Feature Articles

THE WRITER IN THE CLASSROOM by Paddy O'Connor

(Poetry Ireland News, March/April 2002)

In most Irish schools there are young people who are aspiring writers. They write, not because they are forced to, but because writing is important to them. Writing, by John W Sextonits nature, tends to be a lonely occupation, and it can so often be an activity carried on almost surreptitiously. Many young writers dedicate themselves to their craft and accept the loneliness as part of the territory. Often they are unaware that there may be others in the school who are just as passionate about writing as themselves. The Poetry Ireland Writers In Schools/Writers In Residence initiative has been a light in the darkness for many of our students. As participants in the scheme they have had the opportunity to meet and work with established living authors; they have had a forum for their work; and they have been able to share ideas with their contemporaries who are also aspiring writers.

Friends are important for all of us but perhaps they are most important for us in our youth. The residencies have encouraged young writers into the open where they have discovered the support that will encourage them to hone and develop their talents into the future. Because they now have an audience, their writing becomes something shared and what may have, up to now, been a need to write, becomes something joyous as well as necessary.

On the 26th of January Poetry Ireland held a National Forum, in Larkin College, in Dublin to examine the development of the Writers In Schools Scheme and to chart a course for the future. Writers from all over the country were present and it was wonderful to witness their energy and commitment. Our schools are indeed fortunate to have so many established artists prepared to guide our young people in developing their writing skills.

John W. Sexton was the writer who ran the workshops in Beara Community School. Careful planning and flexibility as well as a sense of humour were the key elements contributing to the success of John’s residency! As the weeks went by a sense of openness and trust developed and one of the rewards for me was watching the growth in the commitment and confidence of the students. They brought work individually to John and discussed their work with each other. Most were surprised and gratified to see that so many of their peers had already been writing or had really wanted to begin. The residency brought something special to our school and to our students and the teachers found it energising and inspiring.

Cicero is reputed to have said, “Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents and everyone is writing a book.” Whether or not any of these students will go on to write books is not important. What does matter is the fact that those who took part shared in the opening of “windows of wonder” and their lives have been enriched as a result. That is something for all of us to celebrate.

Paddy O’Connor is the former Vice-Principal of Beara Community School, Castletownbere, Co. Cork. He now works with Edu-care (Employee Assistance Service for Teachers).

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