I wasn’t meant to teach English but I’m glad I am.

let me preface this by saying that i am aware that my use of all lower case letters may seem moronic since i am teaching english – let me put your minds to rest in that i do teach students to use capital letters…  the lower case thing is merely for my private life.

to begin:

orwell talked about when he discovered the ‘joy of mere words’ in his essay entitled why i write.  that very essay was the special thing i presented in teacher training during our bizarre adult version of show and tell.  i explained to my peers that i was devoted to orwell and his writing, that i too spend a great deal of time writing in journals.

i have loved orwell for many years and not just the usual 1984 and animal farm way.  i have loved his essays and his journal style entries like homage to catalonia and down and out in paris and london; after reading the latter for a second time i gave it as a tip [‘dash’ in nigeria] to a waiter that was serving me something delicious in edinburgh, most definitely with a boozy pairing of some kind.

it is not just orwell that has inspired me.  i have loved irvine welsh’s and alex garland’s more contemporary work, i have read a number of must reads including: catcher in the rye, the bell jar, go ask alice, brave new world and heart of darkness among many others.  i have decided after reading a number of pieces from both margaret atwood and timothy findley that i prefer findley as my top ranked canadian author.  the joy of mere words indeed.  i have read rubbish such as a million little pieces just to see what all the hype was about and discuss the issues.

when i was in university and planning on becoming a teacher, i began volunteering in two different high schools over a couple of years.  in the first school, the teacher i worked with introduced me to the principal.  said principal asked what subjects i would be teaching once through my training.  i told her it would be sociology and geography.  she paused and then told me that i should consider taking english as a second teachable, drop the geography all together.  i told her i thought if i began teaching english that i would be trapped forever.  she returned with the fact that english is a subject that is always in higher demand than those in the humanities.  i thought nothing of it and told her it was lovely to meet her, an awkward formality at that time.  she and i never spoke again, i can’t even remember her name.

english came up again when i was in new zealand.  on teaching placement i was informed i could teach english or observe someone else teaching sociology.  i chose the english.  again for years i thought nothing of it.  while supply teaching i probably took a few english classes here and there and it helped if i had read what the students were reading but it was really nothing i worried too much about.

arriving in nigeria meant a number of unexpected things and teaching english was no exception.  i was hired as a geography teacher, asked if i could teach a bit of english on the side and arrived to see a full english timetable.  it was frightening and exciting.  i took to it like a fish to water.  then the following year, as a punishment from a man that detested me i suspect, i was teaching geography and history instead.  i found i missed the english.  lucky for me i am now getting the best of both world by taking some english and some geography lessons.

the long and the short of it is that somehow teaching english has changed me and yet i have been this english lover all along without really understanding the power literature has had over me.  just today i was asked on a scale of 1 to 10 how confident i feel while teaching poetry.  i had to think about the answer and as usual gave a long winded explanation prior to stating that i feel it is a 7 out of 10 because i am not formally trained to teach the subject, though i am comfortable.

to date i have taught some excellent works for young people, and older people, including: holes, the breadwinner, animal farm, the strange case of dr jekyll and mr hyde, hidden star, fat boy swim and roald dahl’s creepy short stories.  sometimes i feel guilty for learning more than the kids do.

teaching english, particularly this year, has opened my mind to the possibility of my own writing and interest and ability in the subject.  i think it has come from teaching more able groups that not only have interesting things to say about literature but also produce excellent sonnets and short stories worth publishing in some kind of student anthology.  my students have inspired me to improve myself and write more.

in the past i have taught english to lower ability groups or those with behavioural problems.  they bring about their own costs and benefits, the kind that distract me from how amazing really good writing can be and the unusual characters good writing can come from.  the trade off works though, you get to [hopefully] get students to believe they can read and write well and therefore make an effort, leading to improved grades.

i guess to sum up i am just so pleased i have been given this mistaken opportunity to enjoy my teaching in a much larger sense because i get to use literary figures to talk psychology, sociology and any other subject i can think of with my students.  i don’t know how it fell into my lap but i am most grateful.

oh and the attitude of bringing in whatever the hell i want to illustrate points helps too… i’m talking using songs i like to test poetry analysis and tossing in short stories like the destructors for a laugh.


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