Saturday, 24 November 2012


This is not a post about teaching per se, but it does relate to how being a teacher, or something as simple as even being me, feels like wading through treacle. This is a post about my dad.

Much like @kevbartle, I am mindful or being mawkish or overly sentimental, so the aim is to just tell the story of my dad, and more specifically, his loss on the 5th November 2005 and how the ripples of that moment return, to a greater or lesser extent each year. 

The loss of a loved one is not something that is unique to me, but how we experience that loss is as unique as the DNA that codes our physical and mental being.  

A little bit of hope

My dad had had liver cancer for 5 years in 2005 and we were all hoping, come the next hospital visit, that the doctors would pronounce that he was in remission.  Instead, they informed him that it had returned.  Dad was given the normal treatments of chemotherapy and anti-sickness drugs, warfarin etc - the main purpose of which is to buy him more time.  

In March of that year, the doctors told us that this medication was having little or no effect.  He was offered a 'last chance saloon' round of treatment which involved him participating in a drugs trial, which of course he did.   

In April of that year, I ran the London Marathon. Well, I say 'ran'. I ran for 18 miles, then my heavily fatigued legs jogged and walked that last 8 miles and I finished in the, ahem, time of 5 hrs and 27 minutes.  Dad, my mum and sister all came down to watch.  I never saw dad en route, which is probably a good thing, as when I saw him at the end, his face was covered in painful red lumps and he was barely recognisable.  I was pale from fatigue.  We had a picture taken together which looks like a competition for, 'Who looks the most wretched?'.  

Despite the fact I could not walk properly for a week afterwards, I was so glad my dad got to see me do it.  He was a keen athlete himself when younger; it is, I think, something he would have liked to have done.  I admit, just going by the look of him, I was scared of thinking that this new 'wonder drug' was not really working. 

Hope takes a hit

As the May Bank Holiday approached, and as we were in the bad old days of SATS, I was grateful of the extended weekend after preparing a less than co-operative mixed ability Year 9 class for those irritating tests.  

Then the phone rang.  It was mum. She told me to sit down.  This was not going to be, by any stretch of the imagination, a good phone call.  In a calm, and in as gentle a way that she could, mum told me that there was nothing else the doctors were able to do for dad.  I crumpled in a heap on the floor; sobs enveloping me while my poor mum tried to find the words to make me feel better, or at least stop crying. I spoke to dad, but I was tongue tied.  What do you say to your loved one when you both know, but do not want to comprehend, that death is around the corner? HOW do you speak to them? I think, although this is hard to remember, that I asked if him if he was OK.  Seeing it in black and white looks absurd, but it was all I could think of to say. 

May half term came around and we spent time doing things that dad enjoyed. Steam trains seemed to feature heavily.  When I was very little, dad was a model train enthusiast.  He had a room in which he had built and made a train set, which he took great joy in.  Fortunately, as dad and mum had moved back to his childhood village of Penrhyndeudraeth (easier to say than it looks, honestly) there is an abundance of real, big, beautifully restored steam trains. We did our best to be 'normal', to keep calm and carry on, but underneath there was the question of, "How long have we got together?"

Never have I been so grateful for the six week summer holiday. That time was well spent, going to North Wales to visit mum and dad; dad coming and staying with me and putting up picture rails in my tiny terraced house; dad returning to come and fix my immersion heater (my only source of hot water, yes really) when it yet again, conked out. Travelling to mum and dad's with my friend Jo and her beautiful Staffordshire Bull Terrier Molly which, on reflection, was a stroke of genius.  Dad loved Molly, cuddled her, spoiled her rotten, and busily snapped photographs on his digital camera.  He smiled; he laughed. Little Molly the Staffy bought him some joy.  Ironically, for those few days, he seemed to come to life again, and that in turn bought us a slice of hope. 

My dad and I had never had a great relationship.  From my teenage years onward into much of my adult life it, was often distant, and sometimes strained. At this point, we both knew that there was no rhyme or reason for this to continue; it served no purpose.  Time spent together helped us heal the rift. 

September came around all too quickly and as is the way with schools and teaching, time cantered by at speed.  Before I knew it we were into October.  My sister was teaching in a school in Leicester at the time, so her half term was a week earlier than mine.  In this week, dad was taken to hospital to have an operation to drain fluids from his abdomen. His organs were really beginning to fail. I remember speaking to my sister on the phone, her voice reedy and quiet, a little wobbly.  Whatever she had seen of dad that week, she had been really shaken.  She was supposed to come out for my birthday meal (12th October) but she just couldn't.  I still had a week of work to get through, thus the brave face was firmly entrenched and I got through the week and went out for my birthday meal anyway. What else was I supposed to do?

The true meaning of caring

My half term came around and after the Saturday sleeping, cleaning and generally faffing I travelled up to Penrhyndeudraeth on the Sunday morning to see dad and was fairly clueless, maybe even in denial, as to what I was about to see. I arrived at mum and dad's house, 'Penfro' and received a warm hug from mum, but the house already seemed that little bit emptier without dad there.  Dad was in the hospice in Llandudno, and they were letting him come home today.  A cup of tea and a muted chat later, mum and I made the journey to the hospice to bring him home.  

Mum parked up and we walked gingerly into the hospice.  I followed mum to dad's ward and then I saw him on the bed.  He was thin and gaunt and an un-natural shade of yellow, another sign that his organs - his liver especially, were really failing.  I knew, this was 'it'.  That realisation was overwhelming.  I remember managing to chat for a little while and while mum was talking to the doctors, I slipped away, found a quiet corner and crouched down breathless, sobbing. Somehow, I re-gained some composure and returned to dad's bedside and we got him ready to come home. The doctors and nurses spoke in euphemism, not saying in front of us or him, that he was going home to die, but that is what the sub-text was.  In reality, it did not need to be said. 

The next day mum, stoic as ever, went to do her shift in the charity shop, while I was at home to look after dad.  Later on that morning, the doorbell rang and it was the Macmillan nurse who was here to check on dad, and check his range of medication was suitable.  I let her go into dad's bedroom while I sat, or rather squirmed in a state of worry in the living room. After she had spoken to dad, she came to speak to me about his medication and what the situation really was.  She told me in a matter of fact, but kind way, that dad had about two weeks left, that she would return with more suitable morphine related painkillers for him and then she went. I sat there, both believing and unbelieving of what she had just said.  

I waited a little while, with those uncontrollable sobs enveloping me once more.  Pulling myself together (How, I mean HOW did I do that?) I went into dad's room, laid down next him, put my head on his shoulder and my arm over his now distended belly. He wrapped his arm around me as I snuggled up to him.  Next follows the most difficult conversation I have ever had:

Dad, "So, what did she say? Do we know how much time?"
I adjusted myself to look him in the eyes, and asked him, "Do you want me to be honest, or is it better to lie to you?"
"Be honest." he said.
There was a very pregnant pause, as I struggled to formulate the words, I began with a bit of a stutter I'm sure, 'She....she said about two weeks dad."
Silence. We just remained in our cuddle.  When I thought I could speak without crying, I said, "I love you dad."
"Love you too Gwennie." he said. 
After that he was quite tired and needed to sleep.  I think I gave him some morphine and left him to rest. I have no recollection what I did the rest of that afternoon until Mum came home. 

For weeks, months and years afterwards I tormented myself with the question, was I right to be so honest with dad? Would it have been better if I had lied to him? I have even used this moment while teaching, 'An Inspector Calls', discussing issues of morality and how we find our moral compass. Was it morally, the right thing to do?

When mum eventually came home, we spoke, we cried, we cuddled and worked out what to do next.  Dad's GP was brilliant and said she'd sign both me and my sister off work for as long as we needed it.  Dad, desperate not to be any bother, said, "Don't get in trouble with work on my behalf." At that particular time, I couldn't give a stuff about work.  

Making preparations

Tuesday of that half term I travelled back home, feeling guilty for even leaving him in the first place. But I had to come home, and in all my conscientious diligence, wanted to make things OK with school too. I contacted my Head of English, who told me not to worry about work and get back to dad. He'd been through exactly the same thing with his own mother some years ago. I contacted the person who was Head of Media, explaining my rather awful situation who then told me to set cover work for my Yr 12 and 13 Media classes.  Now, being the fairly new green teacher I was and being in a generally vulnerable state, I did exactly that. That Wednesday I spent a good 4 or 5 hours sorting work for those classes.  If there was anything I bitterly regret, and feel angry about, it is that. WHY was I so compliant? WHY didn't I say, 'No'? WHY did she even ask me to do it? My dad was dying, and there was precious little time left to spend with him. WHY? However, I did it. Fool. 

I went home to re-pack, knowing I would have to pack clothes for my dad's funeral. I also brought my laptop so we could download the pictures dad took of Molly the beautiful Staffy.  I began the 3 1/2 hour journey back to dad, finding the occasional lay-by to stop and cry. My sister had already returned to dad at that point so we were to all be re-united soon. 

During the next 10 days, my role as a person had changed fundamentally. Mum, my sister and I became dad's carers, his nurses, each playing to our stoical strengths. I made a table on Excel for dad's medication, and what he should take and when. My sister, who had worked as a carer in an old people's home in a previous life, put all these skills to good use, taking him to the bathroom for a flannel wash, while mum and I changed his bed sheets.  My sister was an early riser so she took the morning medication shift; I was the night-owl so I did the late shift while mum did what mum's do best and took care of us all.  One day, when he was fed up and aching, I massaged his feet hands and back, trying to ignore the flecks of cancer rising to the surface, mottling his skin.

Time is running out

Everyday we woke up and went into see dad first of all. All of us both grateful for another day but utterly helpless that we could not make him better.  

In the second week, there were more noticeable and less and less subtle signs of his dying.  He was eating less and less and what he did eat often came back up, therefore he was getting noticeably thinner and weaker. He rarely got out of bed, hardly able to hold himself up.  He could sometimes hold a conversation but not for very long. 

The last few days were far more telling. His motor-skills were in a real decline. He was less and less able to use his hands, which became heavy weights on the end of his arm, dangling, unusable. He could just about shuffle into the living room while we changed his bed and his speech was also becoming odd, stilted and a bit slurred. This was most noticeable on his last day (not that we knew it was his last day).  That night, while mum was getting him ready for bed, he said, "My body is taking its revenge."  That moment, I think, dad finally accepted what was happening and what was about to happen. 

Saturday Morning, 5th November 2005

I awoke to the sound of my sister yelling for help. I say awoke, but I had not slept properly for days.  I dashed to dad's room to find my sister trying to manoeuvre dad on the bed.  His face was contorted in pain, gaunt, haunted and his lips were pulled back over his teeth like a snarling dog.  I barely recognised him.  My sister explained what she was trying to do, get him (and this is ironic, no doubt) in the recovery position so he could be more comfortable.  
Eventually, we managed it.  His breathing was erratic, laboured, getting more and more shallow.  Today was the day.  Mum got on the phone to the doctors while my sister and I remained with dad.  I lay myself behind him, one arm around his abdomen, both to cuddle him and to feel his breathing; the other stroking his still  thick mop of white hair.  My sister kept talking to him, both of us telling him, in our own way, it was time to go. Moments later his breathing slowed, became shallower and he squeezed out his last breath, and this is so typical of my dad and his bodily functions, the very last thing he did was fart. 

He was gone and my heart splintered and fractured. 

I felt so many things, but most immediately was the sense of relief; it was over.  He was no longer suffering. This was tempered with waves of incomprehension, bewilderment and grief.  

I was off work for the next few weeks so we could arrange his funeral (I won't tell you about that too) and begin trying to patch ourselves up.  Dad's doctor signed us off work when we asked for it. 

The aftermath and some reference to school and teaching. 

I returned to work 2 weeks after dad died. I know now this was way too soon.  I remember that week at school, at least the emotions of it, as clear as a bell.  It took a Herculean effort of all my best acting technique, and believe me, I'm no Kenneth Branagh, in order to put on that brave face, to be 'normal' in front of classes and colleagues when for me, nothing was in the least bit normal. Nothing.  

On the Friday of that first week back, I got through my last lesson of the day, made my way straight to our little work room and sobbed, big heaving, snotty, loud, uncontrollable sobs. It was a mixture of both relief that I'd made it though the week and guilt at having to put dad to the back of my mind in order to do so. 

People at work were kind and supportive, with some telling me that I was brave. I always put them straight. I was not not brave. My dad was the brave one. We did what we did out of love, nothing more, nothing less. 

The ripples

Every October and November since has felt like wading through treacle.  As the years have gone by I have coped with it better, or at least, found a way to compartmentalise the range of emotions I feel over those months. I still feel guilty if work leaves me little or no time to reflect or remember. It feels like a terrible act of betrayal.  

Once I told a very truncated version of this story to my lovely Year 10 girls group as the topic of cancer once came up in a speaking and listening assessment.  The girl who was discussing the topic struggled to articulate her anger and frustration about it. So I told them about dad and looking after him while he was dying.  Before I knew it, I was faced with a class full of tearful, snot nosed, mascara running all over the place, teenage girls. It was a thoroughly unexpected response to his story.  I could not help but think of my dad, my curmudgeonly, stubborn, some times grumpy and insensitive, cuddly daft thing of a dad, who would have been utterly bemused by their response, baffled even. 

Being at work, during this time, still sometimes takes Herculean effort to be 'normal' for the benefit of all those that I interact with on a daily basis. It takes much of my mental capacity to appear 'together' when all I still want, miss, and crave is a big bear hug of a cuddle from my dad and to listen to his throaty Welsh laugh. 

I taught Hamlet, for the first time in my teaching life, to a simply wonderful class of Year 13 last year.  I was also lucky enough to see the David Tennant production, and I remember seeing Hamlet on stage for the first time in Act 1 Scene 2 and being able to 'get' Hamlet almost immediately, especially when he speaks of his 'inky cloak' and shows his petulance and anger at the loss of his father.  Now, how could we expect a 17 year old to grasp the fundamentals of this kind of profound grief? We hope they have yet to experience it. I did understand it, I know it, I lived it, it was my job to pass this onto them. 

For those of you who wish to know, 'cariad' is the Welsh word for love or sweetheart. I learned many, big, huge, fundamental things in those last two weeks with dad, but the most important was finding out, and knowing deeply and truly what that word really means. 

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Surf's up

There are numerous analogies to describe teaching, one of them, as these anecdotes may well demonstrate, is like surfing. When it goes well it is like the moment the surfer stands on the board, feet planted firmly and steadily on his steed; his balance is assured and he catches the wave. Whilst the surfer must literally think on his feet, adjust his balance to keep riding the wave and maintain momentum it is a sensation that cannot be bettered.

At other times, it is like a surfer having a bad day at the office.  You paddle like fury, trying to catch the wave, you leap onto the board, your balance is never quite right and you just cannot catch the wave.  But just when you're about to give up, you have one last try and you catch the last wave before the sea returns to calm.  It is a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. 

A potential custard pie moment turns into a victory or the peaks and troughs of being brave. 

Often what teaching feels like

On a Monday morning, lessons 1 -3, I have my Year 12 Media Studies class: I cannot tell a lie, it's a pleasant way to start the week. I have twelve students in total.  Ten from my school and two girls from a neighbouring Academy who don't offer the subject. They are an amiable bunch and seem to have taken to me like ducks to water.  

We have been studying and analysing Chris Morris' rather excellent 'Four Lions', focusing on the representation of Muslims. We had already looked at the predominantly negative representation of Muslims in the British Press (using the Daily Mail; it wasn't hard to find evidence of that, I can tell you). 

Sunday night, I planned their lesson, and feeling a little brave, I decided to use @LearningSpy's 'ultimate teaching method' of 'Home' and 'Expert' groups. I am always honest with the pupils if I am trying something new with them. I tell them I've not done it before and that it could all go horribly wrong. Again, taking a leaf out of @LearningSpy's Samuel Beckett quote, I tell them, 'This might go horribly wrong, if it does, we'll work out how to do it better next time.' 

The pupils were placed into 4 expert groups and assigned to a main character in 'Four Lions' with a structured note sheet to focus them. It had a hexagon in the middle with prompt questions in the centre and around the outside the methods of representation were noted against the side of the hexagon: Action, Reaction, Dialogue, Mise-en-scene, Camera shots and Movement, Editing. We watched the middle section of the film, pausing to discuss their findings once in a while and allowing them to discuss and make notes on their sheets. (I will try and find a picture of it to insert here).

During the last section of the lesson they were placed in their 'home' groups. Each 'home' group now contains an 'expert' on a main character of 'Four Lions' and how they are represented in the text.  They are now responsible for teaching each other how their character is represented and why?  Some groups are more comfortable with this than others, but they eventually warm up to it and busily teach each other what they have learned, whilst I move around the group playing devil's advocate to extend their thinking. I confess, this was also because I seemed and felt largely redundant and needed to 'do' something. 

At the end of the lesson, one of the boys, who only joined the group a couple of weeks ago, walked out and thanked me for the lesson. I enthusiastically respond with, "Thank you for the ''Thank you"; we don't get it that often." 

Wrestling hatchlings or catching and riding the wave

I am lucky enough to have a top set Year 7 on my timetable; I say that but the class contains what can best be described as the three naughtiest and most difficult boys in the year group. However, according to their Schonnell and GLA reading test, they are able, so should be there. 

One of them comes from a local clan who has a history of producing problematic children to teach. You see the surname on your register, remember the sibling you attempted to teach a few years ago and grimace. This boy is also, from what I can gather, the shortest pupil in the year group. He makes up for his small stature with his personality in large spadefuls.  You can translate that to demanding and attention seeking behaviour patterns in class. I often have to send him out of the lesson so I can at least deliver instructions, without being interrupted, and get the rest of the class on task. 

It was their last lesson of the week, Thursday Period 6. The class are in and settled and the pupil, again, interrupts me while I'm speaking to the whole class.

Pupil, "Hi Miss! Did you miss me?"
Me, "Do you miss a verruca when it is not there anymore?"
Pupil, "Eh?"
Me, "Nevermind."

A few of the girls, who are fed up with his one man mission to destroy lessons, smiled at me. One in particular, whom he is often unpleasant to, looks up at me with a knowing smile. I look down; we exchange glances. I move on to explain their task. (Dead simple, a table of prefixes, roots and suffixes and they have to work in teams to produce the most compound and complex words). 

As I'm putting the class into groups, I take a gamble and let the three naughty boys work together. One of them is particularly good handing out dictionaries and he is the one to point out they can make compound words as well as complex.  I feel apprehensive but optimistic at the same time. It was a gamble, but it might just work. 

As I sit next to them to keep them on task, another lad strikes up a conversation with me.  This pupil, along with his naughty friends, often make inappropriate and mostly negative comments about girls, and women in general, in class; it would not be hyperbole to say it is verging on the misogynistic.  He also displays an arrogance I have rarely, if ever, seen in an eleven year old boy. 

Catching the last wave

Pupil, "Miss, do you have a boyfriend?"
Me, and I have to say this is pretty much my default answer since I've been teaching, "No."
Pupil, his tone being quite serious (if only he were joking), "Do you want one? Do you want to go out with me?" 
I say this as calmly and as gently as I can manage, because I am rather astonished that he should say this and mean it, "What? Go out with an eleven year old? I'm not that desperate, thank you."

His two mates chuckle and inform him he has been 'had' by a teacher.  He is somewhat quieter for the rest of the lesson. 

The rest of the lesson goes well as I take down word totals for each group and write them on the board, which makes the teams even more competitive and eager to work. The lesson, including the naughty gang, becomes a hive of enthusiastic, competitive activity. 

It has been a few weeks since that lesson has taken place.  The naughtiest boy in the class is now in our Learning Support Unit; the lad who asked me out is now trying really hard in lessons and his work is improving as a result; his friend still pushes his luck but is now able to have 'good' lessons on occasion.  

Surf's up

Teaching is one huge balancing act (imagine the analogies you can form from this metaphor!).  We are on a constantly moving waters, pulled in and out by the moon, whipped up by the wind or it is as eerily still as a glass mirror.  Often we don't know which is it is going to be on any given day (or lesson for that matter).

Sometimes the waves are huge, terrifying even, but you still leap on the board, find your balance and catch the wave.  Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you cannot catch the wave, but it doesn't stop you trying because you remember how darn GREAT it feels when you eventually do. 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Something what I wrote in class

Filing can be interesting...sometimes.

Here I go, off on another educational tangent.  Today I was in full work avoidance mode, filing and re-arranging teaching resources and data in readiness for the 'Death-eaters' visit at some point this academic year. The notion of being and feeling organised is only ever temporary. By and large, I think we teachers are much like swans: on the surface we show calm, grace and serenity; beneath the water ('scuse my French) we are paddling like f*** to keep afloat and to move forward. 

So, whilst trying to gain the appearance of calm grace, I stumbled across something that I wrote in the class with my Year 11 (all girls) last year as exam practice for the WJEC English Literature paper.  The final task on the paper is a comparison of two contemporary poems.  The pupils have a just an hour to read, analyse and write an essay comparing these two poems.  

I sprung this exam practice on the pupils when we had a double lesson.  I was military with the timing, dividing up the hour into: fifteen minutes for reading, annotating the poems and a plan, forty-five minutes for the writing of the essay (making sure they had time at the end to check their work). I used the timer from to make sure I, as well as them, were keeping to time.  While they worked in silence, I did precisely the same work I'd asked the pupils to do.   I had not sat and deconstructed the poems beforehand. I was precisely in the same academic, high pressure boat as the class. I had deliberately put myself in their shoes, not knowing what the outcome would be. For me, or for them. 

I have also been spurred on to write this post in response to 'Goveanasaurus-Rex's' over-use of the word 'rigour' when it comes to his blunt and brutal educational reforms.  On WHAT educational research does he base this on?  Which is the question I am constantly, indignantly asking.  To me, this exam task smacks of academic rigour.  I wonder how well Gove would do if he were put in the same position I put my Year 11s and myself in?  In the light of the GCSE English fiasco, I wonder what marks or grade an examiner (and the exam board) would give my essay? (I'm not sure I want to even know the answer to that one). 


To share this kind of writing with you is terribly exposing, if not a bit scary.  I mean, the first time I wore a bikini at the swimming pool when I was in my mid 30s.

I feel I must add it was a decidedly modest bikini, not far off the modesty of a Victorian swimsuit, where sunlight would merely glimpse, let alone touch, the exposed flesh.   Showing you 'what I wrote' feels very much like THAT moment I walked out of the changing rooms to the pool side in my first, but modest, bikini. 

The two poems were: 'Tramp' by Rupert M. Loydell and 'Decomposition' by Zulfkar Ghose.
Pupils are required to comment on:

  • The content of the poems
  • The ideas the poets may have wanted us to think about
  • The mood or atmosphere of the poems
  • How they are written
  • Your responses to the poem. 

So this is what I wrote in the same 45 minutes the Year 11s had. Before I begin properly, I confess I'd have tweaked a little and edited a tad; much like putting on a bit of fake tan to remove the snow blindness glare of my pale skin before wearing said, modest bikini. 

N.B. My chief editor @Xris32 has sat and proof read this essay, however, I am going to 'show and tell' errors and all, otherwise it's not a fair representation of what I did in those 45 minutes. 

Something what I wrote in class

The content of each poem is quite clear as both poets have chosen to write about homeless people, which on the face of it, appears quite simplistic.  However, the points of view of each narrator differs greatly. For example, 'Tramp' creates a rather unpleasant image of a homeless man because in the third stanza he narrates that, 'we fear him'.  Through using the collective pronoun 'we' the poet is not just writing about his own response to the tramp, but (middle class?) society's which can be a 'fear' born of ignorance. Interestingly, 'Decomposition' creates a far more sympathetic view of the homeless man on the streets of Bombay. The metaphor, 'cracks in the stone' indicates his fragility, therefore we fear for him rather than just fear him. The point of view here is clearly very different from 'Tramp'. Rather than narrate society's abhorrent reaction to the homeless and then questioning it, as in 'Tramp', 'Decomposition' offers a seemingly much more personal response to a homeless man, while at the same time questioning the morality of the observer's inaction. 

Loydell clearly wants to create a sense of fear, rather than sympathy, for the homeless man by first concentrating on the sound that the tramp makes, he, 'gibbers'.  The tramp is heard before he is seen, which is a classic horror genre tactic.  The sound the tramp produces is unintelligible, thus giving him a sense of madness. Society does not seem to like what we can't control or understand, and it is this that creates the sense of fear. Additionally, the use of religious words such as 'prophet' and 'heaven', signs of divinity, contradict the rest of the description of the tramp, as if the narrator is telling a cruel joke at the tramp's expense. 

Ghose, however, creates a far more sympathetic and emotive figure of his homeless man through first naming his homeless man a 'beggar', a term that appear much less harsh than the word 'tramp'.  Beggar is used in the Bible as a description of homeless people, perhaps also giving the man a more sympathetic divinity. The word also suggests a sense of hopelessness for the figure but also someone that we should look charitably upon, rather than to merely judge. 

Sympathy for the beggar is increased via the use of the metaphor that describes his arms and legs as 'cracks in the stone' which suggests many images to the reader. The 'cracks' imply fragility, brittleness and vulnerability whilst the word 'stone' implies a permanence, that he has been there forever; he is immobile.  This also allows the narrator to suggest the beggar's agedness.  It is here that the title of the poem, 'Decomposition' is a pun, a play on the word, 'composition' that which a photographer does in order to structure his photograph. Therefore the narrator, through the course of the poem, is deconstructing his image in order to question the morality of his actions of merely taking a photograph of the beggar but doing nothing to aid him. In comparison, 'Tramp' is a far more simplistic title, at least on the surface, however there are many negative connotations associated with this word, which are then played out during the course of the poem. 

Loydell's language in the poem, like the structure itself, on the surface appears very simplistic. There are few complex words or images but this is clearly deliberate, because his message which is a critique of our reactions to the homeless, is so clear. In order to make us fear the tramp, Loydell paints an altogether unpleasant picture in the third stanza; the adjectives being the most poignant, 'matted', 'patched' and 'grey' all creating a sense of disgust and decay. It makes us, the reader, and (middle class) society want avoid him. Alternatively, Ghose's description creates a great deal of sympathy because his beggar appears so close to death, for he is, 'brain-washed by the sun into exhaustion.'.  The personification of the sun, ever present and all powerful, emphasises the man's weakness and vulnerability on the streets of Bombay. 

The last sections of the poem also show great contrasts, revealing the poet's intended message to the reader about homelessness very clearly.  Loydell states that there is, 'no place for him in our heaven'.  The possessive pronoun 'our' explicitly shows the reader that the tramp does not belong with 'us'. 'Us' being the salaried, comfortable, middle classes. Society, and this class in society, has rejected him. Surely it is 'us' that have failed the tramp? In contrast, Ghose's more personal and humane response is very understandable when he described the beggar so sympathetically, 'His head in the posture of the weeping/into a pillow chides me.' Here the beggar is described as serene and beautiful, like the Virgin Mary, helpless, holy and vulnerable. The final two word Ghose uses to describe the beggar and his 'composition' are 'hunger' and 'solitude' which reveals the distaste the photographer has for his own actions. His distaste for the lack of his own morals is obvious. 

Both poems are highly emotive and pose interesting moral questions about people who are homeless and how certain sections of society respond to them (Loydell) or how we personally react to them (Ghose).  Even though one poet is clearly more sympathetic than the other, both are guilty of the same crime, passive observation.  Neither narrator does anything to aid the beggar or the tramp and asks the question, is this morally wrong?  By posing this question so clearly to the reader, it makes us question our own behaviour and ask us if we too feel ashamed of our own behaviour towards someone who is homeless. Denial and ignorance are ever present. Observing is only useful if something is then done about it.

My original, scrawled essay. Contact Bletchley Park to decipher
Do feel free to add comments about my essay, but as Ron Berger and @totallywired77 state: Be kind, be helpful, be specific.  You can borrow it to use with your classes if you think it is worthy.

The de-brief

When we'd all finished I shared my work with the class.  BEFORE I did so,  I told them how hard I'd found the task, and how drained I was at the end of writing it. Not to make them feel better, because it was true.  Now, if I found it a tough task, it made me ponder the question, how hard must they find it?  To be in their shoes, to work WITH them, exposed and scared, was a revelation. 

I also confessed how NERVOUS I was reading it out to them; it was downright terrifying. I began reading fairly breathlessly.  God bless those girls; they saw my nervousness, and smiled at me to make me feel at ease. 

When I read it out to them, I critiqued the flaws in it as and when I found them; when I waffled; when I could extend an idea; when my grammar had all gone a bit Yoda like or when I'd repeated the use of a quotation.   It was (and is) by no means perfect,  in an hour, how the heck could it be?  

I learned exactly HOW demanding these tasks are.  I wondered, who decided that an hour to analyse two poems would be sufficient (after they'd already spent approximately 2 hrs analysing extracts from two different literature texts)? I learned that, contrary to common popular belief (Daily Mail), the GCSEs already display academic rigour.  I learned of the exposure and the fear present when sharing your work with a group of people.  I learned how important it is to have a sympathetic ear to your work.  I learned that sharing your writing with the class is incredibly empowering (excuse the cliche) for teacher and pupils.  I learned how good my relationship with the class was.  I learned, after marking their essays, that they were able to analyse a range of texts with some skill and confidence. I learned how relieved that made me feel.  I think I have probably learned an awful lot more than that.  I know I will definitely do it again. 

Well done ladies, well done. 

N.B. After their last exam, I bought them in individually decorated cupcakes made by a very talented friend of mine. They presented me with this: