The primary teacher Quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

(The ‘quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle’ idea is taken from Denis Glover’s iconic poem, ‘The Magpies’ in which the call is ‘quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle’.)

It is my contention that without classroom experience it is beyond the capacity of the human mind to understand primary teaching. We see verification of this on a daily and generational basis.

The primary teacher described below, is all of us. Not in detail, or in depth, perhaps, but in philosophy, in aspiration. He is the ‘unknown’ teacher – in inverted commas, because some will recognise him, but I suggest you don’t – think of him as all of us.

On a daily and generational basis teachers and children have had to suffer the condescension, indignities, cynicism, lying, trickeries, cruelties, slurs, and deep ignorances of exploiting politicians, careerist bureaucrats, encrusted editorialists revelling in their prejudices, and, academics whose research is eminently switchable.

These are the characters on our education landscape who have quackled, poodled, fiddled, quisled, and diddled.

It would be distortionary and unfair, though, not to recognise the politicians, bureaucrats, editorialists, and academics who, over the years, while still not understanding primary teaching, have known enough, and been humble enough, to accept what they didn’t know, and been respectful to teachers and worked with them. Such politicians, bureaucrats, editorialists, and academics are important to teachers because, in return, teachers need to know what they know.

Our teacher, for instance, was somewhat lucky with his top politician and bureaucrat.

There has been a passage of time since our teacher taught, yet the underlying political and bureaucratic life of quackle, poodle, fiddle, quisle, and diddle has remained – not unchanged – but always there, in baleful expression, and never worse than at the moment.

Because these characters do not understand primary teaching, have no ideas of their own, they borrow from overseas, thinking themselves so sophisticated in the process, so in the know; they also become so obsessive in the process, so keen to exact revenge on teachers, they are willing to impose on teachers one alien bureaucratic indignity after another.

 

The primary teacher

Quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

The ideas I will concentrate on are those that arise

From the excitement the teacher experiences

As he explores

And develops his way of teaching

The interaction between art, observation of the local environment

Writing, drama and movement

The development and use of children’s emotional responses

The children’s use of artistic and written expression to learn ‘Who I am’

The teacher sensitivity to what the children are doing

The rigorous demand for exactness in observation and reflection

And for sincerity and truthfulness in expression

The emphasis on children evaluating their work

And the work of others

The democratic nature of much of the programme

The shifting role of the teacher

The expectation that children will experiment

Persevere, discover, and refine

And the incidental happenings

So seamlessly integrated.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

The special quality in the teacher is not so much

Where the teacher reached

Which I recognised as something beautiful

But how he got there.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

The teacher sets the children to lino cutting

Without suggesting any topic

Taken aback by

The prosaic outcomes

Yachts, liners, aeroplanes, and stick figures

Areas unfilled, and lack of balance.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

In the creative approach to learning

The teacher experienced various periods like this

The way ahead unclear.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Then began the regular nature walks to the river, bush, and beach

Very important as a programme stimulus

The children becoming more perceptive in their observations

Their observations of a bird in a tree

The development of some snail eggs

A fern-shoot uncurling and growing into a mature frond

The leaves on willow trees

And a cabbage tree.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

At last, the first day of pottery arrived

The children were joyous

Trevor’s first coiled pot rose swiftly and largely

Then slumped to the table

He pronounced it a huge success

His next one, though, built more cautiously

Rose firmly and solidly.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Red earths from the ridges were collected

And made into slips

Designs were drawn into the raw surface

Also through red slip

To the cream coloured surface below.

Much of the early decoration was clichéd

Before long, though, trees and fish

Gave way to line, mass, colour, and texture.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

The children worked out for themselves

That the surfaces of the large pots were better

If they had a textured surface

So the shapes were smoothed off without water

They also decided that the surface should not be busy

But decorated with a few bold strokes

There was always a large audience

During any transformation of clay into pots

Murmurs of both approval – and doubt – were offered.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Pondering their writing

The teacher rethought the kind of poetry and stories

He read to the children.

Poetry and stories specially written for children were dropped

Concerned that ‘childish’ poetry and stories

Were affecting their judgement

About what was good or bad expression

He became wary of rhyming poetry.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Then there was a growth point

But from an unlikely source

A boy’s poem about a thrush

Encouraged by his desire to rhyme

Typically for him

Was clichéd and lacking in accuracy

His lino cut, however

After three attempts, was satisfactory

The teacher heard the boy ask a girl 

What she thought of the lino cut. 

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

‘What about some branches to fill up that gap?’

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

A breakthrough: the power of discovery

Revealed as

Trumping the process of telling.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

This is the side of the teacher I find most inspiring

Searching to find a way forward

Knowing any improvement would not come easily

Appreciating teaching could not, should not, be done to a recipe

Responding sensitively to children

And delighting in the magic moments when

Beauty and truthfulness are expressed.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

A boy said he found the writing

A bit difficult

So could he do his description in clay?

The teacher hesitated

The boy responded quickly by saying he would do

His written description after the clay work

When he allowed the boy to do his clay work 

Without insisting on any later obligation to write

It was a seminal moment for the teacher

The boy was full of promises

That he would do his writing

(He did)

He rolled a ball of red clay into a good consistency

And fingered out a good-sized head.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

The teacher then described

The creative work that followed

Some children wanted to do very large tribal heads

And decided coiled clay

Would be better than sculptured ones.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

The teacher purchased a microscope and hand lenses

For children to extend

The range of artistic possibilities from nature

The children were excited

By the beauties of small seeds and insects

Suggesting designs to be used on fabrics.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Using a variety of methods

Screen, large lino blocks, and cut-paper stencil.

The teacher was pleased to see

That as the children

Became more familiar with the techniques

They developed a better context for their central figures

No longer were birds cut without some sort of environment

Like trees being included

Or caterpillars without, say, grass.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Oil painting was introduced

So that texture could be expressed better

Colour could be put on other colour

And many of the things they did with clay

Could be used

Such as scraping through colour to the base

Or combing and scratching the surface.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Clay pressings were done

Using a number of objects from nature

Or ones that were manufactured.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Children’s awareness of the quality of textural surfaces

Developed markedly

Printing lino blocks on to clay surfaces

Another development.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Then interest shifted

To bas relief plaque and tile making

The children were learning that skills

Used in one medium

Could be transferred to use in another

For instance, clay relief work could be decorated

With coloured slips

Lino blocks could be decorated by hand

With coloured inks and printed

Dry prints could be tinted with water dyes

Crayon, chalk, pastel, sand, and glue

Could be added to oil paintings

And press moulding of masks using plaster.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Teacher and children came to accept

The idea that the writing

Discussions, drama, and the art, were as a whole

A curriculum whole – a timetable whole.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

The teacher often agonised

About intervention

Taking away discoveries from children.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Children see the parts, said the teacher

Before the relationships between them

Making ordered description

Difficult

‘Thought’ writing was devised in response

Short burst writing

Allowing a better approximation of how children write descriptively

Painting and drama, though

Freed children from the demands

For exactness in writing

Came nearer to expressing their real experiences

Their inner thoughts.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

But seeing learning as a whole made intervention easier

To urge a child to better expression there was nearly always

Something worthy of praise somewhere

In the holistic process

To make intervention comfortable for teacher, class, and child

A girl brought to school

Her interest in pukeko nests

Stories, reports, poems, art

And ideas for drama soon appeared.

The class found their own nest of pukeko nearby

And visited them regularly to check on the chicks

Factual reports were written

A pukeko poem was turned into drama mime

A boy, who struggled with his writing

Did very well in the mime 

And the teacher’s praise for that participation 

Created the right context for making suggestions 

To lift the quality of his writing.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Expressing natural life truthfully will

Inevitably be an important part

Of all developmental classrooms

But the surpassing point

For me to take from the teacher’s way of doing things

Was not the emphasis on the natural environment

But the advantage to children’s learning

All children’s learning

Of building a foundation of emotional involvement

Resulting from intense, rigorous experience

It could, for instance, be mathematics, physical education, social studies

Or particular strands in science such as chemistry, physics, outer space

I can imagine, for instance

An insightful teacher of mathematics

Consistently generating classroom excitement

By getting children to see mathematics everywhere

In prehistory, history, the present social world, nature

In the various parts of science, technology

In literature, art, sport, dance, board games

Everywhere, anywhere

Then, devising imaginative ways

For children to express what they discover

The scrupulous observation the teacher taught children

To direct toward nature, could

Under the tutelage of an inspired mathematics teacher

Be directed toward mathematics and

As for curriculum balance

As was the case with the teacher’s way of doing things

Officialdom could take the hindmost

This was transformational teaching

Education gold.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

‘The black vine weevil was starting to make its home.

I thought it was going to have eggs.’

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Transmission of knowledge

An uninvolved writer

The teacher thought to himself.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Another child wrote

‘If you look at a flax plant

You will see it wave in the breeze.’

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

The use of ‘you’ rather than ‘I’, and the indefinite article ‘a’

Another uninvolved writer

No particular flax bush in mind.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

‘Funny’ and ‘silly’

An invitation extended

To find more precise words.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

‘I saw the wind catch the pine trees. It blew them from side to side.’

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

The boy was praised for his expression

The wind catching the pine trees

But did they really move from side to side?

Yes – the teacher as stickler.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

‘Once we went fishing

And we saw a man catch a baby shark’

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

When did you go fishing?

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

‘Last Monday we went fishing.’

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Eric told us of their discovery:

‘We followed the wasps up the hill

And watched the sky to see the line of flight,

The number of wasps increased

Until we heard the low buzz of the nest

In a nearby dry gully bank.

The ground seemed to throb

With the drone below the ground.’

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Following the boys’ directions

The class went up and found the nest.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

‘Some children were too close,

And David was stung three times,’ reported Eric.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

‘Those are the guards, those ones.

All the ones that fly close around the hole are there on duty’

That’s why he ‘got me,’ he said.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

A girl wrote a poem about grass

Not by describing grass

But by describing what she saw

When looking through the grass.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

Small balls of rain fall down and spit up in tiny streaks of white.

Leaves knotted by strings of weeds.

Leaves like cups hold blobs of water.

Drops of water trail down leaves and peak at the top.

Bird’s wings double as it flies.

Twigs uneven like a fork.

The dripping tap splits into tracks.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

How many of us would recognise this

As remarkable expression?

The teacher pounced on it

A demonstration of children developing pictures

Or images in their mind

Expressing those in art

Writing powerful statements

Each line a separate image

Adding up to a feeling of a whole

It was, he said, as though

‘She was still drawing, but with words.’

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

 

I don’t want to leave

This is my philosophical home

Oh comfort me.

 

And quackle poodle fiddle quisle diddle

They say

 

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