Making room

In October 2016, the front of my classroom looked like this:

Today, in November 2019, nearly all cleared out before I retire (17 school days to go), this is how it looks:

Places have been found for my resources – often the recycling bin – but others have been saved, at least for now. Some books have been shelved with our teacher resources, others have been brought home as references for my continued learning. Resources I have created which remain current have been filed digitally on our shared drive or in hard copies.

The time is right to make room for the next teacher. Both of us will be making a fresh start.

The view from my home office window

Bits and pieces

There is something appealing about a jar full of bits and pieces. This one sits on the garage window sill. When I find something small and interesting, it goes in the jar for the day when it might be useful for something or other. The lightbulb serves as a lid.

Also on the garage window sill are these three pieces of crockery found in the garden. There’s a sailor wearing a three-cornered hat, playing the hornpipe, a woman outside a cottage, and a pennant design. Does anyone know anything about this porcelain?

Old secateurs make a crooked line-up. Hanging to the side of the door below the weed hooks, those iron claws are an old pair of crampons from Emei Shan, China, on which my companions and I slid on ice as we attempted to climb the mountain (unsuccessfully – the crampons wouldn’t stay on). The mosaic below is made of bits and pieces of tile.

House maintenance tools make another bits-and-pieces corner (pun intended). The red pole used to be a roller towel holder. It now supports the corner of the shelf above.

Then there’s the museum of Dad’s old tools on a peg board – alongside the anachronistic swing ball bats which have been idle since the pole broke.

From my childhood, there’s a wooden-framed tennis racket in a press. I remember putting protective tape along the top edge. Below it is my old canvas and leather external-frame tramping pack. I’ve walked many tracks with it, from Stewart Island to Abel Tasman National Park. The damp-damaged block-mounted prints have been kept simply because they are more interesting than the blank, unpainted garage wallboard!

There are people who make works of art out of bits and pieces. In November 2000, I bought this sculpture called Orville’s Dream. Can you identify the bits and pieces?

Orville’s Dream by Neil Ensor
Metal Assemblages from Found Material

Plus one!

The reason I went around the garden looking for flowers to photograph for my previous post, was this:


In April, my sister and my nephew helped me to dig up some lawn and extend the vegetable patch. I planted a lime tree and sweetpeas, and curly kale, rainbow chard and cauliflower. This is the first cauliflower in the new patch. I’ve been inspecting the plants regularly – while I hang washing out – and there it was, suddenly, already rather large. Magic!

More than just a few signs of Spring

Some interesting flowers are appearing in the garden. The bay, which grows in a large pot, has these lovely flowers.

Bay tree

The rhubarb is flowering. These would usually be cut straight away, but there’s little threat to the prolific production of edible stalks which have continued throughout the winter.


The cabbage tree – ti kouka – is producing flower stems.

Ti kouka – dancing leaves

Below this, the broad beans are flowering.

Broad beans

The curly kale, which has provided greens for salads all winter, is producing flowers – aka going to seed – aka bolting.

Curly kale

The salad greens are bolting – and birds are enjoying digging in the soil around them. Behind this, you can see borage and forget-me-nots in flower.

salad greens

Bees are busy in the rosemary.


Birds are loving the kowhai.


The cherry blossom too, looks wonderful against the sky.

Cherry blossom

Apple blossom is appearing.

Apple blossom – Sturmer

The blueberry is covered in flowers.


And, hiding under the leaves, the first strawberry flowers.


The garden is full of flowers and that fresh, lush green which only Spring can produce, even as the weather fluctuates from hot days to biting winds.

Inexcusable Ignorance

Why don’t we know much about the living things which are all around us? You would think we have had plenty of time to find out.

Now that we are losing so many to extinction, it seems inexcusable that we don’t know how they live. It doesn’t suggest anything good about us that we don’t know, don’t care, don’t want to know. We might watch nature programmes with interest, but often they are about exotic animals in exotic locations, not those which are here with us every day – in decreasing numbers.

These marvellous, tiny fungi appear now and again beside the path. Why? and what are they?

I’ve just finished reading How to Catch a Mole: and find yourself in nature by Marc Hamer. He has learnt as much as he can about moles so that his respect for them, and all the other birds and animals he encounters, has grown. It reminded me that every time I find an insect or observe a bird I wonder how they live. What had happened to the tiny fish washed up on the beach today? What is the word for a baby fish? Where do birds roost at night? Why are they gathered in that particular tree down the road at dusk and not in others? Do I need to put out a bird feeder in winter, or are the birds able to find what they need in the trees and in the empty over-grown section next door? Even the term “over-grown” gives us away; nature should be tamed!

I don’t mind if the birds eat a few strawberries. What insect has been eating the leaves?

There are fewer insects than I remember in the past. I’m relieved if even a solitary moth bounces off the window at night. I found a bright green cricket (or was it a praying mantis without its large pincers? or a grass hopper?) high up on a late-flowering rose I was pruning. I put it carefully on the trunk of the rose, but it was probably too exposed there to survive. How do we know when our good intentions are completely wrong?

I enjoy the little native spiders which live on the window sills. I’m trying not to reel back in horror if ants arrive in the house – but the ant bait is still there. Apparently, a wipe-over with a vinegar cloth will disrupt their pheromone trails and encourage them to stay outside (something I learnt from a Year 9 student who had studied them – is there hope, then, in his generation?).

The representation of the ant on the box is designed to make us feel repulsed and justified in killing.

I don’t use sprays in the garden, believing – or hoping – that everything finds its own balance and who am I to interfere? However, white-tail spiders bring out possibly irrational disgust and are dispatched quickly (with a shoe). Daddy longlegs spiders (pholcus phalangioides, according to City Nature by Bob Brockie) in the corners of the ceiling get vacuumed up from time to time. Will I learn to leave them alone? They don’t seem to do any harm. Cob webs are swept down. Borer beetles give themselves away by the dust piles they leave. I inject the holes and fill them.

What was supposed to be a brief post is becoming more complicated as I uncover my own guilt in the demise of living things.

I’ve heard that the proclaimed “dominion” over all living things (ironically, when the first people were expelled from Paradise) is a mis-translation. It should be “guardianship” or care for all living things, like the Maori concept of kaitiakitanga.

An attempt to educate visitors about the fruit of the kahikatea tree at a local remnant of native bush. It is called “king” of trees – more irony: a term encouraging us to have respect by relating this natural beauty to human hierarchy.

One has to wonder if the mis-translation was deliberate; that we are hard-wired to put ourselves first at the expense of all else.

Clutter in the Classroom

In the last few days I have resumed de-cluttering my classroom. I don’t want to leave the room full of stuff no-one wants.

A ruthless weeding of the bookshelves has left them looking more appealing. Most of the remaining books I have bought myself, our budget having been tiny for many years. The bookshelf and filing cabinet were originally from home, come to think of it! Filing cabinets aren’t used much now and I’m gradually emptying this one.

I have ended up with my car boot full of old books destined for the book fridge – a gap-filler project in the city featuring a re-purposed glass-fronted double fridge on an empty section. Whenever I go past there is someone adding books to the fridge or taking books out. Someone will like my offerings: the literature reference books (superseded by online search engines only for some), classics, and general fiction and non-fiction.

Today, I started on the shelves under the whiteboard. I opened a ring-binder which was carefully ordered into sections and once used for planning programmes for my classes. I hadn’t opened it for a while, and I was astounded, as if looking at it for the first time. All that work.

A couple of filing boxes were next for the chop. Full of thinking strategies – when we focused on metacognition – and literacy project material, reading strategies and enquiry projects. Hours of work, planning, meetings, course material and school-wide professional development. We’re on to different things now such as wellbeing and assessment and data and appraising our performance. Where has all that learning gone? Have we simply moved on? Is it refined into current practice?

It’s in the recycling now.

Our meeting after school today was to hear from the architectural team putting together a plan for the future development of the school. Our wish-list includes cultural and performance spaces, a shared garden, social and learning spaces, sustainable energy sources…all things I have for ages hoped might be possible. It reminds me of an inspirational book I read in the ’80s or ’90s by NZ educationalist Charmaine Pountney who had a vision for a school centred in its community, sustained by an organic garden, and run by the students and adults together. It will be interesting to see how our plans go – if I can I still say “our” when I have moved on.

I am looking forward to hearing about it all.

Marking Time

These school holidays I have brought home a large pile of marking. Usually this would be daunting, especially when resting and recovering is my priority but, somehow, I am relatively relaxed about it this time. Perhaps because I won’t have to do this next year when I am retired – my choice, but what an adjustment to get my head around. For a start, there will be no “holidays”. I won’t feel the same anticipation and delight in a long weekend! How strange that will be.

My marking sorted into piles: Year 11 formal writing (2 classes), Year 10 Response to visual text, Year 13 “Let’s get critical” (check marking) and Year 12 Personal Responses.

With four days of holiday left, I have finished the marking. It hasn’t all been marking, though, thankfully. The grape vine and the roses have been pruned and salad greens, broad beans and sweet peas are in with rather rickety trellis and bamboo stakes to support them. Bedded down in pea straw, they seem to be surviving the frosts. I have used my own compost (yes, so proud!) on the raspberry canes and mulched them with bark.

One lot of formal writing done, one to go.

It has been nice to ration the marking and mix it up with gardening, reading the paper, doing the code-cracker, catching up with the Listener (now just two weeks behind), meeting friends, breaking my movie drought with Yesterday (and, consequently, bingeing on Beatles music), housework, walking, making soup and bread rolls, getting the car serviced, and enjoying a few books.

One of the books I’ve read this week is Goodbye, Mr Chips by James Hilton published in 1934. It’s been on my bookcase unread for years, probably picked up in a market. Perhaps it’s a first edition as it has the name “Charlotte Bowler, July 1935, Roslyn, Dunedin” in flowing handwriting, in ink, on the end paper. It has a cerulean blue hard cover under the art-deco dust cover. The sentiments expressed about a retired school master are dated and nostalgic but Mr Chips’ kindness and gentle concern for his pupils are neither of these things. For me too, students are the one sure point. A former colleague used to admonish his students with: “Stop it! You’re spoiling my bad mood.” I have been known to say cheerfully at the end of a class, “Go away…and don’t come back!” English as a subject gives infinite scope. Here my experience with Mr Chips parts ways, for he “had begun to sink into that creeping dry-rot of pedagogy that is the worst and ultimate pitfall of the profession; giving the same lessons year after year…” I would have fallen into dry-rot myself if I taught the same thing endlessly. I have to interest both my students and myself. Many of them could pretty much teach themselves, I think, such is their interest in the world, and others just get by with careful help. So, here’s to the teaching profession, and may it go from strength to strength.

During holidays, as well as marking, I reflect on the past term and plan for the next. It will be interesting to learn to cast off a forty-year habit of thinking, That could be useful for school when I read articles and stories or hear interviews on the radio and on podcasts. I will put aside thinking up more ways to motivate reluctant learners (perhaps better described as “school-averse teenagers” who could respond to different ways of learning). I can leave this responsibility in the hands of others, including the issue of electronic devices now integral to our teaching and learning. Helping students to use devices responsibly can be someone else’s concern. I will no longer have to be mindful of drawing a line between work and school, which has meant striving to avoid school emails or Classroom while at home even as it becomes increasingly necessary and, often, invasive. “Work-life balance” has become “work-life integration”. In effect, it always has been the latter for me, but is resisted more now than before.

To ease myself into a new phase of life in which these concerns may remain while my part in the constant change inherent to teaching is diminished, I will inevitably become “school averse” myself, practising different habits of mind, learning and action.

Croquet, anyone?
(Croquet Club, St Albans Park)