Luke Meddings’ Six Songs about Teaching

Right, after the controversial “poll post” I thought it was time to bring back a guest post. I’m really happy to have convinced Luke Meddings to do one, and such a nice one at that! Luke Meddings is the author of Teaching Unplugged (with Scott Thornbury) and a firm advocate of Dogme ELT. His list is six songs about teaching… and how they relate to his beliefs. A great post, but as usual feel free to add songs of your own in the comments!

1 ‘Don Alonso’, in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, 1816

Our first teacher isn’t actually a teacher: he is a lover in disguise, using the cover of a music lesson to pursue amorous ends. Count Almaviva is trying to seduce Rosina, nubile ward of old Doctor Bartolo, and dresses up as a music teacher to gain entry to the Doctor’s house.

‘Sit by my side, fair young lady,’ the Count begins. ‘In place of Don Basilio, I shall give you a short lesson.’ ‘Oh’, she replies, recognizing her suitor, ‘with the greatest of pleasure.’

Dogme in ELT is suspicious of artifice, preferring a direct, open and straight-forwardly conversational approach. However, the Count’s improvisational skills are to be admired.

2 Chuck Berry, School Days, 1957

This song is about the rush of freedom experienced at the end of the school day by all school-children and most teachers. Or is that most school-children and all teachers? Chuck’s unnamed student starts out with good intentions, but is distracted by classmates, a lunch break and the teacher’s ‘mean’ expression. By mid-afternoon, he (or she – Berry’s lyric is clever in its inclusiveness, sounding both personal and general, male and female) is desperate for release:

Soon as three o’clock rolls around
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat …

An unplugged approach, less reliant on opening books, may have proved less trying

3 The Beatles, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, 1969

Teachers come off badly in some of the songs on this list, but it could be worse. This one gets murdered. One of the Beatles’ least worthwhile tracks, the song is a feeble ditty about a serial murderer who goes around topping people with a silver hammer. Oh, and his name is Maxwell. That’s about as interesting as it gets, but by virtue of appearing on a Beatles album (the otherwise sublime Abbey Road), Max’s second victim is one of the most widely-encountered teachers in history.

The final straw for Maxwell appears to be the teacher’s insistence that he write out lines as a punishment; a more humanistic approach could have defused the situation.

4 Van Halen, Hot For Teacher, 1984

Van Halen’s enthusiastic tribute to the, ahem, motivational skills of a new teacher is in some respects a companion piece to The Police’s ‘Don’t Stand Too Close To Me’. But where Sting’s teacher is unnerved by the allure of a pupil (‘He starts to shake and cough/Just like the old man in/That book by Nabokov’), Van Halen – a band it is hard to imagine unnerved by anything, let alone reflecting on Nabokov – relish the thought of some hands-on homework.

‘Maybe I should go to hell,’ reflects singer Roth, before cheering up considerably: ‘but Im doin’ well. Teacher needs to see me after school.’

This learner is clearly a fan of Total Physical Response.

5 KRS One, My Philosophy, 1987

Many songs featuring teachers rail against education (see Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’), or celebrate the distractions of sexual attraction in the classroom: this great rap from 1987 actually says that it’s cool to be a teacher! Although not without its philosophical inconsistencies, the song advocates education in a way that was thrilling at the time.

see I’m tellin’
and teaching real facts
… who gets weaker?
the king or the teacher
it’s not about a salary
it’s all about reality
teachers teach and do the world good
kings just rule
and most are never understood

He was right about the salary.

6 Bob Dylan’s Floater (Too Much To Ask), 2001

On one level this song makes no more than a passing reference to teaching in a song full of passing references; on another level, like so many of those passing references, it feels like an utterance from the past, a haunting summation of someone else’s received wisdom.

You can smell the pine wood burnin’
You can hear the school bell ring
Gotta get up near the teacher if you can
If you wanna learn anything

What does it mean? Are they the words of an anxious mother who wants her child to do well, or the words of a father who struggled at school and is disengaged from the whole process? You have to hear Dylan sing it – his croaking voice a blend of wisdom and bafflement, pity and disgust at every turn.

A classroom set-up with chairs in the round, providing the opportunity for people to move around, would be fairer to all students. But it would have spoilt Dylan’s song!

Luke Meddings is an author based in London. He has been involved in ELT for the past twenty years as a teacher, school manager and journalist.

Published in: on June 23, 2009 at 3:25 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think Luke forgot this one – “un banc, un arbre, un rue” (apologies if masculine has mixed with feminine – but unisex is much better). That’s all you need if you teach dogme style! But of course, it’d make much more sense if it were in English…

  2. What about Police – “Don’t Stand so close to me” and the perennial “To Sir with Love”? Was it Abba who did “When I kissed the Teacher”?

  3. Absolutely agree that ‘Don’t stand so close to me’ should be top of the list of songs about teachers. And Sting was a teacher before he was a singer, so that’s an extra reason!

    Language-wise, it’s a gift too… unless you feel the explicit content is a no-no, the narrative is strong and the emotions high:
    ‘Temptation, frustration
    So bad it makes him cry
    Wet bus stop, she’s waiting
    His car is warm and dry…’ etc etc!

  4. My favourite is Pink Floyd

    we don’t need no education
    we don’t need no thought control
    no dark sarcasm in the classroom
    teacher leave those kids alone
    Hey, Teacher, leave those kids alone
    all in all you’re just another brick in the wall
    all in all you’re just another brick in the wall

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