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Interview: Head of English / Secondary School Teacher

Can you describe a typical school day for the head of English?

 No two days are ever really the same! Often, I’ll get in about an hour or so before the students to check emails, prep anything I need for the day and do some admin tasks. Normally there is a morning meeting of some kind (either a staff briefing, or a pastoral meeting about the year group/form group we’re working with) and then it’s straight in to registration!

The busier the teaching day the quicker the time goes. When you have a 5 period day you’re always ready for lunch by break time and then lunch time comes around before you’ve even had a chance to blink! Covid has kept us busy with extra cleaning and precautions but the kids have been brilliant. After school will consists of meetings, catching up on marking or prepping more lessons. The prep is always ongoing!

I try to have lunch with my department every day. Being with the students is fab but you definitely need some adult company and time to decompress before the afternoon.

 What’re your earliest memories of reading?

English is a second language to my parents (and I grew up bi-lingual) so I remember doing a lot of reading to my mum when I was little because she had more confidence in me than she had in herself! We made a little cosy corner by my bed and would read every day. I loved reading from a really young age and feel really lucky I had the time to read with my mum.

 

What’s your favourite children’s book series?

There are so many to choose from thought I definitely remember loving the Goosebumps series! I remember as a child being so excited when my mum would order me new books from a well-known book company – you know the ones where they would group them thematically and you’d get ten in a lovely box?! Highlight of my summer That’s why the work that Readingmate does in carefully selecting books and giving recommendations is so important an exciting!

 

 What’s the most impactful children’s book you’ve read?

 Again there are so many to choose from and young readers today are lucky that there is such a diverse range of books to teach them about really important life lessons no matter what their age. I do have a distinct memory of reading The Rainbow Fish when I was at primary school and being really touched by the story even at a young age. I think it sends a beautiful message.

In your opinion, do you think technology is having an impact on student’s engagement / desire to read?

In some ways students are reading more than ever before; closed captions on videos, status updates, Instagram captions etc. It’s the quality of what they’re reading that sometimes worries me. Students and young people are a little more hungry for instant gratification than they used to be but I think that’s why we need to model reading longer stories and books to them more than ever. I recently read all of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird with my year 9 class. Some are voracious readers and some will tell you they never read a book in their life. Some chapters were a bit trying for them but they loved being read to. When we got to the end of the novel those ‘non-readers’ couldn’t believe they’d read the whole book. I think they learnt a lot from that experience.

 

 In your opinion, what do you think are the main barriers to reading?

A lack of knowing how to read or a perceived lack of knowledge. It’s estimated that up to 20% of children have an undiagnosed audio/visual impairment during their time at primary school when they are first learning how to read. When their peers ‘get it’ and they don’t student can often have a perceived impression of themselves that they can’t do it. This can often to lead to them not identifying as readers – they don’t want to be seen to fail so they don’t read. This has such a knock on effect in terms of confidence and attitude!

 

Do you think book adaptations (e.g. film and television series) are helpful or harmful?

Some film adaptations are WONDERFUL – I love the Lord of the Rings adaptations and thought in some places the films were better. (I’ll admit to skipping over a fair few of the songs in the book). Some can be harmful where they’re not very good and in some cases students don’t want to read the books because they have seen the film and they think that’s all there is too it!

 

What advice would you give to a parent struggling to get their child to read?

I’d say firstly, don’t give up! Not every child will be a reader right from the get go. I’ve taught young people who only started to enjoy reading when they hit 14/15 years of age! Getting young people in to reading can sometimes be a bit like getting them to widen their palette when it comes to food: gives them lots of different ‘flavours’ to try, just because they didn’t like it one day doesn’t mean they won’t like it later on and definitely model the behaviour you want to see! Children and young people pick up on so much of what the adults around them do. Talking about books, letting them see you reading, getting their teachers on boards etc all go a really long way! If a student tells me they don’t like reading my response is always the same: ‘we just haven’t found the right book yet.’

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