A little while back I was asked to help support a poetry day for Year 9 students at Ebbsfleet Academy with my mate Tony D. The whole day had a huge impact on me and I wanted to write about it for three reasons, really.
First off it was really cool to get to work with Tony on this project- he's such an impressive writer. I first met him when I started battling and I've been amazed by what he can do. I always like to work with artists that can do things I can't (Mixy, Guy Larsen and Tim Clare being the first examples that come to mind) and it was great to work with Tony because there's so many things that he can do with words that I can't get my head around. Plus he had this one Buzz Lightyear bar that really popped with the crowd - I never get students making those kind of noises during my poems! If you haven't heard of Tony and want to see what I mean about his skills, you can see an example of his work below - be warned though, it's a little NSFW.
My second reason for blogging abut this particular day was the staff we got to work with. Now, normally in my blogs I'd talk about the students and how much I enjoyed working with them and how inspiring their work was- which (it almost goes without saying) was also the case here. We had hundreds of students engaging fully with an entire day of poetry writing and performance, which was ace - and very difficult to coordinate. The thing that really stood out for me because of the scale of the project was the teachers though- honestly, they were brilliant.
When I was approached about co-ordinating a day with a whole year group working in separate classrooms whilst myself and another artist moved between the rooms to support I was more than a little sceptical - having supported on similar days to this in the past I'd seen how not to do it. Our performance at the beginning of the day would go really well and the students would leave engaged and motivated. Within an hour in their classrooms (often with tasks being lead by non-specialist teachers who didn't feel comfortable with either the students or the subject matter) they became restless and both myself and the other artist I was with would exhaust ourselves by racing between rooms, re-motivating students as we went.
Well, not here. The whole day was planned expertly. Better than I could have done when I was teaching, which was so exciting to see. Briony, who set up the booking, listened to my concerns and set up an outline for the sessions that was so well set out and engaging that there wasn't a single class that couldn't access the work. Communication throughout the department was top notch too. It was such a relief to move from classroom to classroom and see the teachers so confidently and brilliantly guiding the students - Tony and I were blown away by how hard the teachers worked. Being a freelance artist I'm used to maintaining control of projects and I worry about standards dropping when I give up control on things. I really needn't have worried in this instance though - Briony smashed it. I also have to give a special shout out to Korinne O'Keefe, in her first year of Teach First who led one of the best, most engaging discussions I've seen in a school.
Thirdly, I just wanted to talk about how impressed I am all the time by teachers because I visit a lot of schools at the moment and I see firsthand how hard it is at the moment. It's much harder than it was when I was still doing it. The profession has been horribly undermined in the past decade and the workload is completely unrealistic. The teachers at Ebbsfleet (along with almost all the teachers I meet - Aiglon, Tanglin and so, so many more) really inspire me and keep reminding me how important it is to have passion for what you do, and how you can't let your workload get you down. So yeah ,thank you to all the staff at Ebbsfleet Academy. You set up a full day of poetry work for young adults and you smashed it! It was a pleasure to come in and be a part of it all.