A bbc Interview with Paul Jenkins @teacherwriterPJ

Paul Jenkins is a former Head of Secondary Drama, now full-time writer and performance Poet delivering workshops in schools of all shapes and sizes throughout the country. 

What made you become a teacher?

       - It may sound a bit mercenary but I have to be honest - it was sheer bribery. I was looking for a new direction after emigrating from Essex to Lancashire in 2002 (they may as well be different countries as far as my Mum is concerned) and Gordon Brown was addressing the teacher shortage by dangling a range of different financial carrots to incentivise new teachers into the profession. Training bursaries, golden hellos and rewards for staying in the state sector were all on the table.

English & Drama were classed as shortage subjects and as I was an actor/performer the chance to have my student loan slowly paid off over ten years was too big an opportunity to pass up.

I enrolled on a brand new performing arts PGCE course that was being delivered by Liverpool Hope & LIPA - and the rest as they say is history.

Came in for the money - then realised its like the Hotel California - you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!

What is your favourite part of the job?
         - Has to be light bulb moments. When something finally clicks in the mind of someone you are teaching you can actively see the facial expressions change.

Today I was working with some nursery children on circus skills and the way the smile came across their face when they did something as simple as catching a ball was so rewarding. It was almost identical to that of someone in KS2 finally getting the concept of fractions or of a GCSE drama pupil nailing a monologue they've been working on for weeks - the eyes light up in exactly the same way. That reaction of 'Yes! I can do it!' is priceless and doesn't change - no matter how old your pupils are.

What has been best thing you have done at work this year?

         - I think because most of my work as a freelancer is short term, it was really great this year to complete a residency at St John's Primary in Wigan for a full four months preparing pupils for the SATS in May.

Over that time I got to work with their Year 5 & 6's - developing some greater depth with their high achievers, pulling up the confidence of the reluctant writers - even lending a hand out of my comfort zone with delivering some Maths lessons.

It made such a change to be able to develop proper relationships with the children and I'm not ashamed to say some tears were shed as I said goodbye to them all in May.

I'm also pleased to say that it appears to have had the desired effect as results for this years cohort of Year 6's rose from 38% achieving ARE for R/W/M last year to 63% this year. Seems the intervention had the desired effect!

What is the most frustrating thing about teaching at the moment?

         -  Politics. Plain & simple.

Teachers have traditionally been used as a football by politicians over the years but since 2010 it's reached epic proportions.

I'm very lucky in that as a visitor to schools I get very little of the added extra but I see so many good teachers struggling to keep their head above water. Workload, pensions, teacher pay, problems with recruitment, exam pressures, literacy directives - all of it adds up to extra stress in an already testing (see what I did there) profession.

Add on top of that the divisive 'Free vs Academy vs State vs Grammar' debate and you can understand why so many good people are leaving to do something more positive with their time.

Rant over.

What songs would be on your driving to work playlist?

          - Ha - here come the secrets confessions!

I sing on the way to a school every morning - I always have done.  It's the best way to get your vocal chords warmed up plus it puts you in a positive frame of mind. Chris Evans on Radio 2 usually serves me well and I regularly get odd looks from other drivers on the motorway.

Particular songs is difficult - we all have our own tastes and anything goes for me - I have everything from Ella Fitzgerald to Meatloaf on my phone playlist so it's always pretty varied when I put music on myself.

If by some chance you are giving me a lift and you stick some Blur or anything by the Beatles on then you are likely to make me a happy bunny.

What is the funniest thing a child has ever said/written in your class?

         - Everyday brings a giggle in some way - that's why we all keep coming back for more.

I'm not sure if anything stands out as being laugh out loud funny without the context of 'You had to be there' but I can definitely do the most bizarre.

I was once playing a description game with some Year 8's. The item to describe was a cat. The response from the boy in question? "It's like a bus, but with bigger wings"

Clearly a surrealist at heart.

What is your guilty pleasure?
- Pies. Lots and lots of pies. In order. Steak & Kidney, Pork, Apple, Cherry, Chicken & Mushroom.

I hold quite strong beliefs about pastry - for example I often complain if a restaurant tries to serve a pie with just a lid. Pies clearly have a bottom.

Also meat & potato is not an acceptable filling. It's too mushy. Potato has no place in a pie.  

It's also the source of my greatest fear. My mother is gluten intolerant and the condition may be hereditary.

If you weren´t a teacher, what would you be and why?

         - I'm not going to say writer because the joy of my job now is that I get to do both.

As much as I love politics and campaigning - I'm also pretty sure that I'm best off staying clear of being a politician. Too many chances to fall out with people!

One thing I would like to try properly one day is being a DJ - not a Fat Boy Slim mixing type of affair - more of a 6music Sunday afternoon show presenter. I listen to a lot of radio so I'd love to do that if I ever had the chance.

What are you passionate about (teaching-related or not)?

         - I didn't think I would ever become passionate about poetry and the impact it can have till a few years back. I stumbled into working as a poet through the National Literacy Trust when I  saw the impact that both Francesca Beard and Ian McMillan had with the kids we were working with on their 'Picture the poet' tour and was hooked. An audience's eyes light up when you use poetic language and being given masterclasses in crafting poems by two professionals was a big inspiration for me. Both Ian & Francesca gave me the confidence to call myself a poet and now I try and pass on that mantle to as many of the kids I teach as possible - they are tomorrow's playwrights, novelists and poets after all - it's great  to give them a bit of confidence in their own work with my 'teacherpoet hat' on. (Quite literally - I've got a hat specially for the occasion!)

If you had to pick one subject/topic to teach on a loop forever, what would it be?

         - I have a year 9 drama lesson I'm really proud of which focuses on staging realistic arguments and looks at raising tension in a performance. It's one of those sessions that is planned to perfection, timed exactly right and even has cross curricular elements thrown in (the lesson plan has PSHE relevant sections in it, literacy points scattered everywhere - there's even a graph demonstrating the correlation between anger & volume to cover maths, it hits that many buttons)

It's the intro lesson to my stage combat scheme of work too, so it's lots of fun to teach. I don't get to deliver it that often now i've moved out of secondary, but it's still burned on my brain ready for whenever I need it next!

What is the most effective resource/technology/app you use in the classroom?
         - I tend not to use them much actually  within the classroom. I love tech, don't get me wrong - I think some of the apps that are out there are great for lots of subjects - but most of my work still involves a series of brains, a drywipe pen and whiteboard for me and lots of pencils & paper.

Having said that there are some great apps out there to present and formulate finished pieces of work using tech - I've used GarageBand, iMovie, Adobe Spark & the Green screen app Veescope with classes before to create some brilliant presentations of their work.

With older pupils social media is also a vital tool I think for allowing them to publish their work and gain instant feedback in the same way that sites like Pobble can provide within a 'safe' environment for younger pupils. There's nothing better (and more frightening at the same time) as an artist as getting people to comment on your work!

The majority of the donkey work is still done with a pencil and paper though - and long may that continue!

What is the most effective routine/method/system you use in the classroom?

         - Sometimes the simplest things are the best. I use all the classics. The double tap on the desk for good work, the 'Thank you' at the end of an instruction to demonstrate expected compliance, even the age old countdown that goes from verbal to non verbal once we get down to three.

It's hard to nail it down because I work in so many different environments- a new group of year 10's need a totally different manner,approach and set of routines from a group of foundation stage kids. Just next month I'm going to do a session at a secure unit for boys where there will be another set of challenges to get to grips with.

Essentially the one thing that will work I've found is consistency - no matter how you choose to do it, set out your stall, draw out your lines in the sand and stick with them. Then whether they are 5 or 15 they will no what you need them to do.

If you had to pick 4 people (Twitter or otherwise) to invite to a dinner party who
would it be and why?

         - Harsh on so many who clearly want to come and experience my cooking but they'll just have to wait their turn outside I guess.... 😉

I'm going to pick out some of my heroes - they say you shouldn't meet them, but hey - they'll be busy eating amazing egg fried rice so I'm sure they'll all be lovely.

Tanni-Grey Thomson - we could chat sport, we could chat campaigning, we could chat about how she almost ran me over during the Great Manchester Run in 2008. She's on the list.

Lemn Sissay - technically my wife's boss as he's Chancellor at the University of Manchester but he's one hell of a powerful poet and from seeing him live I know he has stories to tell. He grabs seat number two.

David Attenborough - not just because I'd want him to talk to me for hours with that amazing voice, but I'd also like to pick his brains about broadcasting in general. And I may mention about the gorilla thing. Number 3 sorted.

The final place goes to Malala Yousafzi - you want someone to talk inspirationally about education over the after eights? Try having someone who's addressed the UN and won the Nobel peace prize at the age of 17.

That would be some dinner...In fact - I'm going to send out some invites right now...

What is the best and worst advice you have been given as a teacher?

- Worst first (ever the poet)

Day one - placement school one. An old school technology teacher who was 'teaching' the class I was shadowing.

"Tell them as a class once, then go round and tell them individually a second time to make sure they understand. If they don't get it after that, don't waste your time"

I found that he retired at the end of that year. Such a loss to the profession.

As for the best advice - this was from an RQT to a group of new inductees at the very end of my training year.

"Never forget - there are thirty of them and one of you - if they chose to, they COULD kill you"

I have been on my toes ever since.

Final Question: What drives you as a teacher?

- It's the totally unpredictable nature of the job. No matter how much you plan - life, events, the weather, even a single wasp can change the course of what you are doing in a day. You work with people everyday who (on the whole) are happy to see you and you can see first hand a concrete difference that you can make in someone's life. Sometimes that small contribution can have massive consequences and turn someone's whole life around. There's no better job  than that.


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