Is your teacher a secret writer?

I used to be a teacher. I taught for over twenty years, on and off, between 1978 and 2000. I taught in primary, middle and secondary schools of all shapes and catchment areas. I taught English, geography, maths, RE, PE… you name it, I’ve taken lessons in it.

 Here I am with my first tutor group in 1978. I’ve just realised they’ll all be in their mid 40s now. Yikes! I hope I wasn’t as severe as I look. What’s with the tweed suit, woman? I must have been modelling myself on Jean Brody. Odd, to say how much I was into David Bowie and the B52s at the time!


I don’t know whether I was a good teacher or a mediocre one; that’s not for me to decide. I know I enjoyed teaching (mostly) and the good days definitely outweighed the bad. My favourite lessons were always the ones that involved stories or plays or poetry. Here, I felt confident and safe in my teaching. Here, with a book in my hand or a play to share or a poem to chop into chunks and discuss, I knew we’d all thrive. My science lessons… not so much. ‘Too many variables’ as the Ofsted inspector told me after observing my hapless attempts at doing something science-y with a balloon and a coat-hanger (March 2000).

My life as a writer began in those classrooms. The short plays I’d write to teach history; the ‘models’ of opening paragraphs, the trips to the public library with my classes and the crazy drama lessons, were all laying the foundations of a future writing career. I just never realised it at the time. Most influential of all were the lessons, usually at the end of the day, when I’d get out the class reader. I had quickly learned that nothing holds a class in thrall and ends a day so well as  as reading out loud – as long as you read well. A monotonous tone can have the opposite effect zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz  Ah, thank you Gillian Cross and Robert Westall, David Line and Helen Cresswell, Stan Barstow, Betsy Byars and Anne Fine.  Happy days.

Crossing over from teacher to writer is not a huge leap. Many have done it. Off the top of my head there’s Michael Morpurgo, Philip Pullman, Penny Dolan, Rose Impey, Jeremy Strong, Alan Gibbons, Celia Rees, Dennis Hamley, Anne Cassidy, Vivian French, Eoin Colfer, Roddy Doyle, Linda Newbery…  the list is endless.

So I know there must be many more writers, storytellers and poets in today’s classrooms cunningly disguised as teachers. There’s at least one in Ysgol Esgob Morgan for a start. That’s the school where I’ve just been made Patron of Reading. The teacher is called Jenny Ritchie (Mrs Ritchie if you’re under 15) and she’s the Lit Co there.

Here’s a poem she sent me after my blog on the mesostic poems I found at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park:











The poem is based on an osprey called Iris in Gill Lewis’s award winning book Sky Hawk, that Jenny Loved.


Mind you, Jenny has some stiff competition; the school’s got more poets you can shake a stick at.  Ms Foulkes’ Y4s, for instance, have been using Malorie Blackman’s Cloud Busting as a springboard for some wishful thinking:


Shannon Fish and Ellie Brown wrote:

Isn’t life a chocolate-covered strawberry melting in my mouth?

Isn’t life playing cricket with your Mum, Dad and Sister?

Isn’t life anything, everything you make it and then much, much, so much, oh much, more?

Then there’s:

Isn`t life being a typical boy and playing with my friends?

Isn`t life R-truth winning a wrestling match?

Isn`t life anything, everything you make it and then much, much, so much,

oh much, more?

– Jack Montgomery and Josh Philpotts

(Confession – I had to look up R-Truth. This is the chap) :



Cloud Busting 3:

Isn’t life getting Lionel Messi’s autograph?

Isn’t life eating a massive pizza with cheese and pepperoni melting in my mouth?

Isn’t life anything, everything you make it and then much, much, so much, oh much, more?

– Wesley Jones and Alex Roberts

Yes, yes it is.  And to everyone on half -term I want you to go and give a big hug to your favourite teacher the minute you see them again. Yes, even the one in the tweed suit.

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