other hand, so I am told, when my father at last returned from overseas my first words to him were “Get that man out of here!” (Perhaps I learned the expression from my grandfather.) To me my father was the picture on the dressing table, not this large imposter who had suddenly disrupted my life, just when I had my mother pretty much in control. What this may have done to our relationship, indeed to my father’s recovery of his belonging, I can now only guess – but it did rather colour our later lives.

You can see what a network one close relative can set up for you in those formative years. With my grandfather I explored so many aspects of my environment and he was, you could say, my map-maker. Through him were developing all those templates of background, culture and place which shape so much where “I” fits in – belongs, indeed.

There are many other stories I could tell of my grandfather. Did I mention he only had one eye? No? But that is another story.

I was 21 when my grandfather died.

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In fact I was 19! — 2022 note.

He had mentored me in so many ways, easing the pain of high school maths, answering my incessant questions about other countries as we browsed the atlas together, showing by example tolerance of people from other cultures, leading me (without pressure) to emulate him in my choice of career. If he were removed from my life story I wonder if I would today have the network of belongings that I now possess, modified as they may have been by other experiences and circumstances. Nonetheless, if I look for the rock on which it all has been built I need look no further than those childhood experiences with Roy C. – my grandfather.

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From April 2018: A post on Facebook’s Shellharbour History and Pictures has generated this wonderful war-time picture of my uncle Roy Christison Junior, my grandmother Ada Christison, and my grandfather Roy Christison Senior in Sydney. (Note the tram!)  Posted by my cousin Linda Christison.

This one is just a bit of a brag…

English/ESL nominated

30 June 2009

Last year English/ESL came in at #75 in the Top 100 Language Blogs 2008 on Lexiophiles. I have just been informed that English/ESL has been nominated for the Top 100 of 2009.

Phase 2: Public Voting (July 8 – July 27)

At the end of the nomination phase, we will prescreen every blog and put it into one of the four categories (see below). In each category 100 blogs will be included for voting. If your blog is on the list you can ask your readers, friends, family and whoever comes to mind to vote for you. We will provide a voting button for your convenience before the voting starts. Every person can only vote once the voting of the top 100 blogs for each category.

top100blog-logo09

9 June 2009

According to WordPress, since this blog moved here from Tripod in December 2006 there have been 48 posts and pages read more than 1,000 times each. Here are the top five:

  1. Studying the Gothic, or Emily Bronte? 19,627 reads
  2. Physical journeys and Peter Skrzynecki’s poems 18,963
  3. How should I write up a Science experiment? 16,686
  4. Workshop 02 — NSW HSC: Area Study: Imaginative Journeys 8,609
  5. Mary Shelley, “Frankenstein” — and “Blade Runner” 5,956

Thursday, October 16, 2008 was the busiest day ever, with 1,497 views, while the total for the blog stands at 239,898 since December 2006 with 55,524 so far this year – a daily average this year of 349 (last year it was 324). At the moment there are 220 posts.

Sitemeter measures differently and has been monitoring since November 2002, thus including my earlier addresses. It tells me that there have been since 2002 206,154 visitors reading 300,816 pages.

Ten to fifteen years ago — my English/ESL blog

It began on Angelfire, Tripod and Geocities as the Sydney Boys High English and ESL pages, but on moving to WordPress it became, on my retirement, Neil Whitfield’s etc. In fact that was pretty much how I told the Boss, Dr Jaggar, that I was retiring! It continued supporting my Chinatown coachees through to the 2010 HSC, and was of interest to teachers and others, not only in Australia. “A great resource for all students and teachers…” — Frances M, N.S.W. English Teachers Association Bulletin Board, Mar 25, 2005.

As you can see, it was well visited between 2007 and 2012 — still attracts some visitors.

This blog has retired — read this for more

18 January 2010

After eight years at my various addresses, beginning on Angelfire then Tripod as my class page and then morphing into the Sydney Boys High School English/ESL site (to 2005) and then on my retirement to its current mode, I am at last ceasing to update this blog, though I will be back to update some of the existing posts and pages and to deal with comments. Thanks to all for the support over the years.

Now some samples from 15 years ago!

NSW school visitors, welcome back!

29 JAN 2007

Yes, a new school year has just started here in NSW, my 41st since becoming a teacher!

If you go to Workshops you will see that all the workshopped essays have now moved over from Tripod, most to this site, but two to Geocities, because formatting issues prevented their being hosted here. At least on Geocities they tend to appear more quickly than they do on Tripod.

The site has been redesigned for the new year too. I hope you find it useful, and keep coming back as new content is added.

I do take requests, so if there is something you would like me to post about, let me know via comment (provided I haven’t closed it against spam), the guestbook, or email.

Tutoring, reality, and results

12 FEB 2007

I have written on coaching before. As you will see if you check the “About” page, I do tuition in Chinatown here in Sydney — one-to-one only — and have for some time. Tuition is meant, in my opinion, to supplement what the school might be doing; it certainly does not substitute for the school, nor does it circumvent the student’s own work. There is no magic about it. The tutor tries to tune into where the student currently sits, tests formally or informally for the student’s weaknesses, and attempts to lift the student’s performance accordingly through carefully chosen practices and explanations. “Anything happening at school you are not sure about?” is always a good opening question. I have sometimes been in the happy position of being able to coordinate my tuition with what the student is doing at school because I have been able to talk to the student’s teacher.

What tutoring must never do is replace the student’s own authentic efforts. Doing a student’s homework for them or drafting their essays is not tuition: it is cheating.

The outcomes of tutoring therefore vary. Without wishing to appear rude, no tutor can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but a tutor can enable a student to progress more than he or she may have done without tuition.

Last year I had five HSC candidates, and currently know the results of three of them. The fourth, I imagine, got a respectable result in Standard English: I must try to find out. The fifth dropped out of tuition after August; the problem there was doing the wrong course — forced to do Standard when ESL was the most viable option. One candidate I do know about would have been disappointed as the band result was not the hoped for outcome, although only one or two marks short. In that case tuition began a bit too late. It is always best to begin at least in Year 11. Nonetheless, that student did make substantial improvements, but was not what I would call a natural humanities student. The student’s approach tended to rely too much on memorisation, and consequently lacked the flexibility needed to rework what was known to suit new circumstances. The other two, by contrast, did really well. In one case the aim was to achieve Band 6 (the top range) and that was achieved (92%). Of course the student had the potential already, but tuition helped to ensure that Band 6 as the student was able to develop examination and study skills more effectively through the practices and through our reflections together on how the system works. The other was an interesting case, as the student’s language skills were behind the one who ended up disappointed. This student achieved Band 5 (and a UAI of around 93), but would almost certainly have attained Band 4 or even less without tuition. However, the student was a more natural humanities student, able to make the necessary adjustments and critical decisions. As a tutor I can enhance that, but I can never teach it.

So I am afraid that paying the money does not in itself guarantee a result, but then that extends to all private education, doesn’t it? Students are not blank slates on which anything may be written.

I should add that all my students are of East Asian background, mostly Chinese, and English is their second language.

All your own work

01 MAR 2007

Student Guide to Avoiding Plagiarism

I posted that on the old Tripod blog on Friday, 10 June 2005.

New writing workshop page

26 FEB 2007

I am building a new page in the Writing Workshop and you can join in. See Creative writing Year 10 age level, six months in Australia.

You may for the next little while read the original essay and make comments or suggestions. In a week or two I will complete the workshop with an annotated version of the essay and a final draft. If any of your suggestions have helped, you will be acknowledged.