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Education 'on the brain' if you have something on the brain you never stop thinking or talking about it
The Secret Diary of Mrs A.

Mrs. A, English teacher, mother to two demanding teenage children, and wife to an even more demanding husband, is a regular feature of our pages. In this issue, Education, she uses a lot of phrases connected with the brain, the mind and wit. If you need any help understanding the idiomatic expressions in her diary, just place the mouse over the purple ball following an underlined word or phrase.


7th January, Monday, early afternoon

I came home in a positive frame of mindhappy and ready to go ahead and do something. Just two more weeks and we’ll have a winter break. Julka wasn’t back home yet, but Maciek seemed busy writing something in his room. Sudden brainwavesclever ideas just when it’s time for final assessment at schoo,l or keeping his head downhappy and ready to go ahead and do something? I’d barely had enough time to put the kettle on when the phone rang. Pani Jagoda from the ground floor with a request. Could I please check Konrad’s (her son’s) English homework? If he gets ‘1’ again, he’ll be given ‘1’ as the final winter semester grade and that may mean repeating the year. I know the woman has a lot on her mind,has many esp. worrying things to think about with a husband who’s got cars on the brainthink about cars constantly and three rather slow-wittednot good at understanding things kids, so I said, Sure”.

Konrad appeared with a box of chocolates and a thick hard-cover notebook. It was blank but for two words carefully written in bold lettering ‘Homework: education’. The task was to write sentences illustrating the meaning of ‘new educational terms’. To my mindin my opinion, not a mind-bendingexceptionally complex and difficult to understand assignment or something requiring keen witsthe ability to think quickly. Considering the fact that Konrad is 14, I didn’t expect any brain-teasersa problem for which it’s hard to find the answer but simple vocabulary items that kids may understand, something like ‘subject’, ‘textbook’ or ‘graduate’, something surely not beyond the witnot too difficult to do of an ordinary gimnazjum pupil. But when Konrad proudly produced a much-creased page, I needed to collect my wits(after sth. shocking or unexpected) - make an effort to control your thoughts and feelings.

            I like curriculum.

            I very like cognitive code approach.

            My friend like cross-disciplinary project.

            He very like mixed-ability classes.

            Very interesting is continuous assessment.

Oh dear. Either his teacher is not in her right mindshe's not sane or she’s trying to brainstormtry to develop ideas before a methodology exam. Either way, I’m. not going to pit my wits against herschallenge someone over an issue to see who wins. Don’t you have any others?”, I asked Konrad diplomatically. He did: vocational degree, placement tests, lower-intermediate level, integrated skills, in-service teacher training, communicative competence, needs analysis. For a split second I felt tempted to give Konrad’s teacher a piece of my mindtell them what you think of them esp. when you think they’ve behaved badly and send the boy home with the sentence: ‘Because I’m  not even at a lower intermediate level and my communicative competence is limited I find it above my cognitive abilities to express how urgently you need some thorough and comprehensive in-service training.’  But I checked myself. MYOB (mind your own business)don’t get interested in other people’s affairs seemed a much better policy.  So, although I could see his mind was on something elseone’s thinking about it or giving attention to it, I set up Konrad with my four best English-English dictionaries and told him to find the definitions of his ‘new terms.’


7th January, Monday, late afternoon

Konrad had a brainwavea sudden clever idea and decided to write ‘sentences that will explain the new terms.’ And with some considerable help from my dictionaries and a little supervising from me he went home happy to think that the six sentences, beautifully written in his new exercise book, were actually his brainchildan idea that one has thought of without any help from others. Julka is still not at home, though. She should have been back from school at around one. I’m  at my wits’ endyou’ve got no idea what to do next when you’re extremely worried. Has anything happened? And where’s Spouse? Do I feel some faint symptoms of ‘out of sight out of mindif you can’t see it its not a problem? Perhaps I’ll open Konrad’s box of chocolates.


7th January, Monday, evening

The chocolates took my mind off it stops you from worrying or thinking about your problem Julka for some time. Ten minutes later, with a guilty feeling, I carried a half-empty box to Maciek’s room. What had he been doing there anyway? Sitting behind the desk for three hours was not like him. Normally he’s not such a homework-minded personit stops you from worrying or thinking about your problem. He seemed actually pleased to see me. Not that he wanted a sweet, he was doing an assignment in English and ‘could do with some checking.’ Soon his secret leaked out. He got a ‘1’ in a recent test. Terribly unfair, of course. It was a test of students’ knowledge of prefixes. He had spent ‘half an evening’ memorizing the rules for il-, ir- and im- , turning them over in his mind,think about it continuously and when it came to writing the test he, very logically, produced words like ‘irreliable’, ‘illoyal’, ‘illikely’ and ‘immarginal.’ So, it’s not his fault that all the grammar ‘rules’ are so stupid, they are for brainlessstupid etc, narrow-mindedunwilling to accept or understand new ideas swots who can’t use their headsthink about sth. sensibly. Now he has to prove he has learned the use of prefixes and could I please check if the sentence he’s written is correct. The sentence ran: ‘In our under-funded and ill-equipped school some hyper-critical semi-idiots misuse their under-sized pseudo-intellectual potential forcing over-worked students to re-member in-accurate ir-relevant out-dated and counter-productive anti-knowledge.’ I don’t think it will make him popular with his English teacher, but at least he’s got the witshave the intelligence or understanding to do it to learn a couple of pre-fixes.


7th January, Monday, late evening

Julka finally arrived at 8. She had spent all that time ‘getting ready for the Olimpiada.’ I don’t know why she took it into her headdecide to do sth. that doesn’t seem sensible to others to participate. She had enrolled in a special course devoted to ‘covering the cultural component.’ I think whoever invented the idea should have her/his heads examinedbehaving as if you are mentally ill. Now they’ll try to brainwashmake sb. believe sth. that is not true by repeating it again and again the kids and drum into their headskeep telling sb. sth. until they cannot forget it all kinds of useless facts - the names of rivers, members of the royal family, population figures, tourist attractions or maybe even the deepest lakes and the highest mountains, all that mind-numbingextremely boring information that has nothing to do with culture. So what did you learn in 6 hours?, I snapped, how many MPs sit in parliament or who owns Harrods? I was wrong. For 6 hours they were ‘dividing the work and assigning the topics for presentations’. Kids volunteered to collect information on the most interesting aspects of life and institutions in Britain. Aren’t institutions a part of life?, I asked. Don’t be so big-headedhaving a very high opinion of oneself just because you teach English. My teacher is better than you and much much nicer, she retorted. You’d better mind your mannersbehave yourself, I wanted to say, but didn’t. Whatever useless knowledge she’ll try to commit to memorytry to remember, she’ll still be exercising her brain. So what’s your role? But even before she took out a list from her bag I knew it - Education. After today’s experience with Konrad the word had stuck in my mindI couldn’t forget them. I want to know what it’s like to be a school kid in Britain. Indeed why not? I thought looking at her topics. Public schools, independent schools, state schools, elementary schools, primary schools, preparatory schools, grammar schools, comprehensive schools, endowed schools, boarding schools, grant-maintained schools, secondary modern schools. It took my breath away. I have to explain the difference, Julka said with some pride. So is it going to be the history of education ? She felt hurt. I want to know what it’s like to be a school kid in Britain, she repeated, now visibly close to tears. But how can she? By memorizing some definitions? Don’t worry, I said, we’ll put our heads togetherdiscuss a difficult problem among a number of people, but now it’s high time you ate something.


7th January, Monday, midnight

The kids are in bed, the chocolates are gone, still no sign of  Spouse. Where can he be? Does the fact that I’m thinking about him at this moment mean he’s always on my mindeven if I looked everywhere in my brain I wouldn’t have found that or he’s the last thing on my mindeven if I looked everywhere in my brain I wouldn’t have found that? The last thing before going to bed, that is. Why can’t I get him out of my mindI can’t stop thinking about it?

PS. My dear reader at the sound of the word ‘education’ my mind goes blankbe suddenly unable to remember, but if you feel your grey matterintelligence might benefit from knowing the difference between comprehensive schools and public schools or if you have a good head forfind it easy to learn sth definitions, click here.

Follow-up Activities

  1. You can try the quiz based on some of the idioms.
  2. For the full list of idioms used in the diary, click here.

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