My school visit – Lessons from Jack Black

There’s a fabulous scene in School of Rock where Jack Black, masquerading as a teacher, gets asked about his methods. Straight-faced he quotes ‘The Greatest Love of All’ lyrics, written by Linda Creed & recorded by Whitney Houston ‘I believe the children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way.’ Anyone who has seen the movie will know Jack’s reasons for teaching are intrinsically selfish at first but ultimately he inspires the kids with his passion for music.

Encouraging creativity in schools is so important. Sometimes I feel it can get a little lost amongst the league tables, the desire for academic excellence, the immense pressure on both teachers and children to produce results that exceed target levels. The younger generation, teenagers in particular, often get a bad press. My sons and their friends are polite, friendly, with a passion for politics and the environment that would put many adults to shame.

School visits are something I am doing more and more of. Not for marketing, my psychological thrillers are entirely unsuitable for children and I never take any to sell, or sign, but to share my experience of life inside and outside of education. I still remember that moment nearly thirty years ago when I sat in front of the careers advisor, palms prickling with nerves, stomach churning as I said out loud the thing I had never dared say before. ‘I want to be a writer.’ I still feel the crushing disappointment when she dismissed my dream with words that hit like bullets. ‘That’s not a career. You can’t earn a living from it. Go and work in an office.’ I often wonder if my school had focused a little more on creativity how different my career path might have been. How, if an author had visited and said ‘Yes, you absolutely can make a living writing. I’m doing it,’ whether I wouldn’t have given up quite so easily.

The last thing I want to do is make it seem is that the children’s dream careers are easily achievable but I want to impart that with hard work, determination and positivity there is nothing you can’t at least try to do and to encourage them to never lose that passion for the things we love, because as adults we often do. The things we enjoyed when we were young, cast as frivolous and time wasting, buried under a mountainous pile of routine, bills and domestic drudgery.

Write, paint, draw, sing, mould with clay. Never lose sight of who you are or what you love. The average life span is 4,000 weeks. Make the most of your precious time.

If just one child during tough times, remembers my visit, recalling how once a disabled mother, with limited education, came to their school and said ‘Yes, you can. Don’t give up,’ they might end up paying it forward one day. Encouragement, kindness and love are free to give and easily shared.

 

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My first school visit – 250 kids – what could possibly go wrong?

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Last week I was writing when my phone flashed with an incoming call – my son’s primary school – and my heart stuttered as I thought of all the things that might be wrong.

‘Will you come into school on World Book Day and talk to the kids about writing? Just Years 5 & 6. Only around 250 children.’

Only?!? 250!?! I’ve never given a talk before and instantly I felt sick, dizzy, afraid. Options pin-balled around my mind. I could hang up, pretend they had the wrong number, put on an accent and say I can’t speak English. So many words formed on my tongue, but I thought about the amazing assemblies I’ve seen there over the years. How brave the children are to stand up in front of the school and act and sing, and of all of the words that formed on my tongue, the one that came out was yes. The children can’t all enjoy performing and yet they do it anyway. What sort of example would I set to my son if I didn’t at least try?

Yesterday, it was a different story. Riddled with doubt I spoke my lovely friend Victoria who told me to imagine I was speaking to one little girl. The little girl who loved to read. Loved to write. Who wanted nothing more than to be an author. The little girl I once was who had her dreams crushed when the career advisor said writing was neither a ‘proper or viable career choice.’ And a quiet determination grew inside. If in some small way I could inspire one child to follow their dreams it would be worth any amount of anxiety I might feel.

img_9444This morning I stood in front of a sea of expectant faces. I locked eyes with my son. He’d been so excited I was visiting and I wanted to make him proud, not faint/vomit/cry and so I ignored the notes I’d made and I spoke from the heart. I spoke of my passion for writing, my love for my characters, how I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. I spoke of my belief that we can all be who we want to be, if only we dare to dream and never stop trying.

I asked the children questions. They asked me questions. Some had written them down, complete with illustrations. Most loved to read, to write, to fabricate stories and many of them dream of being authors and seeing that raw hope, that ambition, that certainty, I am sure they can do anything they set their minds to.

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It was a real privilege meeting these children and I came away hopeful, and inspired, and itching to write. It was such an enriching experience. I learned a lot about them, but I also learned a lot about me.