About Robert Johnson

English teacher since 1997. Worked in High Schools in Yorkshire till 2005. From 2012 have worked in FE establishments. From January 2015, worked in Adult workplace training delivering Funky Skills Maths and English.

Which One Do You Do?

Do you write like you speak, or do you speak like you write?

I can see hundreds of students all going “Huh!” right about now. But I ask this question for one inescapable reason and if you pay note to what comes next, then you will improve your grades no end.

If you write like you speak, then that means you automatically use something we call brevity which means you shorten things down a lot. An example would be as below:

Just been down to the shops to buy petrol.

Is there anything wrong with that sentence?

It makes perfect sense. It is spelt correctly. It conveys real meaning and therefore, is an accurate use of the English language. But the answer, of course, is yes, there is something wrong, because there are some important words missing.

You meant to write:

I have just been down to the shops to buy some petrol for the car.

When we use a laptop, or an iMac, or when we use our phones and we are on things like social media, we shorten things down all of the time. It is normal. There is nothing wrong with that, at all. But we can fall into the trap when we are writing, of doing the same and when it is a note to a friend, that is not a problem at all, to anyone.

But when it has to be something formal, like a letter for a job, or an examination paper, where we are being assessed on our use of correct spelling, punctuation and grammar, or SPAG, as you will have seen by now, it is an issue.

I see paper after paper, or answer after answer, that uses brevity disguised as correct Standard English, all of the time. I even do it myself from time to time and then see it and think horrible things about myself, for falling for it yet again.

So, what must we do?

If you are having an assessment to do, of possibly 2,000 words, then by all means, write it out in the way you would normally, but then, very slowly, go through it, using a reader software that you can download sometimes, for free, so you can ‘hear’ the words and the sentences. Your eyes never see the error but your ears, they are perfect (assuming you are not hearing impaired, of course) and you will notice the mistakes, so you can then make the necessary changes.

Be very careful, therefore, not to fall into this trap, when writing something formally, for it can make a very good 65 grade go below a 58 grade in one fell swoop, when you use too much brevity.

That is how important written Standard English use is, especially when being assessed formally.

RJ

The Portal

You will see that there has been a name change. This is in line with a new venture in these Covid infested times, where I intend to create and provide a free to use, free to access, portal for Mums and Dads to get the work for their children if they are forced away from school. It will gather lessons from teachers of all year groups, to gather them together, so should have a year tab to hit, then a subject and one for lesson, given that some schools teach multiple subjects, especially in the Primary sector.

I have written to the UK Prime Minister, to ask him for funding to undertake this venture, using the government website, or one that can be set up, so all you would need to do is register for an account, log in and then download all the lessons and resources needed, ready for printing.

I am expecting him to say no, due to there not being funds for this, so before someone else steals my idea, I am writing it down here. GCSEEnglishteacher still exists, in this guise, but the banner at the top now reflects the title of the new venture, which is to be called THE PORTAL.

Keep watching in these troubled times and I hope that you are keeping well.

Robert Johnson
CEO/MD Premier Education
October 2020

The Road That Should Be Taken

In honour of Robert Frost and Paul Herron, and written after one pal decided to wander off down a road when we three friends went the other.

The biker sat on the hill side, thinking of his future
He pondered the twisted route that he would now take.
And as he sat there, thinking of the delights ahead
He thought of the destination, the glittering lake.

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He thought to himself, now should be a good time to go
Upon this, one of life’s great adventures to master.
And as he pulled the throttle back, he saw the road
Fall and appear before him, daring him to go faster.

He thought of all of those less fortunate than he;
Those for whom this sight would never please,
And chuckled to himself as he continued to ride,
A faint, but growing laughter that would not cease.

For he knew the truth of it all, the one, undeniable fact
That there would be others who he could only call
‘The ones who travelled a road that he would not take;’
The ones whose names were not Chris, but Paul.

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Writing Rules

The last time I taught was a few weeks ago. I started a job not knowing I had broken my foot when I dropped my motorbike on the thing, the day before I started, so in time, I had to stop the job, but in the last lesson, something happened. I asked the A Level students I was teaching to write something for me and to write it properly. They all looked at me slightly quizzically. I hinted at the two rules for writing in such a way that I knew they would be confused. I then had to tell them the difference between typing and hand writing, for exam purposes. You are, after all, chasing points in an exam.

The exam you are taking has something called a “mark scheme,” which the marker has to use to mark your exam scripts. It will say that to get so many marks, which is an A*, you have to do this and that, but it will specify one thing entirely and if the marker does not see it in your writing, then he or she has to mark you DOWN. It is called SPAG in GCSE English and also A Level GCE. Spelling, Punctuation And Grammar. But the thing it then specifies is that in GCSE, to get a C, your hand written work has to be paragraphed properly, in most of the cases. Most allows the marker to allow the odd error.

In other words, the first word has to start on the red line, or black line at the left. Then, when you start the next paragraph, when hand writing, there should be no line missed. You are not typing the answer after all and pressing ENTER once or twice, depending on the word processor you are normally using. For those who are typing an answer because of Special Needs provision, then go ahead and use ENTER as normal.

Otherwise, it should, when hand written, look like any good novel, so here is an example. It is written by Jane Austen. It is the opening to her book called Emma.

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Note the beginning of the second paragraph. Yes, this is typed because it is in a book, but her manuscript went to the publisher as a hand written text and would have been exactly the same. Keep that in mind. Note how and where the second paragraph actually starts. No missed lines. Just the next line down and a small indent, the width of your pinky [little] finger.

Now notice the next paragraph break…

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Yet again, no missing line and just an indent.

That is how you do it. If you, like so many students I have taught, say to your tutor, “I don’t give a damn about doing it like that,” as has been said to me in my last job, then my response is the one I gave to this young lady. My reply was forthcoming, short and swift.

“Don’t expect anything higher than a D then!”

Ask yourself what grade you want. Then write clearly and properly – a new paragraph is started when there is a new subject or a movement in time. It also has to be started in the right place.

You have been warned!

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Unsuspecting Populations

Chances are that one day soon, we shall all be wickedly wiped out
Of our life on this earth by a single, deadly, disturbing virus.
Rationale and logic dictates that this will always be the case;
Of that, we can be certain, as certain as God’s love for us.
No one will be safe. Everyone will be at risk. Those who are left
Alone on this earth will be the fortunate few who are immune;
Virtually indestructible because their blood will be the purest
In every way, able to withstand the hazards and commune
Regally with the thing that destroys the rest of humanity.
Unsuspecting populations will be demolished from this earth;
Showing us all just how tragic and fleeting all life is [really].

Analysis

Today’s piece is not going to have a lengthy analysis, but I ask a simple question. How long does it take you to realise what sort of poem this is? Can you name the type of poem? If you cannot, then you need to learn some more technical terms.

Task

Now try to analyse it, looking at how the writer has used language and structure, the two things that Language papers tend to question you on.

The Heart Beat

The Heart Beat
Robert Johnson

The practiced, perfect percussion of a heartbeat
Is the one thing in our life that keeps us all going,
From the day to day things of our troublesome lives
To the harder things to which we are also striving.

That regular, robust, percussion filled heart beat
Keeps us all well on the straight and the narrow;
Helping us to sense the emotional aspects we feel
In a life that is usually filled with all forms of sorrow.

But that punctual heart beat can also miss a beat,
When something so subtly shocking comes on by;
Those times in life when all we can do is question
The truest and real nature of why we even try.

But that self same heart beat can surprise us,
In ways that sometimes seem all too unspeakable;
When what we believe about those we know
Is challenged and we act on the unthinkable.

That same heart, it beats to a regular, robust, rhythm
Of a life that is led that needs to be filled with love.
But sometimes, we find that this simply cannot be
As we walk through the pain of the push and shove.

So as we walk along this pathway of this life,
Let us think more about those people who we meet.
Let us be kinder, more generous to all that we see
And more caring for all those people we greet

For this emotive life is blessed, if we would let it be so.
For life is a blessing that we have the privilege to share.
So why not be more thoughtful of others who share
This wonderful experience for which we all care.

The Window Pane

A light shines through the perpetual glass
As the faithful come to sing and pray;
They take their seats and they then begin
On that eventful, Godly, sunny day.

The preacher speaks and intones
That they should look for balance,
In a world that seems to be without
All forms of challenge or chance.

So many panes of glass appear to me
As my gaze turns away from the preacher
And my gaze lights on the window pane
So alone, on its own, a very special feature.

The pane sits in the middle of fifty panes
All letting in the glory of the sunny days,
But this one is plain glass whereas the rest
Are stippled and ribbed, letting in God’s rays.

So many panes are all the same, all alike
In beauty, in simplicity, in gracefulness;
But there is one that is slightly different
In its silent confessional; ready to confess.

And I sit still and think of all the people there.
As I stare around the room, I see them all;
Sitting there, waiting to be blessed by the Lord
Contemplating the nature of their fall.

I am that solitary, single pane of glass,
Alone and bereft of the truth that I know
Is the message that the preacher will bring
That it is I who needs to think of where I go.

For my journey is not the path so easily trod.
Mine is the road less travelled by most
And as I stare at that single pane of clear glass,
I am reminded of the ultimate cost.

I think of the times when I have not shown the love.
I think of the times when I have failed the Lord.
But I know that in my weakest hour of need
I have held on to the one true and holy word.

I have chosen to walk a different path to many,
A journey with the Lord that only few can take.
Will you join me on that journey this day?
It will be the best decision you ever make!

Robert Johnson
March 2019

Drift Away – A Song Lyric

The following is for any singer out there who wishes to use this to record it. Just so long as I get the usual credits and royalties, that will do me. I wrote it to send it to Rosanne Cash.

Drift Away
Robert Johnson
©️2019

In my dreams you’re near me.
In my mind, you’re so far away.
When I think of us together,
I still often wonder why.

Why did you leave me?
Why did you slip away?
What was it that I did
To make you drift away?

You’re everything to me.
My every thought of the day.
Your memory will never fade
But you still drift away.

Why did you leave me?
Why did you slip away?
What was it that I did
To make you drift away?

As I rise from my stupor,
And think of the coming day;
I hear your voice beside me,
As I plead with you to stay.

Why did you leave me?
Why did you slip away?
What was it that I did
To make you drift away?

I’m sorry for my temper.
I’ll try to change every day.
But there’s something about me
That makes you drift away.

Why did you leave me?
Why did you slip away?
What was it that I did
To make you drift away?

I wonder why you left me.
I wonder where you’ve gone.
I hope it’s up to heaven,
You’ll always be my only one.

Why did you leave me?
Why did you slip away?
What was it that I did
To make you drift away?

Mother, please don’t see me
Flound’ring my life away,
For your light shines forever
Even though you drift away.

Why did you leave me?
Why did you slip away?
What was it that I did
To make you drift away?

This was written in about five minutes, based on about three songs I was listening to at the time; George Jones’ famous love song, a song by Rosanne Cash when she sung at her father’s memorial, singing I Still Miss Someone and another one, which has slipped my memory for now.

Feel free to analyse, use, share or enjoy.

RJ. January 2020

Remains – Simon Armitage

Remains
Simon Armitage

On another occasion, we get sent out
To tackle looters raiding a bank.
And one of them legs it up the road.
Probably armed, possibly not.

Well myself and somebody else and somebody else
Are all of the same mind,
So all three of us open fire
Three of a kind all letting fly, and I swear

I see every round as it rips through his life –
I see broad daylight on the other side.
So, we’ve hit this looter a dozen times
And he’s there on the ground, sort of inside out,

Pain itself, the image of agony.
One of my mates goes by
And tosses his guts back into his body.
Then he’s carted off in the back of a lorry. 

End of story, except not really.
His blood-shadow stays on the street, and out on patrol
I walk right over it week after week.
Then I’m home on leave. But I blink

And he burst again through the doors of the bank.
Sleep, and he’s probably armed, possibly not.
Dream, and he’s torn apart by a dozen rounds.
And the drink and the drugs won’t flush him out –

Analysis

What a poem this is!

It hits you where it hurts right from the off and ends in the same way. It is powerful, poignant, dramatic and vicious in places and for me, is one of Armitage’s more graphic poems from the anthology of poems he now has under his belt.

He probably meant this from one person’s point of view, having been abroad, presumably with the armed forces and having served a tour somewhere and then returned home with the resultant PTSD or Combat Stress. But it is possible to put this person anywhere in the world when it comes to the British soldier.

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As I read, I place this man’s home here in the UK, but the tour of duty in Northern Ireland, for some reason. Maybe it is my age. It does not matter a jot if I am wrong, for that is my reading of this poem. It could easily be downtown Mosul, in Iraq. But the feeling I get is that the man has gone on a tour of duty, seen things we would not wish our worst enemy to see and then had to return home, where he sees these things at every turn.

I have been a soldier. I have handled an old SLR rifle, of the 7.62mm full metal jacket variety and I have shot one too, but never in anger. The nearest I got to anger was when confronted by a thug and I made a movement to use the butt end on his head or in his gut. It deterred him from moving forward any further. So when I read this poem, it evokes certain memories in me, ones I would sooner not rise to the surface of normalcy, if you like.

The poem begins with the words, “on another occasion,” which suggest any other occasion that might be normal to us all but it also means that under normal circumstances, the soldiers would be sent out to patrol an area of land in a certain manner and at a certain time of the day. But this time they get “sent out to tackle looters raiding a bank.” I think this is why it makes me think of Northern Ireland when the so called “Troubles” were a daily part of life in Belfast and the likes. If you do not know this term, then you need to hit Google rapidly and find out, because if it is meant to represent that time and that place, then you need the information at hand.

One of the bank robbers “legs it up the road, probably armed, possibly not.” That is such a great use of language, or opposites in life. “Legs it” is an vernacular term for running away from something or someone. “Up the road” is something a Yorkshireman would add, as would most English people. But the juxtaposition of “probably” and “possibly” is very clever from the poet on this occasion, because we are forced to see what the man sees as the other man or men run away.

He refers to himself and the others in terms of “myself” and “somebody else,” preferring not to give any names. It all sounds like an account of an event in the life of a soldier and reminds me of when we write Free Verse, which this is not, in the sense that if you just write this out like a story, it would still do the same thing. Try to read it like that and see what I mean.

This is what you would get.

On another occasion, we get sent out to tackle looters raiding a bank and one of them legs it up the road, probably armed, possibly not. Well myself and somebody else and somebody else are all of the same mind,  so all three of us open fire; three of a kind all letting fly, and I swear I see every round as it rips through his life. I see broad daylight on the other side. So, we’ve hit this looter a dozen times and he’s there on the ground, sort of inside out, pain itself, the image of agony. One of my mates goes by and tosses his guts back into his body. Then he’s carted off in the back of a lorry. 

End of story, except not really. His blood-shadow stays on the street, and out on patrol I walk right over it week after week. Then I’m home on leave. But I blink and he burst again through the doors of the bank. Sleep, and he’s probably armed, possibly not. Dream, and he’s torn apart by a dozen rounds and the drink and the drugs won’t flush him out.

There are three soldiers who all “open fire,” which again, is a term for beginning to shoot at the men fleeing for their lives but the fact that these soldiers are shooting means they are either under orders to do so, or that they are acting illegally. These soldiers know what they are aiming at is another man and they know that if the bullet hits them, they will undoubtedly die. That much is a fact of life for a soldier on deployment. So, “three of a kind,” are all doing the same thing, the thing they are trained to do and firing on what they see as the enemy. But then we see an opinion being shared as the soldier stresses the fact that each bullet “rips through his life” so that he can see “broad daylight through the holes he is making in this man’s body. This is a grim business. He knows he has hit the looter several times and even uses hyperbole to claim it was “a dozen times,” by all three, resulting in the fleeing man now being on the ground, “sort of inside out.” Did they hit him that many times? I suspect not, unless using a semi automatic rifle or hand gun. The SA80 that the Army uses may have that ability. I am not too sure. It will be a semi-automatic at least, if not fully automatic.

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By this, he also means that his body, ripped open by the bullets, now resembles something you might think to see at a butcher’s shop. Minced beef, or any other meat. He can see the “pain itself, the image of agony” as he calls it. The metaphor is not lost on the reader either as one of his friends walks by the man and “tosses his guts back into his body” in preparation for the now deceased body being carted off to the morgue or the crematorium. Someone will have to claim the body for burial.

So far then, this has been a remembrance of a grim event that took place on a regular basis in the life of a soldier, presumably, for me anyway, on deployment in Northern Ireland. But now he shows us that the body is “carted off in the back of a lorry.” That is again, a northern English use of language, a use of words that may not be typically Standard English, so we have to assume these are dialectal words used in the context of the Yorkshire dialect. With Armitage being from Marsden in West Yorkshire, his style of speaking does show itself in all his poems like this.

The soldier tells us this is “end of story” but we know otherwise, for we suspect something else is coming. This is an Armitage poem. He would not just leave it there, for that is too simple when there is so much more chance to add to the brutality of civil unrest that these soldiers are patrolling. The words that follow, of “except not really,” back this up as well and we begin to see that Armitage is taking us on a journey of understanding here as he shows us how the “blood-shadow stays on the street” each time they walk over that area again. It must be horrible to have to shoot someone, but equally brutal to have to go out on patrol again and again, knowing that this is the place where you did this to this man. There is little wonder soldiers suffer from PTSD when you read these words and these words are just fiction. Reality will be far worser than this, I can assure you.

Being on deployment is not an easy action to take. Being shot at is scary. I can testify to that as well. It scared me to bits, I can tell you, when I had it done to me. But the reality of all this is borne out in your training, for you are taught how to cope with situations like this. What you are not taught is how to deal with them when you have returned home. You might walk past the place week in and week out, but then, when you are at home, it is all very different.

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I can remember a former student of mine who joined up, went to Iraq and then came home. It was the beginning of November when he returned home. November 5th came round and the fireworks were being set off everywhere. When one rather loud bang happened, he put his hands behind his neck, took to the floor and shouted, “Take cover!” He thought he was back in Iraq, where some of his friends had died. He could not get over the horror of all he saw. The same is true here too, in this poem, for we see as we read, that he is “home on leave” and he blinks as if to take stock of where he is and the reality of it.

As he blinks, certain things begin to happen. He sees again, the man come bursting “again through the doors of the bank.” When he is asleep, he sees that the man is “probably armed, possibly not,” still uncertain if there is a firearm there in the scene and the scene is running through his mind minute after minute. It simply will not go away. Even in his dreams, he sees the man “torn apart by a dozen rounds.” (Have a read of Dulce Et Decorum Est and see something similar in that poem as well). Now that is an horrific thing to have to continually see day after day, in your waking thoughts and in your deepest dreams. That is true PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a thing that happens to most soldiers and others, who undergo something truly horrific to their sensibilities.

The truth of the matter, for this soldier, is that in all his dreams and waking thought, what remains as the truth is the idea that any amount of “drink” and “drugs” will not separate the ghost of the man from his heart or mind. It simply will not flush him away as a memory. He is stuck with this image in his mind and heart, until he gets therapy, which is why Armitage ends the poem with the dash “-” because he is making the point that life does continue and that life must go on. How we deal with that life after such events as this, is the stuff of therapy sessions.

PTSD

This then, is one truly remarkable poem. How a man, or woman, can take so few words and show so much about the horror of warfare, the problems of PTSD, the dangers of drugs and alcohol, the pain and the suffering of being a soldier and the anguish that they must face from day to day, is quite remarkable.

Bravo, Mr. Armitage.