Tag Archives: Schools

The Power of Telling Our Stories

I was thirty-eight years old when I first visited San Francisco.

Walking against the evening rush-hour we came to rest at a bookstore; my partner Mike submerged himself in historical texts, but my gaze was caught by an untidy pile marked ‘young readers.’

I uncovered a book cover featuring two men seated in a wooden boat; a young boy pictured in front of them feeding two white water birds; the cover read ‘Daddy’s Roommate-written and illustrated by Michael Willhoite.’

Intrigued I began to read…about a boy living between his mother and his father separately. Father had a new roommate (Frank) and together they undertook regular activities: working, sleeping, eating and occasionally having disagreements. Father and Frank took the boy to the beach, zoo and baseball. Later in the book, the boy asked Mother about Father and Frank; Mother explained that they were ‘gay’- simply another form of love. The book ended with the boy’s acknowledgement that since all of his parents were happy, he was happy too.

My tears came suddenly and relentlessly; fortunately Mike spotted it.

‘Are you ok?’ he enquired.

‘I’m thirty-eight years old and for the first time in my life I have read a book that, had I read it as a child, it might have made me feel like I belonged in this world’. I blubbed messily.

At primary school, despite knowing that I fancied Benny (not Frida) from the pop group Abba and Sean Connery (not Ursula Andress) in the film ‘Dr No’, I (like many others), was provided with not a single book at school or at home that helped me understand identity.

My transit through state education was punctuated with homophobia, bullying and beatings, so sustained and overwhelming that my story very nearly ended at the age of seventeen.

Diverse human children must experience diverse stories and role models to feel welcomed, validated, celebrated and natural, yet it took thirty-eight years to see my own experience of life on Earth reflected in any children’s books.

May 17th is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, an opportunity to explore identities histories, experiences and suffering of those who identify as LBGT+ and to stand as allies in the ongoing struggle against hate.

Ten years of facilitating LGBT+ inclusion in schools has shown me that prejudice-related bullying can be targeted at anyone who is perceived as ‘different’. We are all naturally diverse and therefore all potential targets.

In 2009 my primary school uncovered (via pupil data) that 75% of our children were experiencing bullying related to LGBT+ identities, whether or not they identified as LGBT+.

As a school leader I had a simple choice; ignore the data and be negligent or be pro-active.

9781472961501.jpgUnable to source relevant training at primary level I devised an LGBT+ inclusion teacher training programme, delivering it to over one hundred staff. I also sourced books for our classrooms about diverse identities, including ‘Daddy’s Roommate’ the very same book that had once moved me to tears.

 

Shaun Dellenty is an independent education trainer and inspirational keynote speaker who has been working to positively prevent LGBT+ and identity-based prejudice in the UK education system since 2009. His debut book, Celebrating Difference, publishes on 30th May.

Joshua Seigal on visiting schools as a poet

For me, the best thing about being a professional poet is not actually writing poetry. It is being afforded the regular opportunity to perform my poems to children, and to visit schools where I help them write their own. Here is a list of some of the most memorable things that I have experienced during school visits:

Experiencing a giant group hug whilst visiting a Reception class. The more I wailed “help!” the more kids joined in, and the more the teacher laughed.

The time a child told me that he lived in a buffalo. I was totally mystified, until it dawned on me later that he’d meant ‘bungalow’.

The time a child yelled out “custard man!” in the middle of my assembly performance. I asked him afterwards what he meant, and he didn’t appear to know. He simply blurted it out. This really tickled me, and I now regularly tell this story as part of my performance routine. (In the same assembly, another child asked me the bizarre question, “if you were a monkey, what kind of astronaut would you be?”)

Being presented with a ‘thank you letter’ by a group of year 2 children, in which they had spelt my name ‘Goshoowar’.capture-2

Teaching a child in Year 5 called Tyrone, who hated writing. After my visit, his teacher told me that he simply could not stop writing poetry, at break time, lunch time, and even in class when he was supposed to be doing other things. He simply had to get it out.

Teaching a girl in Year 7 called Precious, who wrote an amazing p
em about her experience as a black person. My workshop wasn’t on this theme; she simply wrote the poem in her own time and decided to show it to me. I entered it for her into a competition, where it was shortlisted.

Undertaking long-term work at Plashet School in East London. Last year I compiled a group of students’ poems into an anthology, which helped raise £500 for the charity Care 4 Calais.

Running a poetry workshop on the theme of ‘what if’. The intention was to write humorous and playful poetry, but the best thing about workshops is that students often deviate from what I expect, and come up with their own ideas (heaven forbid!). Here is a wonderful, and sad, poem produced by a boy called Giacomo in Year 6:

 

What If…

 

What if when I’m older I fail

What if when I’m older I don’t have

any money

What if when I’m older I get lost

and become homeless

What if when I’m older my wife

and children die in a fire and my

house has gone

what if when I’m older

my body gets cancer

what if when I’m older

I’m forced to fight a war

What if I’m in Afghanistan

And get killed at a firing squad

What if when I’m older

I never get married and live alone

What if I could stay a child.

Joshua Seigal is a poet, performer and workshop leader who spends his time visiting schools, libraries and theatres around the country and beyond. He has taken critically-acclaimed poetry shows to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, but usually ends up performing in front of his mirror, using a hairbrush as a microphone. He has managed to gain the minimal skills required to make his own website – www.joshuaseigal.co.uk.

Available from Bloomsbury Education:

I Don’t Like Poetry 

Little Lemur Laughing  (publishes 9th March 2017)