I have been a teacher since 1966 when I worked for a year in a girls’ grammar school in Surrey. This was followed by student teaching in a Remand Home, a Secondary Modern and at the remarkable Redhill School for high IQ ‘maladjusted’ boys run on modified Neillian lines in rural Kent.
Later that year (having survived an arrow wound and an assault with a large dictionary: a convergence from which I developed 48-hours of passive aggressive hiccups), I became Second in Charge and later Acting Head of the English department at South Hackney School, a comprehensive in east London.
Here I compiled what would now be described as a multi-cultural poetry anthology for school use. It was typed onto roneos by ‘Clerk Typist’ girls in the Fourth Year and subsequently adopted as a three volume anthology by Chatto and Windus until they sold their education list to Granada and it was abandoned.
After four years at South Hackney I worked at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. Here between 1971 and 1974 I taught English and American literature, an education course for trainee teachers and creative writing.
In summer 1973, on a grant from Northwestern, I worked at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, putting together education materials for rural schools in the state. The first of these packages was based on Tlingit Indian traditions. I then visited Point Hope, an Inupiaq (north Alaskan Eskimo) village to record stories for a companion project.
Over the following years while I was absorbed in ethnographic work in Point Hope, I would occasionally be invited into the school to tell ‘Eskimo stories’ to the Inupiaq students. One later product of this involvement was a school book about Point Hope social history which was commissioned by the North Slope Borough and the Alaska Humanities Forum.
I wrote this in 1988, but on account of a chapter about shamanism in the traditional culture, it was judged to be unsuitable. I learned recently that an inspirational teacher of long standing in the village was using a samizdat version of the book in her social studies classes. Meanwhile, thinking on the subject of shamanism in the Inupiaq administration has moved on, and I believe there are now plans to put this quite ordinary little book into production.
Returning to the UK in 1986, I began teaching at the Islington Sixth Form Centre and then at City and Islington (FE) College. For three years, I also held a class at H.M. Pentonville called ‘Bedsitter Cookery’ in which groups of 6 or 8 inmates came once a week to put together dishes which we cooked on two extremely primitive Baby Belling stoves in relatively cosy but quite squalid conditions. At Pentonville, I also taught English and, for a short time, Buddhist meditation.
For several years during the same period, I also gave occasional talks and seminars within university departments – in the US at Barnard College (New York), the universities of Washington and Alaska and in the UK at Edinburgh, Glasgow, various London university colleges and Cambridge.
For four years in the mid-1990s I also taught courses at Chelsea School of Art and Design. One class was about shamanism and its relationship tribal art, the other was on Buddhism. In 1993 I was Fellow of Writing at the University of Reading, where I gave the annual Finzi Memorial reading in the beautiful panelled room which holds the late Gerald Finzi’s library.
Most of my teaching over the past twenty years has been with multi-ethnic groups of mixed ability in Islington and Hackney. At City and Islington College, I taught ACCESS courses to students who would be applying, without A levels, to university.
I continue to teach – private students coming from the same north-east London constituency – and in addition to poetry readings, still occasionally give university seminars.