I was standing in a classroom, looking at the unfamiliar faces.
Nothing new there, I’ve been doing this for twenty five years. I know the drill. I know I’ll get out of here alive. I’m a total stranger, so there’s enough curiosity and generous courtesy to get me through the first five minutes. That’s all I need. I know that I’ve got a better than good chance of making the next eighty minutes work. The deviants up the back will have something to laugh at, the brightest in the class will have something to think about and I’ll pitch it in a way that keeps them all interested and entertained and informed.
I’m going to speak to five classes, and I know that if this school is like every other one on the planet I can guarantee that by the time I get to class number three I wilI have already have a vague reputation to live up to and I can use that to bank on.
I feel sick, but there’s nothing new there either: fear is a performance enhancing drug and I feel like throwing up everytime I walk into a class room, no matter how sure I am of the class or the material.
So what’s weird is that I’m not here as the expert English teacher, or the curriculum expert, I’m not even here as someone who knows a great deal about the history of poetry: I’m here as someone who writes poems and reads them. And I’m here to talk about poetry from that perspective to a group of kids who are five or six weeks away from the end of school and that means that statistically in the five classes I speak to there will be only one or two students who will ever buy a poetry book. The others might for a wedding or a funeral, but poetry is something they do at school and as far as they are concerned the sooner they can get away from both the better.
I don’t blame my profession. English teachers do what they do because it’s what they have to do. The people who write syllabi might not know their arse from their elbow but they have the power to impose their ignorance on all of us.
English teachers are not there to make poets, make students love poetry or train fledging literary critics.
I’m standing in a space that is utterly antithetical to everything I’m about to say…