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News > Queen's College News > In conversation with Mrs Azis

In conversation with Mrs Azis

"Good books give you a love of stories and stories are how we make sense of our lives" - Mrs Azis first taught at Queen's in 1984 and we interviewed her as she shared her teaching highlights and more.

When did you start teaching at Queen’s? 

I started teaching English at Queen’s in 1984 and had two of my three children whilst still teaching here a few years later. For my maternity leaves in 1986 and 1988 my aunt, Mrs Whalley (who was also a teacher) acted as my maternity cover. My aunt was quite a lot older than me and I was heavily pregnant so it amused me when some of the girls said they could not tell the difference between us! 

I left London in 1990 and moved to Bradford-on-Avon, to a house owned by the National Trust, and taught at three different schools near Bath. I returned to Queen’s in 2006 for a maternity cover and I have been here since. The longest maternity cover of all time!  

When I talked to my friend Ros Kimball who taught Art here in the 1980s, about the possibility of returning to Queen’s for that maternity cover she said, “Queen’s is the only school where you have ever felt truly at home, isn’t it?”  I agreed but mentioned that I was worried about commuting back into London: she simply replied, “Get up earlier!” 

What is the highlight of your teaching career at Queen’s so far? 

I love the pupils here. I just think they're so sparky and energetic. Over the years, many of them have been deeply eccentric and I have often thought that some of them might not have done as well at other schools, but they have really flourished here.  

Any lowlights? 

IT! I hate the way it takes up so much time. I teach because I love teaching; I don't teach because I love computers. 

Without naming names (!) what type of pupil are the most memorable? 

I will always love a class that includes a pupil who is a touch prickly and who likes to play devil's advocate – that's incredibly useful. In fact, over the years I've often planned my lessons with this devil's advocate in mind. I’ll know that someone will have an interesting or different perspective and they won’t be afraid to share it with the class - that’s really useful. 

Are there any school trips or productions that stand out? 

We have done so many! In the beginning, we put on something called the ‘Elizabethan Evening’, which was great fun and we had a fiery red-head dressed up as Queen Elizabeth.  It was a joint event with the Music Department and my wonderful colleague Mr Hills, who, I’m sorry to say, died earlier this year. It was just fantastic and very chaotic. There was music and poetry and the girls acting their socks off, as always. We had that classic Queen’s thing where several of the key performers were ill on the day and other pupils just stepped in and said ‘Oh, I'll do it’ - which is so typical of Queen’s!  

The costumes were hired from the Royal Shakespeare Company Costume Dept in Stratford where we went for a happy day spent trying on everything.

What have you found particularly challenging about teaching through this pandemic?  

It’s awful not having any personal contact with pupils. I know teaching via Zoom and Teams is a lot better than nothing, but it's just not the same. What I miss is the light-hearted interactions between pupils and now my lessons are much more boring.  What's fun about teaching is the quick repartee, the weird things, the silly comments, the red herrings - you just don't get any of that online. 

How has it been returning to in-person teaching with the masks and social distancing? 

It's been lovely to be back and good to see how much the pupils like being back. While they're obviously important, the masks are really quite a nuisance! I'm wearing a mask, I've got a visor on and I've got my glasses on my head. There was also a point when I injured my arm earlier this term so I had a sling as well - frankly, I have no idea how I managed not to strangle myself. 

It makes for a more passive lesson if pupils are wearing masks and you just have a row of eyes in front of you. Of course, we get the stuff done but there's just not the same interaction.  

What books feature on your reading list? 

Read anything and everything is always my advice and I just think that the whole idea of reading for pleasure is all that matters. 

Off the top of my head, one of the books I have read recently is the latest Marilynne Robinson called ‘Jack’, which is so beautiful.  I love a book which makes me read slower and slower because I don't want to get to the end. 

 If you have students planning to study English at University, what texts do you think are absolutely essential reading? 

‘Paradise Lost’ by John Milton. I will always take the opportunity to teach some Milton if I can. Everyone starts by being horrified and I always say, “I promise this will be your favourite text by the end of the course” and it always is, simply because you have to work hard at it. Any text that you've had to work hard at is inevitably going to repay you. One that's just easy and you haven't got much to say about it never hits the spot. 

Milton writes “I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race”. He’s essentially talking about the value of free speech.  Get out there and try hard to do your best, he’s saying. Milton is wonderful.  

What three authors’ work would you take with you to a desert island? 

 W. H. Auden. I love his poetry. I think he must have been a wonderful – if tricky - character. Jonathan Coe is another author whom I admire and also, I’d pick Tom Stoppard – he would certainly keep me amused!  

What book would you suggest for a reluctant reader? 

It really doesn't matter – maybe ‘The Beano’?  There is also nothing better than audiobooks or a Kindle for allowing you to get absorbed and lose yourself in a story.  Good books give you a love of stories and stories are how we make sense of our lives.  


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