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Can I return to writing while teaching, too?

Discussion in 'Career clinic' started by zward3, Feb 16, 2020.

  1. zward3

    zward3 New commenter

    I can and I will, George Bernard Shaw.
    Truth is, teachers don’t ‘do’ because they’re too busy earning a living.

    I am an experienced teacher. An English teacher. The grammar pedant in school who howls with derision and irritation every time a colleague put’s an apostrophe in the wrong place.

    I’ve also been an independent parent for 23 years.

    Back to the rant. George Bernard Shaw famously wrote, “He who can does; he who cannot, teaches.” Cheeky gobshite.

    I’ve been challenged with this smug logic a few times. I argued back. Years later, it bothers me that this dismissive maxim could define me. So I have decided that alongside teaching, I’m going to begin writing…again.

    Feels daunting.

    It was easier when I had nothing to lose.
    After university in the 1990s, I fell into a job as a travel journalist in Singapore and Malaysia, on a graduate trainee scheme with a large U.K publishing group. Something of a career upgrade from backpacker pot-washing survival working in a Penang noodle stall.

    Months on, I was writing for Travel Trade Gazette Asia! Launched! Articles and reviews led to jaunts and junkets, glitzy launches and late-night drinks parties. I loved this life, but hated living in straitjacketed Singapore.

    Keen to return to Malaysia, I convinced my editor that I could launch a new title. K.L. Now! A colourful tourist rag full of food and entertainment reviews; a sort of lightweight Lonely Planet. So I did. My writing life quickly became very commercial; I freelanced for PR companies and utilised my fluent Malay to befriend and peddle my wares with influential Malaysians who wanted speeches, self-promotion and dry corporate copy.

    Babies Don’t Fit In Hand Luggage
    Three years on, motherhood prompted a metamorphosis into a self-employed copywriter. I found I could earn a living from a keyboard, with a tiny child on my knee. Persuasive, promotional ******** and muscular marketing slogans, mainly. But bills were paid and life was great.

    The millennium dawned gently in Malaysia. Realistically though, my three-year old daughter (pet rabbit occasionally in a plastic bag) and four-year old son (running barefoot round the termite mound in our huge tropical front garden) took a lot of freelance copywriting to support. Their new brother was also about to join our tribe.

    The faraway murmur of Western values became a clarion call.
    Get back to England! Fold away the sarongs! Leave the hawker stalls, beaches and jungle waterfalls to rejoin the rat-race and give your beautiful brown babies a British education. Be responsible.

    Education. British schools. White socks and school dinners. Curricular goals and certificates.

    I bit the bullet. Chewed its bitter metal jacket in fact. Then, swallowing with a grimace, I made a decision that would have had George Bernard Shaw’s eyes rolling in their sockets. I went to Cambridge University and trained to be a teacher. If I couldn’t ‘do’ writing, I’d at least teach others how to.

    Traveller - Teacher
    That was 16 years ago; I’ve taught in many schools in Asia and the U.K. since. Rich, poor, diverse, rural, coastal and urban. I even spent three years in New Zealand, teaching barefoot Kiwi kids to bend their tongues to British vowels.

    In the era of Ofsted 21C
    It’s 2020. I continue to teach young people to write. But the only writing I do myself is soulless. Emails exhorting weary colleagues to attend departmental meetings; curriculum overviews peppered with bullet points and reference numbers; outlines of intent, implementation and impact in case an inspection team wishes to do a Deep Dive into my department (sounds painfully intimate).

    My frustrated creativity is only allowed out once the classroom door is closed, where I un-muzzle like an eccentric stand-up comic. It engages the kids; keeps me from slamming my fingers in the door to feel alive.

    Together, we dissect poems, stories and news articles, naming and defining the structure, meaning, imagery, language and effect. “Look!” I command my 12 year old students, as I gurn and gesticulate at the huge letters on my whiteboard — “S.M.I.L.E! An acronym you can memorise in order to analyse this poignant poem, this sumptuous sonnet!”

    Together, we unwrap the writers’ craft. How exquisitely abstract ideas and emotions have been pinned down and penned into a form we readers can capture and consume. With little time to write our own, we press on with understanding others’, assessments circling overhead. Ssshhh, Shaw, I see the irony.

    While wintry weather lashes the windows, we analyse poems chosen by our government for the curriculum. Nod sagely on notions of love in Shakespeare’s rebel sonnet 130. Cry and dwell on the enormity of grief in W.H. Auden’s Funeral Blues. Rage at British racism in John Agard’s Half Caste. (Read these, speak them aloud — they are magical and powerful).

    My job, this half term, has been to immerse students in the power of poetry and to equip them to see the endless possibilities of language. And, let’s be honest, pass exams one day.

    I have spent years learning to do my best to teach young people. I deeply, fervently hope they will grow up to feel empowered and opinionated, educated and inspired. They will write intelligent essays in exam halls one day. Beyond, perhaps, unleash their own creative potential as another generation of poets, novelists, journalists, bloggers, playwrights, screenwriters or speechwriters. You can, I urge them. Yet I do not.

    So. Taking my own advice? I have begun to write again. To DO.
    This first foray into blogging is a shout out to other working, single parents, many of whom are teachers, like me. We have adapted our individual abilities and passions, bent the knee of former careers, in order to work around the demands of independent parenting.

    Not necessarily because we are compassionate and selfless (though it helps), or unsuccessful elsewhere, but because teaching is a stable form of employment. We provide for our own children by providing for the children of others. Even those of playwrights.

    Yes, the holidays are long — even longer when your salary doesn’t stretch much beyond a home-packed picnic and a one-day travel pass.

    So, to you Mr Shaw, and anyone who mocks with that throwaway quote: those who teach may indeed have yearned to write, paint, sculpt, dance, invest in finance, explore the world or develop the next scientific breakthrough, rather than teach others how to.

    They could have, they didn’t.

    That doesn’t mean they won’t.
    new career and artbinki like this.
  2. artbinki

    artbinki New commenter

    My best friend, no kids but with health issues, also an English teacher, has completed two Masters and written 2/3 of a novel in the last 5 years on top of a full time job. She’s only just dropped to four days so that she can invest more time in finishing novel.
    new career likes this.

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