Now that I have retired, the concept of the weekend has changed. It’s odd when I get an email on a Friday from somebody who is still working and they wish me a great weekend. It’s very nice of them but every day is the same now. If the current unpleasant ever ends and we return to a post-pandemic era, Saturdays will be taken up with watching football at Brighton, Lewes or Crawley but in the meantime, there’s nothing very special about a weekend; there’s nothing particularly gloomy about a Sunday evening either which means that there’s no special pleasure to be gained from a Sunday night drama on television. On the other hand, I’m enjoying “Roadkill” with Hugh Laurie at the moment and although Tom Hollander’s character in “Us” annoyed me, I enjoyed the adaptation of the David Nicholls book which I had read a couple of years ago.
When “Us” finished, I was reminded that I particularly liked “Starter For Ten” and remembered that David Nicholls published another book recently so I bought “Sweet Sorrow” and I’m about to finish it. I like it, but to fully appreciate it I think I would need to have read “Romeo And Juliet” – the book involves characters putting on the play whilst at the same time living out the story of the play. I don’t think they both die in the end though. Much to my shame, I’ve never fully appreciated any Shakespeare play apart from “Macbeth” which I studied at ‘O’ level. Digging deep with the great teaching of Brain Mitchell (“Mr. Mitchell”) was an unalloyed pleasure.
Thinking about this, I can clearly remember one occasion when Mr. Mitchell praised me. In a lesson, we were reading some Shakespeare (“Troilus And Cressida”?) and the name Cassandra came up. He asked the class who Cassandra was and nobody knew so he told us to look it up for homework. In the next lesson he asked again and I was the only one who knew that she was a prophet of doom. I got praised and the rest of the class got bollocked. I can’t remember any other time in my seven years of secondary schooling when I got praised. Mr. Boyce once talked to me when he and I carried the cricket bag to the coach at the end of a game but I don’t recall any praise. I won the Applied Maths prize at the end of the Lower VIth but I don’t remember anyone saying anything nice to me, although I did go up on stage at a prizegiving ceremony to receive “The Human Zoo” by Desmond Morris.
A few years ago I got a message from a bloke who currently lives near San Francisco. He had found me on Facebook and he wanted to thank me for encouraging him when he was eleven years old in 1978 and I taught him at Netteswell Comprehensive School in Harlow. He said that his ten year old daughter had asked him if he ever had a teacher that inspired him and he replied that it was me. He said that I inspired him and he still has his report card when I said that his Maths was brilliant. I did vaguely remember him but I know that the praise I gave him was not borne of any special brilliance but that I was always very generous with praise and saying something positive was just what I did. It might have been a throwaway comment and I can’t work out if that spoils or enhances this story.
Some time ago I read that “millennials” expect praise and generally thrive on it. In an article on “Business Insider” in 2014, Jacqueline Smith writes that millennials are always looking to grow and to improve and need constant feedback to do this. Growing up with the Internet, millennials are used to quick feedback. I’m not sure about this and I believe that everybody flourishes with praise. I recently did some voluntary work and got only criticism and no praise – I’m still fuming about this. My feedback to trainee teachers always included ten positive things and three “areas for improvement” – or as one of the more perceptive trainees once said to me, “you’re giving me a shit sandwich aren’t you?”
I had to look up the definitions of all the different generations. I’m a “baby boomer” (born 1946 – 1964) but other generations are “Generation X” (1965 – 1979), “Generation Y” (or “Millenials”) ( 1980–1994) “Generation Z” (1995 – 2009) and “Generation Alpha” (2010 – 2025).
One of the main reasons I went into teaching was that I thought I could do a better job than all the teachers I had ever had (apart from Mr. Ladlow and Mr. Mitchell). Showering praise on children who were trying hard seemed to me to be a naturally nice and pleasant thing to do. I imagine that I would have thrived with more encouragement from my teachers and I assume that everybody else was the same. I was horrified a few years ago when a teacher at BHASVIC took me to task after I thanked her for doing something very well. She told me that she hated praise, especially when it was for something that she felt was just part of her job. It seems that not everybody is the same. Rightly or wrongly, I assumed that she was embarrassed to be praised but secretly liked it.
My thoughts about the reasons for going into teaching were indicative of a normal path for someone growing up (some would say that I never really grew up) and feeling that their generation was better than their parents’ generation. This was more pronounced in the Sixties when the repressed black-and-white era of rationing and post-war relief in the Fifties gave way to the more adventurous, colourful and freedom loving Sixties. Nothing was more representative of the generation gap than Sixties culture – film, art, books and music. When I left school in 1972 I knew that my generation’s view of the world was better than my parents’ view. They had the Vietnam war and we had Woodstock. They had Beethoven and we had The Beatles. They had “Lawrence Of Arabia” and we had “A Clockwork Orange”. They had Agatha Christie and we had Ken Kesey. When I became an adult, I would do things better and my attitudes would be more enlightened. The arrogance of youth.
The Lovin’ Spoonful were a great group but probably better known for singles rather than albums. “Do You Believe In Magic”, “Daydream”, “Summer In The City”, “Nashville Cats”, “Darling Be Home Soon” and “She Is Still A Mystery To Me” are all era defining positive summery songs which bring a smile to my face. They formed in Greenwich Valley in New York in the mid Sixties. The Mamas And Papas song “Creeque Alley” tells the story of the formation of The Lovin’ Spoonful, for example “When Denny met Cass he gave her love bumps. Called John and Zal and that was the Mugwumps” explains how Denny Doherty, Cass Elliot, John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky formed a group called The Mugwumps who later split when the first two formed half of The Mamas And Papas and the last two formed half of The Lovin’ Spoonful.
“Everything Playing” was the sixth of the seven albums that The Lovin’ Spoonful released. It is full of great songs. “She Is Still A Mystery” perfectly sums up the nervousness and doubt experienced by an adolescent boy plucking up courage to ask a beautiful girl to go out with him. “Boredom” is a very simple song about staying overnight in a small town by yourself. “Six O’Clock” refers to the morning after a passionate night of love making; naturally, John Sebastian sounds gloriously happy. “Money” is a very funny song about how John Sebastian gives his money to lots of people who promise to help his finances grow.
“Younger Generation” is one of the wisest, funniest and greatest songs ever written. John Sebastian was twenty three when he wrote it. It starts with him wondering why does every generation think they are better than their parents’ generation? His partner is about to have a baby and he is determined to do better than his parents. I remember Richard Williams writing about this song fifty years ago, probably in “Melody Maker”, wishing that he could ever write a lyric as fine as “all my deepest worries must be his cartoons” – hoping that as a father, he could pass on true wisdom to his son about how to cope with life. What is simultaneously funny and wise about this song is that John Sebastian realises that the life that his son will lead will have different pressures and influences to his own. He imagines a time in the future when his son asking him if he can ride his “Zoom” which flies at 200 mph in the air. Or ever worse, can he take LSD that his three year old girlfriend has given him? “What’s the matter Daddy? How come you’re turning green? Can it be that you can’t live up to your dream?“
When I look at a) the relationship that my friends have with their children and b) the attitude of most (not all) children I have taught towards older people, I think that the generation gap doesn’t exist like it did fifty years ago. Maybe that means that society is now a little kinder and less divided by age than it was. And on that contentious statement, I’ll finish.