Friday, December 10, 2010

More VATE conference reflections

VATE 2010

The VATE conference reached my expectations this year; provided stimulus to kick start my thirty second year of teaching.

1. It was really good getting away from school for two days.
2. I had a like-minded colleague – and driver - to hang out with.
3. Saw a couple of my writing idols, Shaun Carney and Catherine Deveny.
4. Participated in an intimate master class led by Deveny.
5. Got some new insights into Elia Kazan and On The Waterfront.

1. The end of the school year is invariably fraught. The senior students, in many ways my raison d’etre, have gone. I’m left with my small dose of year 7 and 8 students, most of whom are yet, through no fault of their own, to reach ‘the age of reason’. I have to watch myself to avoid encounters like this:
Scene: I’m showing the DVD of Holes using laptop and data projector. The DVD is damaged – unbeknown to me prior to starting the lesson. The DVD keeps freezing. The only remedy is to eject it, insert it and try again in a different place. Kayla, a sullen, usually benign 14 year old, is telling me, repeatedly, how to fix the computer, as only a 14 year old who knows everything can. Like I’m an idiot. Other students, from their vantage point of strength in numbers in a dark room, join in the meddlesome, unhelpful chorus. I’m equally frustrated by the faulty DVD as I’m leaning over my laptop, peering at the dimly lit keyboard, vainly trying to find a solution. The patronising adolescent know-it-all non-advice is getting right up my wick. I lose my temper. Oh-oh. I ask the stupid question. “Kayla, do I look like a complete moron?” “Yes,” she titters, delighting her friends.

And then there are the replacement classes which one picks up. Mostly hell. Reports are being finalised. People are leaving, some against their wishes. Positions of responsibility are being assigned for good or bad for the following year, and at our place, some bad decisions have gone down. It’s good to have time out at a conference.

2. My “driver” – KD, a colleague - picked me up at eight for a nine o’ clock start. An effortless drive, well, for me anyway. As he negotiated the peak hour traffic for an hour, I allowed my inner monologue out and KD listened and contributed appropriately. This luxury seemed to add to the whole package. He probably had to hug a tree at the end of it all, but what the hey?

3. My writing idols. Too much to say. It’s a personal thing.

4. Perhaps Catherine Deveny was, for me, the most stimulating person at the VATE conference. I attended her master class on Tuesday morning. I saw a different person from the person I’ve seen before. (I’ve attended Deveny’s book launch, seen her God is Bullshit show and have relished her writing in The Age until her infamous sacking.) Suppose it was a more intimate and personal setting. She was enthusiastic; full of passion and good ideas; extremely generous and personable. “Perfection is the enemy of good,” she said, amongst other things. This is her exhortation to just get on with one’s writing. She’s rarely satisfied with her writing, she says, but it doesn’t stop her getting on with it and getting it out there. Wish I could be more like Deveny. She bounces back. Things that would have made me livid and ready to attack or retreat don’t seem to faze her. Deveny spoke on a panel following the master class. She was witty and commanded the audience. Obviously riled some participants including ‘Dr Glenn McLaren’, another panel member. “Unlike Catherine,” he said, beginning his speech, “I want to make people think.” Prick. He certainly made people bristle. Such an insult – from an adult - would have rendered me impotent. I’d have been unable to function. But not Deveny. She evidently registered the remark but continued to listen respectfully, even throwing in a ‘hear, hear’ when he mentioned something about increasing teachers’ salaries. I’m so impressed by this resilience; this boldness that allows her to damn the torpedoes and get her ideas out there.

5. The final session I attended on the second day was led by Rachel Kafka. It was called Kazan’s America. This woman had a tough gig. People are tired after long days of concentrating. Some don’t even make it to the final session. I was just about keeling over with exhaustion. Happily, this presenter was great; erudite, lively, well prepared, passionate about her subject. What’s more she generously emailed her PowerPoint the next day.

I'm not sure I write so well when I'm being positive. Seem to do cynical better. But it's only fair to pay credit to VATE when it's due.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Random thoughts on VATE 2010

Arriving at Deakin Uni, my colleague, KD, and I headed straight into the keynote. No time for coffee. First, the inaugural Ian Maxwell address delivered by his grandson, Roland. Nicely nostalgic and anecdotal. And brief. Breathed a sigh of relief thinking this was it. But this was the Jubilee Conference; a self-congratulatory name-dropping conference, it seemed, when our revered speaker took the podium, striding out confidently in frock, blazer and high heels, despite the prodigious weight of her CV. Down hill from there. Aunty Doreen’s quasi-religious gumleafy earnest Welcome to Country had already given me a push. It’s just me. I’m irreverent.

The incredibly well-credentialed keynote speaker read, and misread, a tedious potted history of VATE. Her misreading and subsequent apologising was almost punctuation. Couldn’t see from my seat whether or not she was wearing reading glasses. If she wasn’t, she should be. If she was, time for an upgrade. Was a bit surprised that she seemed to have written in her speech “And now perhaps with my principal’s hat on”. Thought those remarks were off the cuff. Apparently not.

It was about this time that someone in the control booth turned on the massive slideshow so we had Deakin Uni spruiking its stuff behind her. Maybe she flicked a switch herself to wake us up. It was a bit hard to concentrate, even though I know it’s important that VATE has achieved all this stuff. At this point I opened my notebook and started focusing on the woman in front of me in her puff sleeved beige patterned shirt with a Christmas decoration pinning up her hair. Quite diverting watching her fumbling to get a rattly Eclipse mint from her little tin without making a noise. KD was playing with his iPhone and around me people were poking through the contents of their show bags.

The only way to proceed after this was up. I wasn't disappointed. More later, perhaps.