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
Click to follow
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

Comments