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October 1, 2009 / theoldsilly

Helena Harper – Teacher, Poet and Children’s Author

Fall ColorsIt’s October, one of my favorite months. I love the Fall, the crisp mornings and the beautiful array of colors here in Michigan. And as is the custom here on this blog, on the first and third days of each new month,VBT the Old Silly does a two part feature post on one of my fellow authors in the Yahoo Group, VBT – Writers on the Move.

Helena Harper PictureSo today and Saturday it is my pleasure to give y’all some information about Helena Harper. This is one special woman, a poet and children’s book author, and … she is an educator of our youth, the kind I’m sure you will all agree we need more of in today’s school systems. Well, she’s British, so us Americans won’t get the chance to have her learn our li’l ones nothin’ (lol – maybe she should’ve taught me English?) – well but at least her books are available here in the West so the tykes over here can benefit from those. But you know what I mean … and the quality education of our young people all over the planet is, or at least should be, a global priority.

On this post I’d like to call your attention to a marvelous publication ofHelena Harper It's a Teacher's Life hers, titled, It’s a Teacher’s Life. Here’s one of the 5 star reviews I read about it:

A most original and entertaining portrayal of school life.

By J.S.

5 stars

This very readable and amusing collection of poems gives a teacher’s perspective of life and work in a girls’ private school, including the key helpers, the backbone of the school, without whom it could not function. The author offers a cynical and satirical view of school rules and regulations, duties and formal occasions and provides a witty, if ironic insight into the running of such an establishment. There are digs at league tables and the whole rigid system of assessment and inspection and the author wonders what has become of the true process of education and learning. I thoroughly recommend this book and look forward to future publications.

~~~~~

Impressive, eh? For more reviews, click here. Would you like to read an excerpt? Just happen too have one handy … all’s ya gotta to is click here. And as the final part of this feature, I just had to share with you this short article written by Helena. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I’m sure you will as well-

~~~~~

Does our education system delight both teacher and taught?

My overriding impression after having been a high school teacher in the U.K. for the past twenty years is that I’ve been on a merry-go-round. I’ve seen things being introduced, then abolished, then introduced again. I’ve seen more and more exams and tests being introduced and now some of those new exams and tests are being abolished — and, perhaps, in the future they’ll be reintroduced again; who knows? I’ve had to cut interesting discussions short in class because otherwise I wouldn’t have completed the syllabus and been able to do past paper practice with students before the all-important exams. The students have been fixated on getting the highest grades they could because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get into university or do whatever else they wanted to do and would be deemed failures.

The paperwork for teachers has increased substantially because of the increase in the number of examinations and all kinds of other regulations that politicians have seen fit to introduce. Don’t politicians just love to interfere with education even though they don’t have a clue what teaching actually involves? Expressions of thanks from parents and pupils have grown fewer and fewer whilst complaints have grown ever greater.

The ‘aha’ moments I’ve seen in my pupils’ faces and the strong bonds I’ve developed with my colleagues, most of whom are remarkable human beings — intelligent, caring, very hardworking and often showing a much needed sense of humour — have been rewarding. However, the system as it exists at the moment is far from ideal and the longer one is in it, the more aware one becomes of its failings. If teachers could get on with their jobs without interference from politicians; if we could get rid of restrictive syllabuses and fact-based exams that do nothing to promote independent, creative thought; and if we could stress cooperation rather than competition, then perhaps – as I say in my book It’s a Teacher’s Life…!, which is an amusing, often ironic and not uncritical collection of ‘anecdotal’ poems relating to the teaching profession – it will be possible to

‘create another

indisputable reality

where education delights

both teacher and taught

and restrictions and syllabuses

are but a long, distant memory.’

My ideal would be an education system where teachers are much more facilitators than instructors. Pupils would be able to choose what they want to study and how they want to study, aided by their teachers, and because they would be learning what they want to learn, there wouldn’t be any motivational or behavioural issues. Classes would be much smaller than they are today and prescriptive syllabuses and exams would be a thing of the past. Such a system would produce creative, independent thinking adults, which is what our world desperately needs if it is to find creative solutions to the problems that are facing us today.

Helena Harper

~~~~~

Amen to that, thus endorseth The Old Silly! All right peeps, let’s show Helena some love in the comments gallery and feel free to ask questions of her. Her webiste is: http://www.helenaharper.com, and It’s a Teacher’s Life can be purchased on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Google Products.

Chow gang, thanks for blogging in. Helena will be back with us for more on Saturday, and blog in again tomorrow, I got something unique for y’all.

Oh hey wait – (Whistle!) – while you’re out blog-hopping, blog on over to Harry Gilleland’s Blog to catch his feature post on the Old Silly. It’s a good one.

Okay now bye – blog dismissed. 

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57 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Nancy Famolari / Oct 1 2009 7:30 am

    Great post, Marv. I love the fall scene. I also agree with Helena’s comments on education. I think it would be wonderful if teachers were facilitators rather than instructors. With so much on-line instruction that may be possible.

    • theoldsilly / Oct 1 2009 10:27 am

      Nancy, yes – I agree the internet makes the possibility a lot easier.

  2. John Standish / Oct 1 2009 7:32 am

    Really enjoyed that article and I could not agree more. Nicely done feature post, Marv – and Helena, teachers like you are appreciated by us all – all of us who care for the future of our children and the educational system anyway.

    • Helena Harper / Oct 1 2009 10:47 am

      Thank you, John. Pleased you enjoyed the article.

  3. L. Diane Wolfe / Oct 1 2009 7:57 am

    I like her ideal education system!

    • Helena Harper / Oct 1 2009 10:52 am

      If only, Diane, if only – perhaps in several life times to come it might happen….! Pity it isn’t here already, though. I see my niece having to endure the pressures of it all at the moment. She says her life isn’t happy at the moment – isn’t that a sad thing for a 14 year old to say?

  4. Cactus Annie / Oct 1 2009 7:58 am

    Great article, Helena! Loved the whole feature post – and that pic of Michigan Fall colors – been a long since I’ve been to Michigan in the Fall but I remember the wonderful colors. Best wishes on your book sales and educational career, Helena!

    • Helena Harper / Oct 1 2009 10:53 am

      Many thanks, Cactus Annie – love that name, by the way! What prompted it?

      • Cactus Annie / Oct 1 2009 10:57 am

        LOL, thanks – I was a tomboy as a kid growing up in the SW USA and everyone said – I had a bit of a temper – that I was as prickly as a cactus – ha! So they called me Cactus Annie and it kind of stuck. 😉

  5. Ron Berry / Oct 1 2009 8:04 am

    I’ve seen how politicians order plane tickets. A train to Hawaii or a hotel with windows in Orlando so as to see both the Atlantic and the gulf. I say let’s keep politics out of education, at least until we have educated politicians. (yes, I know that’s an oxymoron.)

    • Helena Harper / Oct 1 2009 10:58 am

      Hear, hear, Ron! You are a man after my own heart! As I say in my book, It’s a Teacher’s Life…!, in the poem ‘The Inspection’ when I question whether it’s all been worthwhile…

      The politicians would say yes,
      but what do they know of education?
      Less and less!
      To say this school is better than that,
      is that the point of all the stress?
      Why can’t competition be forgot
      and cooperation come out on top?
      Can you tell me, please tell me,
      why not?

  6. thedarkphantom / Oct 1 2009 8:05 am

    Great post!

    My favorite season is also autumn.

    Helena, your ideal system sounds like a dream! 🙂

    Mayra Calvani
    The Dark Phantom Review

    • Helena Harper / Oct 1 2009 11:03 am

      Maybe you could elicit some phantom help to make the dream a reality, Mayra? I think it needs some other-worldly help at the moment… Thanks so much for stopping by.

  7. Katie Hines / Oct 1 2009 8:34 am

    My favorite season is also fall. Can’t seem to get enough of it, and it changes so quickly. Hope we have nice foliage here. Impressive “interview.” Thanks, Marvin.

  8. CatLadyLarew / Oct 1 2009 9:03 am

    Helena is a woman after my heart! I worked for 15 years in a school that followed Helena’s plan of addressing students’ interests and getting away from tests and pre-packaged curriculum. What a difference that makes!

    • Helena Harper / Oct 1 2009 11:08 am

      Wow, CatLady, I envy you! Where was this school? Is it still going strong? I’d love to hear more about it! Also, your name is intriguing – Marvin’s followers seem to have such wonderful names!

  9. Crystal Clear Proofing / Oct 1 2009 9:26 am

    Sounds like the majority agrees! I also love Helena’s idea, and thoroughly enjoyed this post! Bravo, Marvin!

    • Helena Harper / Oct 1 2009 11:11 am

      Thank you, Crystal Clear, for your support – it’s much appreciated!

  10. Margaret Fieland / Oct 1 2009 10:24 am

    Harry, thanks for the great interview. It’s always nice to meet another poet. Helena, the poems are a riot. Thanks for including them.

    • theoldsilly / Oct 1 2009 10:28 am

      Well Margaret, this is Marvin not Harry, lol – but thanks for the comment and I agree Helena’s poems are not only witty and funny but great educational tools! 🙂

      • Helena Harper / Oct 1 2009 11:14 am

        Pleased you enjoyed the poems, Margaret and Marvin – if I can make people laugh and maybe make people think a bit, too, then that makes all the hard work worthwhile. Thank you both!

  11. quirkyloon / Oct 1 2009 10:30 am

    Ah! I, too, love her ideal education system. It sure would’ve been great for me! And I too, am so grateful that fall is finally here! Temps in the 90’s! It’s wonderfully cool!

    heh heh heh

    • Helena Harper / Oct 1 2009 11:20 am

      Thank you, Q. I think the system would be great for everyone and I only wish my niece were able to experience such a system at the moment.

      Quirkyloon is another wonderful name! Where did that come from? You know, Marvin, I think if a writer were short of ideas for characters’ names, they should just stop by your blog for great inspiration – the problem would be solved in next to no time! LOL

  12. Stanley Berber / Oct 1 2009 10:32 am

    A Bright Light from a Bright Brit! 😉 Seriously, I wish more teachers had this kind of philosophy. Great feature post here, thanks, Helena and Marv.

    • Helena Harper / Oct 1 2009 11:22 am

      Thank you, Stanley – I greatly appreciate your comment.

  13. Elizabeth Spann Craig / Oct 1 2009 10:38 am

    I love hearing ideas from teachers (not to mention educators from other countries) on how to improve the way our children receive their education. Very interesting post! Thanks.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

    • Helena Harper / Oct 1 2009 11:24 am

      If my writing gives anyone food for thought, then – as somebody told me the other day – I haven’t lived in vain! Thank you very much Elizabeth for stopping by and commenting.

  14. theoldsilly / Oct 1 2009 10:47 am

    Just a note here – So many comments are lauding the educational philosophy of Helena’s. and rightfully so – I was looking up famous quotes on education, inspired by Helena’s article, and came across a perfect one by Plato – I tweeted it, check out the tweets in the upper left corner of the blog.

  15. Helena Harper / Oct 1 2009 11:30 am

    That is one great quote, Marvin – I must retweet it immediately! Thank you for going to the trouble to look up suitable quotes – that was a brilliant idea. And many thanks also for such a marvellous post, it’s deeply appreciated.

    Helena

    • theoldsilly / Oct 1 2009 2:40 pm

      Thanks, Helena, and thanks for the retweet also! Hey it’s EASY to do a great post when the guest is as multi-dimensional and interesting as you are. 😉

  16. Carolyn Howard-Johnson / Oct 1 2009 12:42 pm

    Silly, you always do such a great job with your guest spots. YOu are a wonder. I just love this essay. The other day I heard someone say he didn’t think he should have to pay taxes to support education because he had no children. Mmmmmm. Education, a great one, benefits the nation–and the world.

    Best,
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Tweeting tips for writers @frugalbookpromo

    • theoldsilly / Oct 1 2009 2:41 pm

      What a wonderful thing to say, how wonderful I am, especially coming from such a wonderful person! lol. And I agree with your comment – how short sighted some peeps are, eh! 😦

  17. Darcía Helle / Oct 1 2009 12:59 pm

    The world needs a lot more teachers like Helena!

  18. yvonne lewis / Oct 1 2009 1:44 pm

    Helena is such a talented writer and amire her very much.

    Yvonne.

    • Helena Harper / Oct 2 2009 9:22 am

      Yvonne, I thank you for the compliment and return it wholeheartedly. I hope you’re thinking about getting that second book together!

  19. Stephen Tremp / Oct 1 2009 1:46 pm

    I love the part about teachers being facilators more than instructors. As a part-time teacher in the past facilitating project management courses in the evenings, I totally concur with your insight. Best wishes for your success.

    Stephen Tremp

  20. Vivian Zabel / Oct 1 2009 2:38 pm

    I fought the educational system in the U.S. for 27 years, and finally gave up.

    I like your take on what is needed, Helena.

    • Helena Harper / Oct 2 2009 9:27 am

      Vivian, you lasted longer than I did! I decided last year after 20 years that I needed to get out of being involved full-time in the school system. I now tutor privately and whilst some of my students are school aged children, others are adults who want to learn languages for their own reasons, not to pass some exam or other – and it is totally refreshing to teach them!

  21. Helen Ginger / Oct 1 2009 2:58 pm

    Around here, we call what you describe as “teaching to the test.” It’s almost as if we teach our kids to memorize rather than analyze.

    Thanks for stopping by Marvin’s blog. As a former teacher, I enjoyed reading your post!

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

    • Helena Harper / Oct 2 2009 9:29 am

      Thank you, Helen. You’ve summed it up perfectly and I’m pleased you enjoyed the post! What did you use to teach? I teach modern languages.

  22. Karen Cioffi / Oct 1 2009 6:13 pm

    Helena, great article. I’m reviewing a book about the U.S. public school system and the author really slams it. Hearing some of the stories my daughter tells (4th grade teacher) I can see why.

    In the schools here, they teach to pass the state tests. And, contrary to what politicians continually say, students are pushed into the next grade even if they shouldn’t be.

    This would make a great Viewpoint segment.

    Great post, Marvin

    Karen

    • Helena Harper / Oct 2 2009 9:35 am

      Hello, Karen!

      I never thought about this making a good Viewpoint segment. It’s a good idea. I could probably adapt/extend the article if you wanted me to – let me know.

      Helena

  23. Jane Kennedy Sutton / Oct 1 2009 7:21 pm

    Sounds like the school system in England has more in common with our system than I thought – such as increased paperwork for teachers. I would love to see that ideal education system put into practice – it sounds like the solution to many problems.

  24. kathy stemke / Oct 1 2009 8:18 pm

    I’m glad to hear that the USA is not the only bad education system. You know, misery loves company. As a retired teacher I LOVE Helena’s ideal teaching environment.

    • Helena Harper / Oct 2 2009 9:37 am

      Kathy, so nice to see you here – thank you for dropping by. I hear that congratulations are in order regarding your next book? What is it about exactly? Very well deserved, my teaching friend!

  25. Lynn Henriksen / Oct 1 2009 8:50 pm

    Politics must be kept out of public schools – also our state supported colleges and universities – fat chance! But I can dream. Actually, I think we’ve all got to wake up and do something about it. How did we ever get in this mess anyway?

    We not only teach our children to memorize rather than analyse, we teach them to parrot back the mind sets and leanings of the teacher/professor in order to get a grade. Hog wash! And our tax dollars support it.

    Sorry, I haven’t been around in a few days. I’m swamped. But always love it when I tune in.

  26. ReformingGeek / Oct 1 2009 10:57 pm

    Thanks for hosting, Marvin.

    We have a local charter school that is a different approach to education and independent thinking and teamwork is stressed. It’s tough but the kids are truly ready to succeed beyond school.

    • Helena Harper / Oct 2 2009 9:39 am

      Now, that sounds like my kind of school, RG! What age group of kids does it cater for?

  27. Liana / Oct 2 2009 1:57 am

    Hi Marvin, Great post as always!

    Helena, I am always happy to read about you. Now you must be working to the full-I only teach part time and I miss the fun of the big classes! How many kids are there in a typical class?
    Liana

    • Helena Harper / Oct 2 2009 9:51 am

      Liana, I decided last year that if I wanted to have more time to write, I wouldn’t be able to carry on teaching full-time and, in any case, I’d had enough of the school system! I now tutor privately and whilst some of my clients are school children, others are adults who are learning languages for their own reasons and aren’t working towards tests or exams and it’s totally refreshing to teach them! I’ve actually just started to teach a group of eight adults and we had a really fun session last night. That’s my biggest group at the moment – normally, I’m teaching one-to-one. When I was teaching at my previous school, which was a private school, the biggest class I had was 24 and often it was a good deal smaller than that. (But in my ‘ideal’ school, class sizes would be no more than 8 or 10, I think, so that the teacher/facilitator can really work individually with each child or group of children.) The average size in UK state schools is 30, which I personally think is too big. How big are the classes in state schools in Greece?

      • Liana / Oct 2 2009 1:06 pm

        Helena,
        Better that way! I used to have about 14 in a class but the last 5 years I divided the class in half-it was too tiring for me. Now it’s part time, mostly one to one or two students-no more. I prefer painting instead. I don’t think any teacher can survive for more than 25 years in a big class! I also prefer kids to adults-I always have fun with them! In state schools there are about 30 students-impossible to teach them…I understand why you needed a change! In every job we do we should have some fun as well-money is not top priority-at least after a certain age-
        Liana

  28. Helena Harper / Oct 2 2009 9:54 am

    It’s been really great, Marvin, reading all the comments and meeting more of your blog followers. I look forward to catching up with all the comments on your Saturday post on Monday/Tuesday. Have a good weekend!

    • theoldsilly / Oct 2 2009 10:32 am

      You do the same, Helena – thanks for being so interactive with my readers. I’ll make sure & not in Saturday’s post that you will be following up with replies to comments after the weekend. See ya soon!

  29. heidiwriter / Oct 2 2009 3:59 pm

    Good interview/post. I went to a one-room country school and despite living in an isolated, rural area, I probably had the best education foundation you could find anywhere. Talk about one-on-one education! When I started first grade, there were four kids in school. And paperwork, I’ll bet our crusty ol’ schoolmarm (“Just call me Huston”) would’ve told them where to stuff it! LOL

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