30th March 2003
I had a surprise in the night on Thursday. I lay awake coming to realize that I actually care for my current day job, working as an English teacher for 13-18 year olds. I was heading off that morning for a job interview that would give me 19 weeks holiday a year, good writing time, but duly turned it down.
That doesn't mean I'm not counting down the days till the Easter holiday, when I fly down to Framce and have a couple of weeks in which to write. After that I'll be counting down to the summer holiday when a month of pure writing can come my way. How good it is though to be doing a job in which you do see the rewards. How grand to see kids changing and growing, to transmit some enthusiasm for literature and see it taking a grip on young hearts and minds.
That's being a bit rosy. Dozens of kids I teach still can't really give a toss for anything I'm showing to them and a lot of my time is spent imposing discipline. Such is the way of the world. It does though feel fine and right to be part of the current of life, instead of the writer's tack of sitting on the sidelines and commenting.
We have an active writers' group going at the school now too. It's in its early stages, I'm tending to talk more than I planned to do, holding something like a masterclass, but soon we should have a bunch of work in from the kids. I'm hoping it's radical.
In writing terms it is a case of 'know your audience'. It's interesting to see just how much normally passes most people by. For example few people have a sense of proverbs any more. 'One swallow doesn't make a summer' brings no trace of recognition, and even when parents manage to dredge up a proverb or two they don't know what they mean. Here I am, aged 46, digging up my own popular culture and offering it up as some hidden lore.
The trick of teaching, of course, is that it's not a one-way flow. Research in America shows children talking to their parents for an average of 40 minutes a week. Every week I see hundreds of kids for much more than that. There's a lot we can tell each other. Years ago I took a question to Mother Meera. "Teaching is primary, writing is secondary," came her response. I sought to edit her answer at the time, to suit what I wanted to hear, but I'm coming to see her statement might have been simply true.