Sometimes it’s just nice to smile and say ‘hi’


Tonight, I met the sort of person I want to teach, or not so much teach as to help foster and facilitate their wonderful ideas.

I was in a quiet but public space marking undergraduate essays on my little laptop and a young fella entered the room. I looked up, smiled, said ‘Hi’, and carried on.

After a few moments, he asked if I was writing a script. To make sure I heard correctly and wasn’t imagining being mistaken for a screenwriter, I said, ‘Sorry?’ and he repeated. Was I a writer, was I writing a script? I said I had no such luck, that I was marking essays. He said he likes writing scripts. He’s not very good, but he loves it. He asked me if drafting made them better, and I said yes and elaborated on why I thought that and what strategies might help. He asked was I an English teacher. I said no, I teach film. 

‘I love film!’ he exclaimed. He said it was his favourite thing and he’s really passionate about it. He talked about his admiration for The Silence of the Lambs. He seemed around late teens, no older than early twenties, so I was delighted that he’d heard of it, and thrilled by his passion. He said he watches films all the time, and it turned out he is particularly drawn to complex characters. That is what he focuses on most in his writing, but finds it very hard and repeated that he wasn’t very good, he struggled in school. 

He mentioned that he left school in year 10 and home-schooling was attempted for a while, but it didn’t work. I asked if he works and he said he is a carer for a sick man. It was hard work but rewarding and he learns a lot. He said it’s hard because this man is quite nasty and difficult. I said that’s a shame. He said it’s not his fault, that he’s had a difficult life and it’s not personal. He is drawn to grey characters – those with some good in them as well as some bad.

The young man telling me all this stank of booze and checked his phone continually as we talked. He was polite, enthusiastic, thoughtful, determined to fulfil his passion even though he found it hard and has no confidence. He said he enjoyed talking to me. I got the sense he’s not listened to very often. I am in a relatively privileged place where I do get listened to quite a lot by family, friends, and even a few folk in academia. This is the sort of person written off by society before they’ve had the chance to become themselves, and he’s still bloody giving it all a go, on his own. He is inquisitive and willing to learn. His ideas sounded considered and pretty good to me. I told him to keep trying; he’ll get there in his own time. 

I suggested a few techniques. He seemed to know his best approaches having tried a few things already. I asked if he ever collaborates or talks his ideas out with someone. He said he does it alone, he has no support.  I suggested seeking out online communities or local societies or groups, and in my head was thinking this is what I could be good at; meeting with this sort of person and using my training to support and foster them on their terms at their pace without having to fecking mark anything, just feed back and encourage progress and learning.

If I were independently wealthy, or could be sponsored in some way, this is the sort of thing I would have a go at. There are people who deserve more for whom academic structures and qualifications are not suitable. To make a generalized assumption, this is someone many would look at and disregard, someone of little worth, someone uneducated who can barely string a sentence together. But our brief conversation revealed a considerate person with the capacity to know and understand the complexities of human nature and various storytelling media; a person who, regardless of his limited vocabulary, communicated his ideas effectively and showed an ability to think independently and critically, and to have ideas. 

We ought to be cultivating the minds of those who are willing learn in whatever way works for them at whatever stage in life instead of trying to get students to learn how best to pass assignments that stifle their creativity and restrict opportunities for them to fulfil their potential in a system that sets many of us up to fail.


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