Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Myth & Magic - Conference Reflections Part 1

Last week my English department, alongside the English department at John Paul College, Rotorua, hosted the national New Zealand Association for the Teaching of English conference. Phew. I thought I would arrive home and launch into writing about the speakers I listed to and workshops I attended, but I definitely needed some vaguely non-English time!

It was a busy week to say the least, and not what many people want out of their holidays, but I love our annual conference. Next year's is in Wellington and I've already registered! Yes, I think there is something wrong with me.

This year our theme was Myth & Magic and we asked our four keynote speakers to address this theme in their presentations. These speeches were inspiring, eloquent and diverse.

Joe Bennett

On the first morning we heard from Joe Bennett and it was so appropriate that this rousing, rambunctious man spoke first. Joe was unapologetic-ally funny and woke us all from our mid-morning lethargy. Joe spoke about being from two tribes - writers and teachers. Don't all teachers secretly wish to be writers? (Case in point...) Mr Bennett, you had us at hello.
After regaling us with many a tale - all sans notes and bouncing around the stage - Joe brought us all back to a very serious note. He recalled the teacher who had the greatest impact on his world view and told of visiting the elderly, ailing man. As Joe told us that this teacher ignited a torch in him that he hoped he had passed on to just some of his students I doubt there was a truly dry eye in the auditorium.

Dame Fiona Kidman

That afternoon Fiona Kidman graced our stage, and I do mean 'grace'. She spoke of her early childhood stuck in a hospital and learning to write. Fiona promptly learned about the power of the written word when her first letter home, demanding collection from the hospital, was heeded by her parents. Fiona's delivery was the polar opposite of Joe's: calm, typed, measured. 
And yet, intriguingly, both Joe and Fiona wound up at the same conclusion. Fiona spoke of an attractive young Irish teacher who would float around the school playground arm in arm with an equally attractive colleague. Fiona and her class-mates hoped that the two were an item and would one day marry. The same Irish teacher introduced her to many an Irish poet and Fiona referred to one of her most cherished:

Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;       
    And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:  
                  Praise him.

Those words! Dappled, brinded, stipple, plotted, fallow, fickle, freckled, adazzle, dim.

Years later Fiona was being interviewed and recalled this teacher who kindled her love of poetry. She mentioned that she still wondered if the two teachers had ever married and had children. Somehow, the teacher herself heard Fiona's recollections and reached out to her - the young couple had indeed married and 'lived happily ever after' - and Fiona was able to communicate her gratitude.

Joe and Fiona both tugged at our heartstrings and reminded us why we do what we do. The effect of our work may not be known for months or years, but we can rest assured that the effect is great, meaningful and formative.

 Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain

1 comment:

HM said...

I wonder what stories your students will tell about you