Teacher Talk

Peter Brennan taught English for 30 years, 22 of them as head of department at The Latymer School in Edmonton, north London. He recently left to become a freelance teacher and publisher
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The Independent Online

How have things changed since you entered teaching?

The best English teachers today are fighting against an approach to education that resembles factory farming: cramped, tasteless - and producing, if we are not careful, very unsavoury nourishment. When I began teaching, the profession was much less carefully regulated, and there was also a much greater sense of joy and adventure in the classroom. Why do so few of our students go on to read and write in a dynamic, exploratory, exacting fashion when they become adults?

Have you tried to follow any maxims as a teacher?

I try to make my classroom a place full of laughter and reflection. In my experience, most adolescents yearn to wrestle with the strange contradictions of the life that they are beginning, and I want to challenge the nervousness we can feel when speaking from the heart. The essence of teaching is a desire to cherish the individuality of those who sit before you. I expect every student to offer an honest, searching response to the work - and, if necessary, to disagree with me - and everyone else. Being told by a 14-year-old that one's most deeply held convictions are ridiculous is unsettling, but it's also a splendid antidote to the congealing certainties of middle age.

What have you done as a teacher that makes you most proud?

I am gratified that many students have told me that they have gained from the work that we have done together. Quite a number of them have become friends, and we collaborate now - informally, but purposefully - as colleagues.

What do you hope to achieve as freelance teacher and publisher?

I hope to encourage people to explore the possibilities for growth and development that reading can offer them. I will concentrate particularly on Shakespeare and on other great poets, ancient and modern. The Perdika Press that I am setting up will complement my teaching by enabling me to publish the work of poets who avoid the safe havens in which much contemporary poetry nestles. Current GCSE courses offer a narrow view of British poetry today, and it will be a relief to push out nto less charted, and more rewarding, waters.

Peter Brennan's first course on literature and spirituality, TS Eliot: 'The heavy burden of the growing soul', takes place at The Lotus Foundation, Swiss Cottage, London, on 27 November. For details, go to www.lotusfoundation.org.uk.

Email: education@independent.co.uk