In Year 7 I had two English teachers. One took my class for my regular lessons and the other had us once a fortnight for ‘Reading’. Mr Black.
Mr Black had us rule up a 48 page Olympic Stripe exercise book with the headings: ‘Number’, ‘Author’, ‘Title’, ‘Genre’ and ‘Mark /10’. In the back we listed the ‘Book of the Year’ and ‘The most influential authors’.
In Year 6 I had read one book. In Year 7 I read 34. I still have the exercise book and I still, as a fifty-two year old, keep within it an updated list of every book I read.
Mr Black reinvigorated my reading. My mother had read extensively to me as a child, but when I was in later primary school books were seen as the pariah gifts. Three years later I was asking for them for every birthday and Christmas.
One effective way to describe a good education is to say that it consists of ‘three good teachers in a row’, that is, for three consecutive years to have teachers who know and care for their students, know their subjects, differentiate the curriculum and connect it to the real world.
Many teachers, myself included, would also add that it is important to be reflective. This little exercise book enables me to look back over my life and to remember the influences on me. I can see the pattern of my reading and thinking. And, for me, it gave my reading a discipline. When there were other distractions, I kept on reading.
Mr Black gave me an excellent education in reading in just one lesson per fortnight.
When I moved to Zimbabwe and entered my classroom for the first time, I found three words left by my predecessor on the blackboard: Read and Think.
Now, twenty years later, in an era of ipads and interactive whiteboards, one might think that education has new priorities. There are many new stimulations and these are mostly helpful, but the basis of an education in the humanities is still read and think.
So thank you Mr Black.