You ask what my favorite and least favorite parts of teaching are …?
Favorite – those moments when you know that you have inspired a child, when one of your students responds in such a way that you know for certain you have made a difference. I remember one moment with a group of twelve-year-olds, several years ago. We were going to be writing short stories together, and I thought I’d start by reading them a couple of brilliant examples – to begin with, I chose one by the wonderful, wonderful Roald Dahl.
This was a very nice mixed ability group: one of the boys, though, was always in trouble, never really took part in lessons, rarely did any homework. Let’s call him James. I gave out copies of the story, and started to read. James didn’t follow on the page, like the rest of the class, he just stared fixedly at me as I read – it was actually rather un-nerving. He was riveted, and then, as I finished, he drew in a long breath and said in a sort of awed whisper, ‘Wow! Oh, wow … that was just amazing!’
I said, ‘Did you enjoy it, James?’
He said, still in the awed whisper, ‘That was just the best thing I ever heard.’
I asked – perhaps rather naively, ‘What sort of stories did your parents read you when you were little?’ and his answer made me want to cry. He just shrugged and said, ‘Oh, well … they’re not really that good at that sort of thing …’ I don’t think he’d ever really been read to, before.
It doesn’t sound much, written down, but I was really affected by it- whatever I achieved with that kid over the next year or so, I will always know that even if it was only ever just that once, he had been truly moved by a piece of literature.
There is such power in a good story – even the most truculent just shut up and listen when you read them something wonderful. I’ve taught Steinbeck’s marvelous Of Mice and Men at least a dozen times, to different classes, and no once, however difficult the group, have I ever had anyone not sit and listen to the story being read, pin-drop silent, soaking it up.
Least favorite? Well my least favorite part of teaching seems, rather worryingly, to be getting more and more prevalent: low-level bad behavior. Constant back-chatting, refusing to give in, never allowing the teacher to have the final say in something, countering every attempt the teacher makes to reprimand with a ‘yeah but’ sort of comment. It drives me BONKERS!! Here’s a typical exchange:
Me: Gemma, I asked you to stop talking. I need everyone to stop talking for a moment so that I can explain something to the whole class.
Gemma: (with that extraordinary, belligerent head-wobble that only teens can manage) I wasn’t talking.
Me: (calmly but firmly) I really don’t want to argue about it – just shush now.
Gemma: (rolling her eyes and ‘tutting’ her teeth) Duh! That’s so out of order! I wasn’t talking … I was just saying that …
Me: (nodding) Mmm – “just saying” involves talking, though, doesn’t it, so let’s not “just say”, let’s just all be quiet and …
Gemma: (turning to her friend for moral support) Oh Emm Gee! (said in full)
And so it goes on. Yep – that’s my least favorite!
It has to be said – writing a novel is a huge juggernaut of a process. It’s big and difficult and challenging and emotionally draining, and it takes a massive amount of effort and dedication and patience. But it is EASY, compared to teaching. Take all those adjectives and nouns I’ve just listed, double them, and that’s just the basics needed to be a half-way decent teacher.
Since becoming a novelist, I’m now only on what in the UK is called the supply lists (I cover lessons for absent teachers who are away either ill or on courses), so my teaching load is light in comparison to some. But I have such huge respect for my teaching colleagues – especially those who are doing the job full-time. You all make such a huge, huge difference to people’s lives.
Thank you again for inviting me onto the blog!
Francesca Felizzi, former mistress of the Duke of Ferrara, revels in the art of entertaining wealthy men. Astonishingly beautiful, lasciviously talented, and stunningly tempting, she adores the power she wields over her patrons.Francesca knows she must succeed as a courtesan—she has two young daughters to support. But an unexpected encounter threatens to change everything, making it clear that her sumptuous life is a gaudy façade. Francesca suddenly finds herself and her daughters abruptly plunged into the sort of danger she has dreaded ever since she began to work the streets all those years ago. In the tradition of Sarah Dunant and Marina Fiorato, a compelling and vibrant tale from an up-and-coming fresh voice that readers will want to savor.