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What means this, teacher?

And well you may ask. In the last week or so, I have been deep in thought about what it is we say and why. This has been occasioned by three events – two on reality televison and one in reality life. I watched the Finals of X-Factor (I wouldn’t ordinarily admit that, but it serves a purpose here.) As you are no doubt aware, X-Factor is the ultimate dumbed down show where some fairly mediocre poor people are heartily back-slapped by equally mediocre rich people for the edification and delight of the greater beige British public. After each fairly mediocre performance, the mediocre rich people say three, all or one of the following to the mediocre performer:

That was an absolutely fantastic performance.

That was a world class performance. Stunning.

That was without question the best performance of that song I have ever heard.

You are a fabulous singer and that was your best performance – absolutely brilliant.

ad nauseam.

There’s hyperbole and there’s silliness – guess what I think those are? What do those words really mean ? Because if they mean what I think they mean, then none of them should have come within a country mile of any of the – let’s be honest here – excruciating performances I witnessed.

And then there’s The Apprentice. Ambitious, determined to the point of mania and wrapped snug and warm in self-aggrandisement, these Bright Young Things burst on to the scene. As they shove their various ways into the limelight, treading wilfully and indiscriminatelyon each other, the nerves of the real people they come in contact with and my sensibilities, they scatter liberally and randomly through their – er, let’s say – verbal transactions, sound bytes such as:

Losing is not an option.

I will never settle for second best.

When I sit down, I’ll be sitting on top.

It’s all about the winning.

I’m going  all the way to the top.

I’m not going home without this job.

But the truth is – losing is always an option, second best is not such a bad place to be and going home is often a thing devoutly to be wished. Do they really understand the meaning of what they are saying, or is it just something they say?

And finally the reality life experience. I was told the other day that I was “Bang out of order”. What on earth does that mean? Especially that I was told this rather startling piece of nonsense by someone I had never met and did not know, even by association (which made me very pleased because it re-affirmed my belief that I am a good judge of character, by and large.)

All this took me back to one of my very early teaching experiences. I was an English teacher at a snotty convent school for fairly privileged young ladies (I use the word advisedly). I was gearing them up for analysing and paraphrasing “Oh that this too too sullied/solid(?) flesh would melt….” and decided to choose something they all knew pretty well – the Lord’s Prayer. I asked them to deconstruct it and report back about what the words actually meant. As they settled down to the task, the little groups got quieter and quieter, until the room was silent (a rare thing in a classroom of 25 teenage girls). The report back was a very solemn, serious affair and the general lesson learnt (apart form the purely pedagogical one) was that we ought to measure our words and only after much thought, should we say anything and make sure it is what we mean.

Now I’m off to South Africa for my hols…..I just know it will be absolutely fantastic and seeing my children again will be awesome and the weather will be stunning and the I’ll have just the most amazing time. And, I don’t care if I’m bang out of order….

Happy holidays everyone!!


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