Monday, August 14, 2006

Weblog – The proofs

I’m knackered! It’s the end of term and I’ve got the proofs to read through and correct. Not that I should be complaining because this term I’ve been the floating teacher, covering all the classes from Nursery to Year 6. If ever you need to rediscover your zest for teaching try foundation stage or infants – I’ve loved it! It’s really sad that only 3% of teachers there are men and yes, I’d happily sign the adoption forms.

Nursery I enjoyed the best, I got the chance to crawl round on the floor and play with construction games and re-enact the story of Goldilocks and the three bears.
In Year 1 the student teachers did a lesson on the moon landing, I could see they’d have some time to kill before playtime so I went round school on a fruitless search for a spacesuit. In an inspired moment of lunacy I told the children that they had a special visitor, the second man on the moon, Buzz Aldrin! However, Buzz was so top secret they wouldn’t be able to see him. They closed their eyes and then I tiptoed out the back and crept in with a giant piece of cardboard to hide behind. When they turned round ‘Buzz’ was ready to answer questions. I think my American accent faltered slightly and when I crept out at the end some of them peeked and spotted my black shoes…

Year 6 hasn’t been such a joy, this year it’s the girls and I’m left wondering what happened to those quiet, polite children I taught in Year 3. They spent play times winding the younger children up, spoiling games and being rude, cheeky and insolent to teachers and welfare staff. They “can’t wait” to leave school, I know it’s bravado, they’re terrified of moving up to the Comp.

I saw a TV programme about a tribe in the Amazon, when the hormones started to kick in they took them to an isolated spot in the jungle and left them with one of the village elders (this job was done on a strict rotational basis). When he was satisfied that they’d got over stropping around and exclaiming loudly, “I ‘ate this jungle!” he would bring them back to the village as responsible adults. Now I’m not necessarily recommending this, but…

Altering the proofs is more of a mechanical task, you can’t edit or re-write vast chunks of text as tempting as it is. There’s no chance to expand on points or to pose them differently. Reading through the proofs it’s back to the anally retentive, I’ve found about thirty mistakes and you notice the curse of the spellchecker i.e., ‘none’ instead of ‘nine’. After I’ve altered them a freelance proofreader goes through them again.

I’m just starting to view myself as a writer, thinking through different projects. It was hard at first a bit like ‘coming out’, admitting to being an alcoholic or pregnant. You can feel a bit ridiculous at first, what happens if I never get anything printed? Even when you get your first piece in print uncertainty gnaws away, there’s that continual state of insecurity.

Am I a good writer? Every author asks that question and continues to ask it. Zadie Smith had an international hit with ‘White Teeth’, but when ‘The Autograph Man’ was savaged by some critics she thought of quitting, happily for her ‘On Beauty’ has received critical acclaim.

The best advice I read about writing was to try and find your own style and write about what you know. One of my inspirations for writing was from Julie Birchill when she had a column in ‘The Guardian’. She was never consistent, some of her pieces about people fighting for compensation due to asbestos were brilliant (her father died from the effects) and then she’d write rubbish about Iraq, but you always read her pieces and boy, could she do savage! Half the letters in the paper were from people threatening to cancel their subscriptions. Now if only I could a ‘Julie’ on Ofsted!

Books about primary schools are still dominated by nostalgia for a lost utopia, there are interminable re-prints of Miss Read’s ‘Village School’. Despite being an overwhelmingly urban society there’s that English myth that John Major recycled with a warmed up quote from George Orwell, ‘old maids biking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning… warm beer and cricket on the green.’ The closure of Redlynch Primary School, which was written about in a TES blog by the former headteacher, was closer to the truth.

I had an e-mail from the Sales Rep, he’s visiting bookshops in August, but in one hour he has to push 150 titles! He’s recommended that I contact the bookshops in the local area closer to the publishing date in September, so I’ll spend the summer chilling out, writing my second book and visiting the Roman and Greek ruins in Turkey.

On the last day of term we had a bouncy castle for the children, one of the mothers beckoned me over, ‘You won’t recognise our Gemma now, will you?” I blinked, that skinny little whippet had undergone metamorphosis and changed into a young woman. In Year 6 she’d constantly been in trouble and would declaim at full volume ‘I ‘ATE THIS SCHOOL!’ Gemma tells me she can’t wait to leave secondary school and she wants to train to be a midwife. ‘Sir, I loved it here, the best days of my life. I ‘ated the Comp’. Yeah, never give up on them.


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