For Rabbie

Burns cottage – photo credit to Mr.McG

Tonight is Burns night and we will be celebrating, as has now become a family tradition, on Zoom. Why? Because there is not much else to do perhaps, or maybe because the excuse for a dram on a Monday after homeschooling is too good to miss, but mostly because I see something important in it, something that speaks to me; a plastic Jock hiding out amongst a tartan army.

As a trainee English teacher, Scots texts make me feart, not so much the understanding, but definitely the reading of them. My vowel sounds and sentence structures may have bent into the wind slightly over the years that I have been here, and I am no longer flummoxed in day to day conversation, but any attempt to speak the lingo or, worse, read it out loud makes me sound like Miss Jean Brodie with a stick up my arse. This is not helpful in the classroom, where the hilarity of me being an English person teaching English has already reared its head a few times.

There is no easy answer to ‘Miss… where are you from?’ and the teenagers are quick to smell the blood of an Englishwoman, even if that accent doesn’t sound quite right to their ears either. I quite enjoy being an enigma though, and rather than being cowed by it, I found it could be used to my advantage, especially when it comes to breaking down barriers and challenging assumptions.

One of the set poems on the curriculum for Nat 5 in Scotland, is ‘Originally’ by Carol Ann Duffy, which spells out my dilemma in reverse. I feel her childhood pain from the other side of the mirror, and I cannot get my own skelf of language out of my tongue, nor would I really want to.

That is the beauty of language. On one hand it defines us and puts us in pigeonholes, but on the other it is a shape-shifting illusion. I’m pretty sure Robert Burns never felt like he fitted in either. A farmer’s son from Ayrshire with a flare for poetry and an eye for the ladies must have often felt as uncomfortable in the drawing rooms of high society as he did in the tiny cottage he was born in.

So I’m all for it, I’ll eat my haggis and drink my whisky, sing a song and recite a poem for the beauty of language and for this beautiful country that I have made my home.

As for teaching though, when it comes to Scots, it will be recordings and pupil readings all the way. I’m no an eejit.

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