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Just Me: Teacher Writing

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Date Submitted:
02/12/2013 02:57 AM
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The scheme, which aims to go fully nationwide soon, has some heavy literary backing from the likes of Philip Pullman and Zadie Smith. "First Story is a very exciting idea," Pullman says. "Having been a teacher myself, I know how writing – real writing, not the artificial exercises produced in tests and examinations – can liberate and strengthen young people's sense of themselves as almost nothing else can."

It's a sentiment echoed by Fiennes. The writer has spent the past three years teaching at a school in Hounslow. "Initially, the pupils' output was pretty limited," he recalls, "lots of stories about vampires and murderers, endless Da Vinci Code rip-offs, but the kids I was teaching were often Sikh and Punjabi, with rich backgrounds, and full of real, raw voices. The task was to find those voices. And we have, which is wonderful, because writing should be available to everybody."

Poet Kate Clanchy, who has been a teacher for many years, was approached by Fiennes last year, and immediately said yes. She is now into her second year as a First Story tutor, in Oxford. "People think of Oxford as purely white and middle class, but the areas around it, Cowley especially, are not like that at all," she says. "In fact, Cowley is an EU designated area of poverty, and extraordinarily racially mixed. It's like Hackney."

Clanchy believes that the importance of such classes in places such as Cowley cannot be overstated. "Going to after-school class is a very middle-class pursuit," she says. "And yes, it can be difficult to encourage kids to turn up when school has finished to do even more work, but not impossible. And that's why the anthology is so important."
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