By Nick Stimson, playwright, theatre director and Writer Co-Mentor on the Teachers as Writers project
As someone who tutors at Arvon and often visits schools I suppose I thought I knew all I needed to know about how a writer works with young people. You go in there, you light the fireworks, and when that’s done you retreat to a safe space. Being part of the Teachers as Writers project has changed my mind. Or I should more accurately say it has added a new dimension to my practice and, I think, to that of the teachers who were involved.
In the past I have always been resistant to the idea that a writer visiting a school should somehow and in some way contribute the development of the curriculum. To me this felt restrictive and lacking the imaginative leap that I felt a visiting writer could and should bring to working with young people. For me the role of the writer had always been to open a new door – a door into the imagination. The writer needed to be a new and vibrant voice in the classroom, not a supernumerary teacher.
Working on this project, with two superb teachers who were completely alive to the transformative power of the imagination, has rather changed my mind. From the outset we saw our roles as complementary and our skills as being mutually supportive. After discussions with each of the teachers in both the secondary schools we drew up plans to jointly teach lessons that were both imaginative and transformative but lessons that also underlined the validity of the literature, themes and ideas being explored by those young people in the classroom. We also wanted to underline and expand on the excellent creative work being done by both teachers. Through the exciting but vulnerable place that is creative writing the young people explored the themes and ideas they had been studying and were able to relate those themes and ideas to themselves and their experiences.
As I drove away from each of the schools after the final sessions were done I was left with the feeling that I had been part of something that was on-going, not a one-off hit and run mission. Because both writer and teachers contributed to the sessions in as equal a fashion as possible and because the young people understood that the themes and ideas they were studying were not only academically important but also the concern of others beyond the classroom, there was a sense of continuation, of perspective, of balance and shared understanding.