Langden Brook, Trough of Bowland By Alexander P Kapp, CC BY-SA 2.0,

When your wheels are burning up the miles and you’re wearing down shoe leather,

When your face is frozen in a smile and the road goes on forever,

Forever, forever, the road goes on forever,

Over the next hill maybe there’s good weather.”

(Steve Tilston)

That song seemed to have been specially written for the busiest 4 weeks I think I’ve ever had.  At the end of November and beginning of December last year, I was working all over the place.  In one week, I taught in Liverpool, Birmingham, Bury, Manchester, back to Liverpool, Longridge and finally Garstang.  The quick-witted among you will have spotted that it meant two places in one day.  There was a lot of driving, and a lot of travelling on trains.  On some days I felt like I was meeting myself coming back.  I certainly started counting up the hours to see whether I was spending more time travelling than actually teaching.

There are several good things to be said for this it.  First off, the weather was mainly good.  It was cold, but it would have been a nightmare if there had been 4 weeks of torrential rain.  Secondly, it meant I was actually working and therefore I had money coming in. It was just that everything seemed to come at once.  I had my normal tutoring and my class for Liverpool Hope in Bury, as well as some A-level lectures for Sovereign Education.  On top of that, I was asked to cover a few weeks of a course on witchcraft and witch hunting for Hope in Liverpool.  Then, into the middle of it all, some podcasts to write and the copy edits of the book to respond to.

Busy, busy, busy.  But also, the exhaustion. With several long days (and I mean long!) each week, I was tired out by Christmas.  Just in time for the proofs of my book to arrive for me to check and write the index…

My portfolio career is such that among my teaching is an introductory module for Liverpool Hope University on twentieth century Europe. This is ‘flipped learning’ course, where the students access recorded lectures and course materials via the course moodle and then attend seminars and tutorials ready to discuss the issues that they’ve come across.

Last year, I enjoyed teaching in a maths classroom.  The benefit of this was that the walls were covered in huge whiteboards, which I used frequently to brainstorm ideas and, for example, to get students to create composite drawings which reflected their understanding of the issues that led to the civil war.  This year, to my horror, I am teaching in a psychology room.  The whiteboard is minute and placed directly behind the teacher’s desk.  Well, I wasn’t prepared to jettisone those carefully prepared activities that get students talking, thinking and creating.  How then to solve the problem of classroom activities that required those whiteboards?

In the first instance, I decided to use post-it notes.

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The task was for students to brainstorm aspects of European society c1900, writing each one on a post-it note and placing it in a ring around the central idea.  From there, the students had to break those aspects down into their component parts, and place them down as spokes coming off the ring.  It wasn’t perfect, but it did get the students (who at that stage didn’t really know one another) out of their seats, talking to one another and discussing the different angles and issues that Europe faced at the turn of the century.


On Tuesday morning, the children started their new school, so I went back to work in earnest, trying out my new study (a great success, but more on that another time).  I spent Tuesday reading a couple of books that I needed to take back to the library, and on Wednesday we had another meeting of the writing group, which went well and was interesting.  In order to attend, I had to brave my first commute to Manchester, which wasn’t all that much fun but at least when I leave here at 9am I miss the rush hour!
I’ve spent the last two days re-writing my ballad chapter as two lectures: one a twenty minute seminar paper for the History and Classics Postgrads at Manchester, sometime this autumn; the other a longer lecture aimed at the Historical Association’s Manchester Branch, which will be in January next year.  As I am currently between supervisors, I thought I might as well get them out of the way now, so that I don’t run the risk of having to cram them in when there are other deadlines to meet.
It’s interesting trying to re-write the work for speech.  Trying to maintain the academic standard whilst making it sound reasonable to read aloud is quite a skill.  I don’t want to read the two papers, I’d much rather talk off the cuff, because that’s how teaching works and it’s what I’m used to.  It also comes across much, much better to the audience.  But I can now see why people do.  At the moment, I couldn’t possibly do it without extensive notes.  I just don’t know it well enough.  So I want to really learn it.  Not every word, as then it would sound like reciting a script, but know my stuff well enough to be confident to talk about it without having my head buried in a sheaf of paper.