Yesterday I attended a wedding of some old friends who, after twenty years of being together decided to “tie the knot”.
A few weeks ago my wife and I went to a quiz with them and after a while I got into conversation with Barry the (then) prospective bridegroom. He asked me for some advice about his speech that he was due to deliver at the reception following his wedding. I went into “teacher mode” and explained the well constructed bridegroom’s speech to him. Make sure that you thank everyone for coming, have a joke about the best man and then say how wonderful your wife looks today and conclude by saying that you wished everyone who had taken the trouble to come from far and wide a safe journey home.
He made mental notes as I spoke to him. The time for his speech came yesterday and he rose to his feet. He is a postman and quite a shy person and would admit that he has had few opportunities in his life to speak to an audience. He had three pieces of A4 paper that he had written his speech on. He looked at his wife and then began to speak. This was not the speech that I had set out so neatly for him with my step-by-step approach to how to do a bridegroom’s speech. No, this was an impassioned speech in which he spoke about the fact that Eve, his wife had stuck by him when he had found out that he had Cancer eleven years ago and how he had stuck with her when she had heart problems a few years after.He said that she was his best friend and that he loved her dearly and was the proudest man in the world to be married to her.
I sat, as everyone did, listening to the passion and the power of his speech and I realised that my formula for making a good bridegroom’s speech was a waste of time. I should have said to him that he should just speak from his heart and let his emotions tell him what to say. In the end that was just what he did.
I thought about his speech this morning as I began to write this post and it made me think about the way that we ,as teachers, try to scaffold and influence children’s speaking and writing. We tell them about the constructs of a good sentence, or how to introduce some writing or end a speech but do we really need to do this?
Many years ago when I fondly believed that I could make it as a writer I wrote to one of our country’s leading film directors, Ken Loach. I asked him for some advice on how I should write for cinema. He wrote back and said “write from the heart… put your guts on the screen!”
I wonder, when we give children some mechanical writing task about “how to write biography” we wonder what this really means to them. We give them back their scripts with statements that they should have defined their ideas and made a more concise ending. Actually, they probably don’t see the point in it all and they will write a mechanical exercise in a mechanical way.
Last year I tutored a boy who had problems with his writing and reading. I found that he loved birds and had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of them. His usual stuttering speech became clear and concise when he spoke about them and he would use some wonderful language to explain about their habitats and their characteristics. We started a blog for him about birds and he was anxious to find out as much about them as he could. He quickly learnt how to insert pictures and use data in his own pieces of writing. I showed him a filmclip from “Kes” (which was, interestingly directed by Ken Loach) on Youtube and he became fascinated by the story of the young, abused child in a rough mining district of Yorkshire in Northern England who foun and trained a Kestrel (which his vicious brother later kills as revenge for him not putting a bet on for him).
All of the above seems to prove one thing, that we get the best out of ourselves,as adults or children, if we speak or write from the heart, from what we believe and are interested in. In these times that we live in where the powers that be think that they know what is good for us and that a narrow, constrained curriculum is what children ought to be taught they need to understand that the results will be mechanical and lack the real passion and power that would be the case if the children were allowed to express themselves… in the way that my friend expressed himself yesterday.
Afterwards, he came to me and said, “I was going to check the speech with you but I was too busy”. “Don’t worry about that,” I said, “it was a far far better speech than anything I could have told you to do!”