Tag Archives: students

On wolves and March hares

The March hare and friends. Image from 1865 by John Tenniel, now in the public domain.
The March hare and friends. Image from 1865 by John Tenniel, now in the public domain.

This time last year I was recovering from surgery and nervously adjusting to life without permanent employment. The goals for the year were to regain full health (check), help develop my wife’s business (ongoing) and finish at least one other writing project.

The writing didn’t go entirely as planned. I did finish 2013 with two unpublished picture book manuscripts, a detailed plot for a junior fiction novel, a proposal for a multimedia documentary series and substantial inroads into the YA/crossover project I’ve been working on for a while. Hopefully at least one of these will find its way to publication in the near future.

Over the course of the year I also found myself teaching pre-schoolers how to read (very fertile minds!) and delivering one-on-one tutoring to a Year 12 English student. Now, while I regularly lead creative writing workshops in schools, I haven’t formally tutored anyone since my university days. I felt rusty and out of touch. Starting with a student in April and boosting her confidence by October seemed ridiculously ambitious.

Without breaching confidences, I can say this much. It was tough going. Assessments would come in and rarely meet my aspirations. Improvements seemed incremental at best. Practice exams in late September did not go well. We regrouped. Changed tactics. I encouraged, encouraged, encouraged.

Come VCE results day, I was almost as anxious as when I was 18. Much to my delight my student performed better than she had all year. She exceeded her stated goal. Most importantly, she qualified for a tertiary course she is happy about. Cue massive sigh of relief.

On to 2014. Being an author is a great gig but the income is, shall we say, piecemeal. The wolves are back at the door. Suddenly my former boss, who put up with my irregular hours and random authorly escapades, seems like a rare beast indeed.

Without actively seeking students I find myself with a couple already and the possibility of several more. I’m not a qualified teacher but after 20+ years of writing and storytelling I’m confident I can help most kids express their thoughts more clearly – enhancing their ability to perform in essays and exams. However I absolutely salute teachers who do this daily, searching for their students’ unique strengths and strategising how to coax the best out of each individual. If one child is a challenge, an entire classroom is a mountain.

Which brings me to the hare. March sees me preparing for the aforementioned students, booked for an intense writer’s residency, researching for the doco, hammering away at the YA WiP and ineptly attempting book-keeping and front-of-house duties for my wife’s venture. Unexpected approaches may see me leap vertically like a loopy Lepus. Forewarned is forearmed. 🙂

And my heart breaks again

Being a parent seems to be a lifelong lesson from your children about the best and worst of yourself. Being a teacher, as best as I can tell, seems to guarantee an education from your students.

You also get an awareness of their stories, their truths and their unique world views. I recently posted about a gentle boy I know who has already seen way too much hurt. Last time I saw him he was worried that I’d be angry with him because he hadn’t done something I asked. I’d been trying to motivate him and ended up making him apprehensive. It wasn’t what I intended and so a new strategy is needed.

Now, after another week working with various students at a couple of venues, another story pulses like a siren in my mind. Another boy, of similar age but a radically different background. Literacy lessons. When you try to help kids learn to read, you tend to notice patterns. Mispronunciations. Reversal of particular consonants. Sounds that don’t seem to be heard the way that we need if we’re to decode words efficiently.

This particular pattern took me a while to decipher. There were two words he couldn’t seem to read. Then I understood. It wasn’t couldn’t. It was wouldn’t. They were words he doesn’t intend to say out loud. Ever.

‘Dad’ and ‘father’.

 

Book Week and beyond

Farts are funny. Comedy gold. Unless, perhaps, you’re mid-way through a speech to a Year 9 assembly…

I aim for my talks to hit a range of notes, to have highs and lows. It was during a sombre moment, a pause for dramatic effect, that a student let one rip.

To their credit, most of his peers kept it together. The hall did not erupt into riotous laughter. If the flatulent one was intending anarchy, I score his bold bid a fail.

Up at the lectern, I considered a wisecrack response but a) didn’t find a retort quickly enough and b) figured it was better not to acknowledge the eruption. I chose to stay the course and chalk it up to another Book Week moment.

For those of us who write for young people, Book Week can be the busiest five-days of the year. In my city Book Week blends into the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, prolonging the bookish buzz.

Authors and illustrators are out and about everywhere. If you spot a pale-skinned individual blinking in the city sunlight, there’s a fair chance you are watching a wordsmith newly emerged from solitary confinement in front of a computer screen.

In my case, Book Week morphed into three solid weeks of public speaking and conducting writing workshops in schools. There were plenty of memorable moments but one stands out. It reminds me why I write YA fiction.

My second novel, Five Parts Dead, is studied by Yr 10 students at an excellent school in Melbourne’s west. For the past few years I have worked with each class as they studied my story – an experience that tends to be as instructive for me as the young readers.

I’ve known for a while that my first novel, Game as Ned, is studied at a couple of schools. However, I haven’t ever had an invitation to visit and converse with the students. That changed this week.
I spoke to a Yr 8 assembly and tackled a wide range of no-holds-barred questions.

I was particularly chuffed to have teachers tell me that Game as Ned is “a joy to teach” because the students enjoy reading it. But the best piece of feedback came as I headed to the staffroom for a cuppa.

A teacher took me aside to tell me that one of her most reluctant readers had been caught out reading Game as Ned – in a History class, with the book hidden under his desk. Asked why he was reading his English text in History, he said it was because he couldn’t wait to find out what happens next. I call that a win.

Published

Last week I found myself presenting 16 grade 5 and 6 students with copies of books they wrote and illustrated last year. Their principal organised for the stories to be published in triplicate, with copies of each title going to the student, their class and the school library.

Each book looked great and there were some ripper titles. The students beamed, receiving their work in front of the school community.

Best of all, the thrill of seeing their writing turned into a real book sparked the creative embers anew. Several of the students told me they couldn’t wait to start a new manuscript.

I’m not writing much at present, due to work commitments, so I felt almost wistful watching young minds with the time and freedom to throw themselves into another project. That’s a great space to be in.

Flemington Primary School and guest author and mentor Kath Lockett are to be congratulated for the countless hours committed to this project. It looks to have inspired far more than 16 budding writers. I reckon every child at assembly was watching on with envy and wondering if they could write a story too.

*Disclosure: The Little Dragon was one of the published authors. He’s now telling me that if he writes a book a year through to the end of 2012 he’ll have more titles published than me…