A Tale With a Twist

** This story originally appeared in Tincture Journal, Issue 3 **

The Set-up

The author sat down to type up a short story when he/I thought it was weird to talk about himself/myself in the third person – so I stopped. I wanted my story to mean something, for people to think it worthwhile. I thought that if my protagonist had a common name like Jack or Ben or Hans then more people would identify with him. In the end I decided to call him The Man – I would like to point out at this time that he is not “the man” like “Let’s stick it to the man” but the man as in a generic everyman. Anyway…

The Story

The night was dark and foreboding (in the story, not where I was writing the story). The Man walked the lonely streets while Nature planned its attack. In every alley and laneway pockets of wind lay in waiting. Storm clouds bulging with heavy rain lurked behind the tall skyscrapers. Blinding mists silently stalked their prey.

The Man continued on oblivious. 

Several events occurred between this point and the next but as they were not essential to plot or character development they were omitted.

On the train the man sat alone. He watched the homeward bound crowd. Among them the Zombies lounged in their school uniform. They chewed gum, communicated in monosyllabic grunts and, to The Man at least, appeared in dire need of brains. He sat quietly so as not to alert the Zombies to his presence and prayed to the absence of God that they wouldn’t get off at his station.

An Aside

I cringed a little when I re-read the remark about God or the lack thereof. It’s like it needs a disclaimer stressing that the comments presented are not necessarily those of the publisher – like you get with commentaries on DVDs. I also disappointed myself when I made the Zombies a metaphor. Literal zombies are so much fun! Imagine the different similes I could have used to describe the decomposing, disfigured masses. I read a story once where a zombie’s entrails hung (hanged?) from above him so that he resembled a marionette. But I digress…

The Bit in the Story Where The Man Walks Home and Finds Someone in His House

Neither Zombie nor Nature attacked The Man on his way home (although now I’ve introduced them, I could have either play the chief antagonist – but I won’t). From the train station it was a short walk to his street, where all of the houses were cut from the same mold. His curiosity was roused when his sensor light failed to detect his presence and piqued when he noticed his door was ajar. Unaware of the cries that came (are coming?) from an audience that have seen enough horror movies to know better, The Man cautiously entered his house.

“Hello,” he called, alerting The Intruder to his exact location. “Is anyone there?”

“No,” came the reply.

“That’s a relief.” The Man, feeling more relaxed now that he knew he was alone, went into the kitchen to make himself a hot drink.

The phone rang. The Intruder answered it. The Man sipped his coffee.

“Hey. Howdy. Hi. You must be the guy. Why don’t you reply? Are you too shy?”

The Intruder was taken aback by the voice on the other end of the line. When he’d woken up that morning he had his whole day planned out. He had envisioned doing a bit of shopping and catching up with his mum before breaking into The Man’s house and killing him upon his return from work. At no point did he expect to be harassed by a salesman of the Dr. Seuss variety.

“I’m sorry.”

“Word to the wise – don’t apologise. Just listen to my lies, you’ll be…”

The Intruder hung up and walked away from the phone and toward the kitchen. He cradled the carving knife that he had liberated from there earlier and, turning it over in his hands, he slowly, silently crept to where the man sipped his coffee.

A Realisation

At this point I’ve realised two things. 1 – The Intruder’s mother is the first confirmed female within the story and yet, at this stage, she has only received a passing mention. 2 – The Intruder seems to have taken over the protagonist role from The Man; an interesting development. Perhaps we should explore these two characters further.

Lunch (as a reference to the rough time period not the actual eating of a meal)

Mother sat in front of the television and counted down the hours until her death. She cared neither for knitting nor bingo and so she spent her twilight years alone watching a seemingly endless stream of soap operas. She heard the soft jingle of keys at the front door.

“You’re late,” she called.

   “I didn’t even tell you I was coming,” The Intruder replied.

“It’s been thirty seven days since your last visit. Regardless of the time, you are late. Are you still a disappointment to me?”

The Intruder contemplated the ramifications of each potential response to the question and decided instead to change the subject. “Have you read any good books lately?” Was what he meant to ask. Instead, he asked “Have you bred any good rooks lately?”

Mother was not amused. “Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

The Intruder left, The Man would finish work soon and the element of surprise would be lost if he did not beat him home.

Time

This pause is so that I can return to the time period from the beginning of the story after that sojourn into the past. Interestingly, I am writing this in the present which will be the past when you read it in the future.

The End?

The Man sipped his coffee with his back facing the opening from which The Intruder came. Unbeknownst to either of them, The Man had spilled some coffee on the floor. The Intruder slipped on this and fell upon the knife he intended to kill The Man with. With his busy work schedule, The Man failed to notice The Intruder’s body for several weeks. By this time the body had decomposed somewhat and had also proved a tasty snack for the house-mice, ants and other assorted beasties. It was no surprise then, that The Man did not recognise The Intruder despite their sibling relationship.

TEDx and the City of Mandurah

** morning thoughts **


Same numbers, different order.


It’s currently 2021 and I’m about to walk on stage for the inaugural TEDxMandurah. I’m the first speaker, first cab off the rank. The nerves are pretty high but there’s a calmness there too, a serenity under the surface.

I’m prepared for this. I’ve written my talk, made modifications, rehearsed, received feedback, rewritten bits, rehearsed and rehearsed some more. I’m ready. I just need to remind myself of this.


Flashback 9 years. It’s 2012. That time, I wasn’t speaking. That time, I was coordinating a TEDx event.
With the help of a good mate, we ran a TEDx event in a public school. We did it again the following year, and I did it again a few years later.

I made mistakes as part of this process. I failed to recognise the quality of the brand and sought not to present the best talks but to present as many talks as I could. My mission was to provide students with the opportunity.
We were denied further licenses.


Flash forward to now and I am so glad to be able to take part in another TEDx experience.
I’m hoping I rock this.

A number of people have put a whole lot of effort into ensuring this day runs as smoothly as possible. I’m hoping I reach a quality that rewards their faith in me. I’m hoping I reach a quality that justifies the hours they have sacrificed to make this event possible.


** the talk **

It went well. If you’re interested, you can read the script here. Not that I stuck to it fully.


I can’t wait for the videos to be uploaded so I can share it with people who couldn’t attend today.

I’d also like to take a moment to say that I paint a picture of my childhood which might be taken poorly. What I list in my talk are facts, beyond those particular experiences I felt nothing but loved and supported.

** more thoughts, less me **


I’m going to try to encapsulate some of the other speaker’s talks here. I know, however, that whatever I write will not truly reflect how awesome they are. Please watch the videos once they’re uploaded.


Tom spoke after me. He is an awesome advocate for autistic people and recounted some truly alarming stories about the injustice some autistic people face. The statistics he gave point to a need to revise the way the judicial system processes cases, and the need for counselling and education to be the preferred option over incarceration.


His TEDx journey has been filled with uplifting moments and, in the process of writing and rehearsing his talk, he has been an inspiration to autistic youngsters as well as some people who weren’t diagnosed until later in life.

Nerida spoke just before morning tea. Honestly, it’s remarkable that she was even able to take the stage after being hospitalised in the lead up to the day. She is one of many speakers I’m in absolute awe of. Hers was a personal story about physical and mental health, the sacrifices we make, and the need to appreciate the people who see us for who we truly are.


Ella graced the stage after the first break. She is one of the four speakers under 21 years of age – along with Tom, Lily and Xanthe. Listening to their achievements is jaw-dropping. I am twice their age and haven’t done as much as they have. Ella spoke about the science and ethics of genetically modified organisms. She presented some alarming statistics about pesticides and the number of people worldwide who suffer from undernutrition.


Following her was the first Michelle of the day. Hers is the only talk that a friend of mine took notes from. It makes sense. Hers was a talk that was relevant for everyone and came with practical advice.

Michelle is a practised speaker and she seems so comfortable on the stage. Part of this comfort and confidence comes from the fact that she knows her stuff. So when she gives you 3 tips to sleep (and live) better, you listen.


Just before lunch was Rebecca, a fellow writer. She spoke about the rare condition that plagued her brother, her own bipolar and her son’s autism. While the talk got very serious and very emotional at points, the takeaway was one of hope.

After lunch was Claire. Her talk was part science, part creativity. But, when you’ve got a personality like Claire’s then you know the creativity is the bigger of the two parts. She finished her talk with some experimental music made mostly from leaves and toys.


Candice, the waste tragic, was next. I’m not big on garbage – I try to make sure things get in the recycling bin but, ultimately, I’m pretty naive when it comes to waste management. That said, Candice’s talk was about more than that. It’s not just about where things go when we dispose of them, it’s the water and electricity and so on that goes in to making those products.


Then Wongy came on. I think she was a bit surprised that the majority of the crowd seemed somewhat willing to do a burpee. Somewhat. I still think most of us were happy that she was the only person to actually do one.


She’s passionate about educational reform, specifically the need to acknowledge and accommodate the learning difficulties that impact on students’ ability to sit inside of the box of traditional schooling. More so, she spoke of the benefits of physical movement on our ability to think.

Lilijana was the first speaker of the final session. Anyone who is concerned about today’s youth needs to look at Lily (and our other young speakers) and they will see the future is in good hands. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to meet and stand alongside such a fantastic and inspiring young human. Plus, I’ve been teaching for over 16 years yet Lil taught me something about the education system that I didn’t even know.


The remarkable Sue Edge was next. She is the Bobblehead Nanna. Sue is another inspirational person – and so funny too! Her talk was emotional, but uplifting, and her delivery would’ve been at home at a comedy gala. Sue’s PD has had plenty of negative effects, and her medical plan sounds onerous, but she has found many positives have come from her diagnosis – mostly, it has opened up her creative processes and abilities.

Finally, Xanthe spoke. She is unconventional, to say the least. With that, though, comes confidence and composure from years of having to think for herself. Being unschooled has provided her with opportunities many young people never get. And, an opportunity is what this was – Xanthe was a last minute call up to replace one of the original speakers. She spoke incredibly well despite the fact she needed her script on stage with her (not that she looked at it much).


** final thought **

It was such a privilege and pleasure to be a part of today. Much love and respect to all those who graced the stage and allowed themselves permission to speak up about their passions, motivations and hiccups. Massive thanks to Jackie, Esther and Megan for their many hours of dedication and preparation. Thanks also to all the volunteers, without whom we simply couldn’t have had an event at all. ❌🔴

Change the story, change the world

Morphability: to follow is the script from my talk at TEDxMandurah 2021

(Sing-song) Good morning/afternoon everybody .

And just like that, you are starting to construct a story about me in your head. Your own experiences and memories tell you that I am a teacher simply because of the sing-song way I said hello. You might also see my tattoos and assume that I work in the public sector with the belief that conservative private schools might frown upon such “decorations”. 

This is what we do – we make judgements and assumptions about others before we get to know them and in some instances, we continue to predict the actions and reactions of people after we’ve known them for years because, in our heads, we have created stories about who we believe them to be. In part we do this to protect ourselves and others, to shelter people from things we think may harm them. But, over time, we lessen our grip on this version of reality. As parents we do this the most as we fret over our children swimming, riding a bike, hanging out unsupervised, moving out and so on. Eventually we see that our children are more capable than we imagined – we realise that we have sheltered them from the pains of growing (that include failing and learning) and sheltered ourselves from the realisation that they won’t need us forever.

Beyond that, we even make up stories about ourselves. 

Here is a quote from one of my favourite authors: “If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become part of someone else’s.”

This was Terry Pratchett. Sir Terry Pratchett whose works are the basis of this tattoo. This one, Stephen King. Here, JK Rowling. On my ribs, Neil Gaiman, and on my back, TS Eliot.

You see, I am fascinated by fiction – I quite literally wear my love of literature on my sleeve – but I also use my tattoos to tell a story about myself. Mainly, that I am a massive nerd with more money than sense. On a more serious level, they tell of my passion for my subject area – I am an English teacher after all. 

But we all love stories. Our brains are wired to be receptive to narratives in all of their forms. Don’t believe me? Try telling yourself just one more chapter before bed. Or one more episode. Or one more level.

But, long before video games, tv shows and movies. Even before the written word, we as a species still loved stories – except, they were delivered like this:

[sit at the top of the circle/splodge]

Early man often sat like this, in a circle, warmed by a fire. We would tell tales to each other. We would share stories of where to go to find food or shelter, where not to go if you wanted to stay alive, and we had narratives to describe natural phenomena before we had the scientific evidence to explain it in any other way.

Today you will hear stories from a variety of speakers. We all have stories that would instigate change. For some of us, we are telling that story for the first time. For others, we have told it hundreds of times already and we are hoping to join your voice to the chorus.

Now, I can’t physically invite you onto the stage but I am extending an invitation to join my circle. I am inviting you to hear me, truly hear me, as I tell a story or two. Starting with a poem:

In the beginning,

there was nothing.

All stories begin this way.

Think of it as an empty page

or an empty stage

filled with nothing but possibilities.

One of these

sees a deity create heaven and earth

in just under a week

and then,

feeling blessed,

he rests.

In another,

the Sun Mother

wakes all the sleeping spirits of the earth

while, elsewhere,

the evolution of the universe

is like a tree

growing ever so slowly,

starting in darkness

and stretching out into the light.

Or it might have been

the explosion of a tiny bubble

thousands of times smaller than the head of a pin

that caused what we know of as life and matter

to begin.

Speaking, again, of beginnings

and we as a country

started much the same

when you consider

one of the names for Australia

we’ve come to challenge was

Terra nullius.

A vast expanse of nothingness

belonging to nobody,

at least, that’s how the story went.

It was a tale long told

and only in our recent history

has it changed,

that we acknowledge

that we are not a young country

but we are one country occupied by many people,

one and free.

What other stories have we

reworked and revised?

Well, once upon a time

a woman would be accused of witchcraft,

burned at the stake

if she read,

and later,

she might be given a bed

in an institution for similarly simple things.

Some of us still struggle with the idea

of a woman in a workplace

that doesn’t involve apron strings

or that a woman who

kicks, shoots or hits a ball

should be celebrated as much as a man.

But, the story changes,

evolves one bit at a time –

changes like bath water

so that when we are comfortable

we forget the sting of when it was scalding

or so that despite our initial comfort

things are now icy.

The civil rights movements didn’t end racism

but they started conversation,

opened up lines of communication

we never previously considered,

and gave voice to those who were rarely listened to.

You see, culture is simultaneously shaping and being shaped

by the stories we tell

but not all stories are told as well as others.

What voices still haven’t been heard?

How attentively do we listen to those we hear now?

Because even a judge will tell you how

Ignorance doesn’t absolve you of a crime.

But, if we change our perceptions,

change the story,

we can change the world

one word at a time.

[Thank you.] I talk near the end of that poem about our fictional worlds being shaped by and likewise shaping the real world around it. I’d like to prove that before delving into things a little more personal and, perhaps, more relevant to you. How will I prove it? With fairy tales.

I should think we’re all familiar with the tale of a little girl dressed in red who has to walk through a forest to get to her grandmother’s house. Along the way she meets a wolf and divulges where she is headed. When she finally arrives at her grandmother’s door… well, that depends on which version you know.

In some the wolf has killed the granny; in others, merely tied her up. In some he eats the little girl too but in others she’s unharmed. In most she’s saved by a woodsman of sorts – a hunter or lumberjack usually. In one she has a gun and saves herself. In another she weds the wolf, tames it with her own budding sexuality. And, in my personal favourite, the wolf tricks the girl into getting in bed with him but she manages to escape by telling him she needs to poo. So, I know of at least 11 different versions of the Red Riding Hood tale and am aware of maybe another 3 or 4 that are set in different countries and so many of the key elements differ – it might be a bear instead of a wolf for example, a golden jacket instead of a red hood. Even one of the stories of Thor and Loki is strikingly similar to this classic fairy tale.

Regardless, each generation and location sought to depict societal concerns. As didactic tales, most of these lend themselves to a pretty obvious moral lesson: don’t talk to strangers, listen to your parents, looks can be deceiving. Some have been shaped with particular agendas, mostly feminist ones, with a goal of rewriting the story with a stronger female lead more in line with modern sensibilities. The world changed and so the story changed, and through the consumption and discussion of the story the world changes anew. 

The story of Red Riding Hood has aged and evolved – much like we do.

Here are some stories I’ve been told and some I’ve told myself:

You’ll never be good enough.

You’re a bad influence.

Boys don’t cry.

You’re worthless.

The world would be better off if you weren’t in it.

There’s no point even trying; you’ll never be successful.

You see, I come from a broken home. I have waited at the window for a dad who never came. My mum went away and when she returned we lived a nomadic lifestyle for much of my childhood, living in a caravan and constantly moving. Fights were common; some fights I’ve seen have been permanently imprinted on my brain, some fights I’ve been in I am incredibly ashamed of. Alcoholism and casual drug use were part of the environment and a family friend who was also once a housemate died with a needle in his arm. I have lost an uncle, an auntie and a friend to suicide. There are skeletons crowding my family closet. And none of my immediate family are tertiary educated.

So, when I was in year 10 I had a career meeting with my year coordinator and I told her I wanted to be an English teacher. She laughed. She didn’t think that career path was likely. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Stephen King, William Golding and Robert Frost (all teachers before their writing careers took off) and, as the oldest grandchild and the brother of a sibling roughly 13 years my junior, I had plenty of opportunity to see that I was good with kids. More than that, I was a rebel. Proving her wrong was a way of saying “screw you”. And, the “screw you” is still part of conversations today. I hate the injustice that occurs when people twist things to suit themselves and disadvantage others. I hate that empty feeling inside when I don’t feel valued. Before my uncle and aunty took their own lives I had suicide ideation. Their deaths form part of that conversation. They were a wake up call. Since then, whenever I’ve had those thoughts, I have told myself “screw you”, you deserve to live AND you deserve the best life. 

But, if you look at where I started from and the events and issues that have informed my upbringing, you can see where my year coordinator was coming from. Add to that the fact that my reputation wasn’t great and I’d recently been suspended and threatened with expulsion and her viewpoint makes even more sense.

Admittedly, my starting point isn’t as far back as some have started. I’m a white, heterosexual male; that automatically gives me a leg up. I check my privilege at the door. But, someone with the biographical details I listed before isn’t expected to follow the trajectory my life has followed. The key word there is EXPECTED.

You see, societal and personal expectations have the potential to be quite overbearing. The way we phrase our story can limit our opportunities. So I changed mine. I was determined that I was going to be a teacher and I wasn’t about to let someone take that dream away from me. I could have. Easily. Having someone in a position of power laugh at your choices certainly brings you down. It would have been easy to throw it all in. I see this, very much, as my sliding doors moment. In one life, I probably gave up on my dreams, found a job  more suitable to my social standing and lived a life that ultimately felt unfulfilled. In this one, I persevered, overcame a number of obstacles; even slept in the back of my car or in hostels or on people’s couches and spare beds out of necessity so I could finish my studies. To paraphrase a commercial from the 90s; it didn’t happen overnight but it did happen.

I’ve been a teacher now for over 16 years, but what I hope I’m teaching more than content is the fact that we need to question the stories we tell and the stories we hear.

In my opening poem I hinted at some of the changes to the way society responds to race and sex, and there are still plenty of revisions and reworkings to be made there too. I didn’t even touch on gender or refugees or the disabled. There are still a number of marginalised people waiting for their story to be heard.

Beyond that, we need to question all of the outdated stories that still exist in the world. When I asked my friends some of the stories that they have told themselves or that society has told them, they said things like:

I’m too old… too old to learn new things.

I’m too young… whatever I have to say is irrelevant.

Real men should… a stable adult should… women should…

Life goals everyone should aim for include a good education, a high paying job, home ownership, and material goods.

If you’ve got cancer/anxiety/depression then how can you…

All of these things are restrictive. Once upon a time an old man learned nothing, a young woman with an idea worth spreading kept quiet,  and a person with an invisible illness suffered in silence for fear of not being believed.

We have to understand that this is not how things have to be. If everyone is the exception to the rule, then the rule will change. Journeys begin with a single step; floods begin with a single raindrop. We don’t have to accept things for how they are. We can change the story.

I teach for one reason and one reason only: I want to make a difference. I don’t want others to have their dreams crushed like mine almost were; I want to be the dream enhancer. So, I provide a safe space for students to speak their mind, to try new things and to be themselves. I listen – really listen, and by doing so they feel valued and understood. And it’s a two way street. So when they feel valued by me, they see value in me. They listen then, as I encourage them to be open minded, adventurous and autonomous; to question things and not just follow along because that’s the way things have always been done.

I also believe that the difference I make is not limited to the students in front of me. They are the pond and I can be anything from a delicate feather landing softly to a boulder smashing through the surface and the ripples of my influence will be felt in places I will never see.  

You don’t have to be a teacher to have this influence. You can have it in your homes and in your communities. You can brighten someone’s day with a smile. You can accept someone’s differences as a part of who they are, consciously reminding yourself to do so until it becomes automatic. Prove that you can be a better person, not just through your beliefs but through your actions and reactions. Realise that you always always have a choice. YOU can help change the story and, by doing so, you can change the world. It starts with an open mind. And it starts today. 

In Solidarity: #March4Justice

Today I am dressed all in black. I wish that I could say that this is because I’m cosplaying as Westley from The Princess Bride or that I’m working backstage at the theatre. Sadly, I am wearing this out of protest, because a stand needed to be made.


Australia is supposed to be the Lucky Country but it appears that it’s only lucky for those who have a penis. You only have to look at the statistics to see this.


And so, today, thousands of people across Australia will march in protest of violence against women, sexual misconduct and misogyny. These protests have been triggered by high profile incidents in our nation’s capital.

I can’t march; I will be at work.


Instead, I am wearing all black, matching the outfit protesters have been urged to wear. I do this in solidarity with the victims of sexual harassment and violence. I do this to show that I support the need for women to feel safe in their workplaces, their homes and in public.


I do this, not because I am a husband and a father, but because I am a human being with human emotions that wants other humans to be able to live their lives without fear of being pestered and attacked.

Beyond that, I want people who have suffered in this way to feel as though justice will be served.


Rape culture and victim blaming are part of the problem. So too is the language we use around sexual assault.


Today’s marches won’t bring about immediate change but, for each small step the protesters make, I’m hoping society will take a giant leap in the right direction – towards a safer world for everyone.

The Labours of Ron Barton

My Year 8s are currently studying myths and I got to wondering what my resume would look like as a Herculean story. Yes, I’m that weird. Anyway, here it is:

Once upon a time, several years ago, there was a young man who wasn’t very good at school. His name was Ron Barton. He was clever, there was no doubt about that – he was in PEAC in his youth and was in and out of extension classes during high school – but he was disengaged and disinterested when it came to learning.

    Then, one day, he had a meeting with an oracle of sorts. Her proper title was year coordinator but she acted like she knew all and could tell the future. When Ron said he would like to be a teacher when he grew up she laughed. He was determined though, and someone telling him he couldn’t do something was exactly what this rebellious teenager needed. 

    As he matured, Ron decided he didn’t want to be just a teacher, he wanted to be a damn good one. In the process of earning his teaching degree Ron had many mentors. One saw his potential and informed him that he would need to complete many labours if he wanted to be known as an inspirational educator. She set him on the path to demonstrating his Professional Knowledge, Professional Practice and Professional Engagement.

    Before Ron had a chance to engage with his passion (English) he first had to prove that he was capable of teaching outside of his area of expertise. Already disadvantaged by his lack of subject knowledge, Ron was also hindered by physical injury. Despite having never studied it at university, Ron’s first challenge was to teach Physical Education while on crutches – he had broken his leg playing amatuer basketball. Fortunately, he was a passionate educator. He understood that there are many ways to foster a productive and enjoyable learning environment and that letting your passion show (whether it’s a love for the subject area, topic of discussion, the role teachers play in shaping today’s youth, or kids in general) is integral to getting the students onboard. He learned as he went too, and this held him in good stead for years later when he would teach HASS, Science and Mathematics. Despite having no interest in these subjects, Ron was able to drag students towards success due to his love of teaching. Much of this came while he was running a Senior School Engagement Program and the data highlighted his impact – for these wayward students, Ron’s guidance saw them decrease the amount of suspension they received despite the fact they were also attending school more frequently than they ever had.

    This wasn’t enough though. Ron’s true passion was English and he hadn’t yet had a chance to demonstrate all that he could do in that space. His second challenge was to take a subject many students disliked and turn it into something they saw value in. The problem was that many students didn’t see the point in “studying something [they] already speak” nor did they see how studying novels and such might help them in the future. In fact, many students only did English because they had to. As such, Ron’s task mirrored that of Sisyphus or a dung beetle – in that he always felt like he was pushing shit uphill. To combat this, he tried to make tasks more authentic. Where he could, he would provide real world relevance, and where he couldn’t, he would provide a real world audience. Ron’s students then performed poetry at the Perth Poetry Festival (2012), spoke at TEDxYouth@CBC, collaborated with WA police, connected with writers and illustrators at the Young Writers’ Festival, posted film trailers on YouTube, wrote for and read to local primary schools, and corresponded with school kids on the other side of the world. English became a subject students loved as much as Ron did. It had value for them where previously it didn’t.

    Still, Ron wanted more. His students were learning, but were they performing as well as they possibly could? Ron was worried that his own expertise was putting a ceiling on what his students could achieve. Data suggested that the GAT students he worked with had setbacks as they entered Years 11 and 12. Part of this, Ron surmised, was that they were an isolated group throughout lower school and that the social-emotional challenges of integrating with other students impacted their academic performance. He also felt that, perhaps, there were gaps in both his own knowledge and the programs themselves. As such, he attacked like the hydra, using multiple fronts. First, he visited Perth Modern School to shadow Rod Quinn. Perth Mod is the Athens of Western Australia, a centre for excellence in academia, and Rod (with his multiple textbooks) is a modern day Apollo. This endeavour, along with completing the GERRIC modules, armed Ron with strategies for engaging and extending gifted students. Then, he and another staff member, combined Year 10 classes. What this did was create a more flexible, dynamic learning environment. Students received direct instruction from two teachers with two distinctively different teaching styles, worked in groups whose members featured greater variety than one class could afford and learnt in a number of different physical settings. Ron learned from the other teacher and, in return, the other teacher learned from Ron – each complimenting the other person’s style and compensating for their weaknesses. Finally, Ron overhauled the lower school programs to ensure that they were backward mapped from the upper school curriculum. The culmination of this was that in 2018, Comet Bay College had the best ATAR results in its history with many students having Literature (Ron’s class) as their 1st or 2nd highest scoring subject.

    Still Ron wanted more. For his fourth labour he became a foundation member of a ground-breaking partnership with his school and its feeder primaries. This allowed him to extend his influence beyond the students directly under his care. By inputting into the primary schools’ curriculum and the way they taught it, Ron facilitated a smoother transition for students entering high school. His fifth labour saw him surveying staff and students to determine their impressions of the working and learning environment at his school. He then led conversations with staff about their classroom practice and with school leaders about the school’s identity and ethos.

These conversations saw Ron look for more opportunities to develop his own classroom practice further. For his sixth challenge he engaged in professional development around Classroom Management and Instructional Strategies, as well as his school’s own version of this – the Advanced Instructional Intelligence Program. This included an opportunity to learn from Barrie Bennett himself. These processes involved classroom walkthroughs where Ron was the subject of observation, where he watched others, and where he led staff through walkthroughs and corresponding conversations. It is experiences like these that helped Ron develop his skill set which, in turn, has led to some of his greatest successes in the classroom. In 2017, one of his Literature students had a scaled score of 100 in her WACE exam and another had a scaled score of 94 despite being three years younger than her peers due to grade skipping.

Having taught for 16 years now, both within and outside of his training, Ron has developed confidence in his ability to provide quality education for my students. He puts everything he has into being the best educator and provider that he can be, recognising that part of that must include looking beyond himself into the rest of the learning environment and making whatever improvements and adjustments he can.

As the years pass, he continues to be an opinion leader, seeking out innovative practices in the development of student capacity, modelling for other staff and mentoring them in their own approaches. He has become a well-respected colleague and a confident communicator, able to adapt information and deliver it in a clear, concise and articulate manner.

He approaches all of these endeavours with the desire to increase the success of his students. He hopes that they know his heart is in the right place, that he wants the best for all of them.

What will the future hold for Ron Barton? Will his image be replicated in the stars? Only time will tell.

TS Eliot Ain’t Nothing Ta Fuck Wit

So, there I am, driving to work with the stereo blasting. Morning radio sucks because it’s all talk and no music so I’m cranking out the tunes on a CD (because I’m old fashioned like that). Wu Tang is suggesting that I best protect my neck and are discouraging me from bringing the ruckus; they’re insisting that cash rules everything and questioning how it can all be so simple.

I’m alternating between spitting bars and going over the day’s lesson plans in my head. I’m ruminating on T.S. Eliot’s poetry and what I need to get across to my Year 12s when the CD lands on Track 9 – Method Man.

Then it hits me, and I wonder why I’d never really noticed it before: the Wu Tang Clan and Thomas Stearns Eliot are strikingly similar. How so? Let me show you.

1. They are highly allusive.

That’s allusive, not elusive. Allusion not illusion. It’s not about having difficulty pulling a rabbit out of your hat, it is referring to things you expect you audience to know. Obviously, the Wu and Eliot have different audiences but they both use this technique.

Eliot’s poetry is full of references to other texts. The Waste Land gives us mythology through Philomel/Philomena and Tiresias, Chaucer and Shakespeare (among others) are littered throughout this and other poems, and religious texts are borrowed from with Buddhist Sermons and the Lord’s Prayer being obvious allusions. In fact, his poems are so full of references to other texts he was accused of plagiarism. All he was doing really, though, was adhering to the maxim of his close mate (Ezra Pound) who said to “make it new”. Together they led the Modernist movement, through which Eliot kept the classic texts he loved in the public eye.

The Wu do the same thing. Sticking to Method Man (the song, not the clan member) as the inspiring force, there’s a ton of things listeners will recognise. There’s plenty of nursery rhymes and kid’s stories (which I’ll cover next) but there’s also talk of the Shaolin which links to where the crew got their name, taking it from a Gordon Liu movie called Shaolin and Wu Tang. There’s also a Rolling Stones lyric in there. My favourite allusion, though, is in the line “Rub it on your skin like lotion” which has its origins in a similar line from the psychological thriller, Silence of the Lambs. There’s even more allusions in their other tracks.

2. The appropriation of children’s books and songs

With Eliot’s poetry having a reputation for being notoriously difficult to understand and the insistence with Wu Tang that “you’re fuckin’ with the worst”, it seems odd that I’m even talking about kids’ texts but they both use them.

T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men, in particular, riffs on nursery rhymes and such. The description of these men whose heads are “filled with straw” likens them to the scarecrow from Wizard of Oz, and there’s the “twinkle of a fading star” (Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star). More obvious is the nursery rhyme about going around a mulberry bush which is twisted to reflect the barren setting of his poem so that the hollow men go around a prickly pear (cactus) instead. The oft-quoted “this is the way the world ends” also plays on this.

For the Wu, they invite you to “Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake” while Mr Meth channels the Big Bad Wolf in the line, “huff, and I puff”. There’s a take on Tweety Bird’s famous line but the most lengthy allusion to a children’s text is in the lyric, “I be Sam, Sam-I-Am

And I don’t eat green eggs and ham”. The Dr Seuss reference continues into other lines where the style (rhyme and rhythm) matches that of his book.

3. Fragmentation

So, I’ll cheat a little on this one.

Inconsistency of structure and style is obvious with Eliot. It was part of the whole modernism jam that he was rocking. So much so, in fact, that one of the original titles for The Waste Land was He Do The Police In Different Voices. It makes sense too. Not the Police bit, I don’t get that, but the Different Voices thing works because the poem features a variety os snippets that seem to come from different narrators.

Then there’s the Wu. They’re a clan, a crew. They originally had 9 members and have cycled other people through their line up over the years. On most songs, members will take turns rapping a verse. Each artist has their own style so the final product is composed of a number of parts that sound different to other parts.

4. Smart af

There’s no doubting Eliot’s intelligence. He studied and taught at multiple universities, and now his poetry is studied in educational facilities worldwide. He was clearly well read and even wrote poetry in other languages, not just English – in fact, rumour has it he wrote in French to break through periods of writer’s block.

I’m guessing, though, that many underestimate the intelligence of the Wu Tang Clan. It’s easy to dismiss them because of their genre but if you listen to the lines you’ll come across pearls of wisdom like this from RZA’s Twelve Jewels:

“In pre-existence of the mathematical, biochemical equations, the manifestations of rock, plant, air, fire and water, without their basic formations, solids, liquids and gases, that cause the land masses and the space catalysts and all matter that exists and this dense third dimension must observe a physical comprehension. It takes a nerve to be struck. Wisdom is the wise poet spoken to wake up the dumb who’ve been sleeping. The fourth dimension is time. It goes inside the mind. When the shackles energize up through the back of your spine. So observe as my Chi energy strikes a vital nerve. One swerve with the tongue pierces like a sword through the lung. Have you not heard that words kill as fast as bullets? When you load negative thoughts from the chamber of your brain, and your mouth pulls the trigger that propels wickedness straight from hell. From the pits of your stomach where negativity dwells.”

These lyrics don’t mention bitches or bling like some might expect and, instead, sound more like a philosophical debate.

5. Revolutionaries

I’m not going to say much here. A quick Google of your own will bring up more than you need to know. Regardless of your opinion of them, Eliot and the Wu shaped their respective industries and paved the way for many to follow in their footsteps. Their influence continues to be seen and not just in the world of poetry and rap.

They’ve certainly had an influence on me.

A Rant About Racism

If you know me, you know I’m not one prone to political opinions or emotional outbursts; however, the world right now is pissing me off.

Imagine this, you are born with something that people perceive to be ‘wrong’. You might have a birthmark or a cleft palate or something like that. If that’s too hard for you to picture, think of the things you became more aware of as a teenager – body shape, acne, hair, genitalia, etc.

Now, imagine that every day, EVERY SINGLE DAY, people made fun of that thing you have little or no control over. Some ballsy people will say these things to your face, others you’ll overhear their comments. Some people might just stare or laugh but it’s been about you so often you think every person who stares or laughs is being critical of how you look. People will watch you more closely and make steps to avoid you. And, not just a handful of people. A lot of people.

If you can’t put yourself in these shoes, imagine your child or another loved one faces that ongoing prejudice. How are you feeling now?

This is how racism works. We criticise and make fun of others for how they look because they don’t fit the image we have decided is the ‘right’ one.

Yet, instead of acknowledging that these behaviour are wrong we deflect and redirect the focus to trivial matters.

Whataboutisms plague society.

Instead of recognising our ignorance and insensitivity, we engage in trivial ‘debates’ that take the attention away from where it’s needed.

A recent post about an upcoming Avengers video game had to be taken down because it had a statue of Captain America in it, because apparently statues are bad now. They’re not, but people have latched on to this idea because a few statues were vandalised. So, instead of addressing why these statues were targeted, we exaggerate the situation so that it becomes laughable.

Don’t get me wrong, rioting and vandalism are not ok. The victims of these things are generally not the people who have instigated the desire for retaliation. I’d understand more if riots were undertaken only by people of colour – I haven’t had to face what black people do on a daily basis, and can’t imagine how I’d respond – but so much of the footage I’ve seen just shows white people causing wanton havoc.

The AFL’s round 2 had every game start with players taking a knee in support of Black Lives Matter. The comment section on photos of these instances were filled with complaints about football being ‘political’ and Australian culture becoming Americanised. The need for this stance was outlined by the fact that Eddie Betts had to respond to yet another racial attack on the same weekend, later admitting he hasn’t had a single year where he hasn’t been racially vilified by fans. Eddie Betts! One of the most loved, respected and admired players in the competition constantly has to defend himself because of his skin colour.

Don’t get me started on the All Lives Matter shit. Of course they do, that’s not the point. When people support specific cancers we don’t remind them about other cancers or diseases. If one of your kids died would you be comforted by someone saying you’ve got other kids and that all kids matter? Saying All Lives Matter is just saying “your issues aren’t significant enough to bother me”.

Likewise, having a black friend or being a fan of a black sportsperson/film star/artist doesn’t mean you’re not racist. Telling people these things doesn’t diminish the issues facing black people either. Nor does quoting a black person who happens to support any argument you might have. Pointing out that Aboriginal deaths in custody since the Royal Commission are mostly from suicide and not from police brutality doesn’t suggest there isn’t a problem, it just shows that the problem isn’t what you thought it was. The question then needs to be, what can we do to better support indigenous mental health?

Moreover, don’t question how black someone is or discredit their argument because they of their skin tone. Don’t confuse the desire for equality and a fairer system that would allow people of colour to grow, thrive and feel valued with a need to accept responsibility for the actions of our ancestors. We can’t change the past, but we can change the future.

Then there’s the ever-common, “I’m not racist but…”

• I’ll laugh at racist jokes

• I’ll put on an accent for laughs

• I’ll make cultural assumptions

• I’ll undercut real issues impacting people of colour

Just admit it. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it.

I’ve admitted it. I used to be ignorant and naive and, at times, downright offensive. I’ve changed. But, old habits die hard. I will slip up every now and then. I still find it almost impossible to call out others of their shitty behaviour. I’m still growing and learning. I acknowledge that changing behaviour requires conscious effort, and I am doing my best to be more accepting.

I don’t want schools to close – but they should

I’m a teacher. I’m in this job to help my students build confidence in who they are. Even before the spread of COVID-19 the world was a scary, uncertain place.

I don’t want to to abandon my post. Kids need stability, and they need their role models now more than ever.

But, school is meant to be a safe space and it’s simply not safe right now.

Other countries have closed their classrooms. We will probably close ours at some point, that doesn’t mean we will stop working.

A number of schools that have shut have stayed open for students whose parents work in the medical field or in childcare and other essential fields.

Talking with staff at my school, we actually think we’d be more able to cater for and extend our more academic kids if we were working primarily online. If we collaborate on lesson content and resources for those students who are unlikely to engage in whatever we post, then it frees up our time to read and provide feedback on whatever our students send through.

That said, I’d love to be inundated with questions and work samples from every kid in every class. It would take a lot of support from the people they have at home, and that would be a good thing too.

Teachers often get denigrated for being nothing more than glorified babysitters who are only in it for the holidays. We are constantly reminded of the saying that “those who can, do; and those who can’t, teach”.

These comments ensure that kids come in to school with negative opinions before they’ve even met their teacher – teachers who are currently putting their own health and the health of their families at risk so that everyone else can still go to work.

I understand the hesitation to make a decision on closing schools, the knock-on effect is huge.

What I’d like to see is school become optional for the foreseeable future. Parents can do what they think is best for their children, and schools can modify their approach to suit the needs of those who attend. Trust us, we can do it. We’re used to being flexible.

Hanging Out With Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood

It’s not every week you get a chance to chat with two megastar authors but that’s exactly what I did this week. Well, they chatted. I listened… from my place in the audience at their Perth shows.

Just 3 authors chilling out at a cafe 😅

The two events shared similarities, as you’d expect from two people in the same field of work talking about what they do, but there were notable differences too.

Gaiman, in his 4pm cozy, late afternoon slot was a sell-out. The line for signed copies of his books snaked around the foyer. The bar area was bustling. People shuffled up and down the stairs, and in and out of the building. When the time came, we made our way to our seats and filled them all. Each level of the Perth Concert Hall was filled with family, friends and strangers eagerly anticipating the start of the show.

There was a mosh pit of sorts. Between the stage and the first row of traditional seating was an area for the super-fans. There they had circular tables and angled seats so the people sat in them could imagine they were at some intimate, cafe reading – like what you might see of the beatnik poets in movies and on tv. Above them was a large chandelier and several individually hung lights that changed colours at various points to indicate a tone shift in Gaiman’s words.

Gaiman himself was treated to a rockstar welcome, a round of applause that seemed as though it may never stop – until he gestured for us to do so, and we obeyed.

My seat in the nosebleed section was labeled as ‘restricted viewing’ and I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to see what was happening. Fortunately, the part of the stage I couldn’t see was empty. I could see the podium at which Gaiman stood and I could see to his left where two ladies worked in shifts to translate his words into sign language.

He read to us, answered questions that people had written on cards in the foyer, and opened up to us about the illnesses and loss of life that have taken his friends and fellow writers. In particular, he spoke of Terry Pratchett who I adore. It was incredibly touching.

I wrote notes: things to look up, observations and inspirations for written pieces of my own, poignant statements.

And, when it was done, I rushed out of the door to join the queue for books before it grew too long. I bought one, American Gods, but I could have easily bought them all.

Oh, what a night…

One week later, and I found myself on the train to the city again. My initial observations were similar. The books on sale weren’t signed so the line was significantly smaller but the bar area was full and the line for drinks was long. The Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre has a larger waiting space and, on the surface, it looked like a similar sized crowd might have gathered.

I was wrong. The first indication that it was a smaller crowd was when I got to the door and was told by the usher that I was eligible for an upgraded seat. Suddenly, I went from Row X to Row A. When we were all seated those back rows remained empty. It was a disappointing sight. Here you have a woman whose list of awards and accolades is enormous, who has inspired protests, is active on social media, and is the brainchild behind a tv show that is immensely popular. I don’t know what kept people away – whether it was the ticket price or the assumption that she’d just be promoting/discussing her new book, I can’t say – but they missed out.

Atwood also walked on to a round of applause that appeared to gather momentum each time you might expect it to die off. Her whole ‘performance’ was an on-stage interview. I apologise, I didn’t catch the name of the woman who questioned her. At intermission, we were invited to pose questions via Twitter and Atwood answered some of these. A few of the audience generated prompts were a bit naff, and I’m not just saying that because mine wasn’t picked.

Again, I took notes: phrases I can use when teaching her novel, things that surprised me (like the fact she was published in Playboy), things that made me laugh out loud.

Atwood walked onto stage, an 80 year old woman with a handbag that she never went into during the show but that she carried, I assume, because she’s used to having it with her. Her curly, grey hair sat neatly on her head and there was a delicateness about her. I knew that demure look belied a fiery passion that lurked beneath it. However, I didn’t expect her to be so funny. She joked about cats and toilets, about politicians and cervixes, about having “too many fucks” in her book, and everything in between.

Ask and you will receive

One thing both Gaiman and Atwood said, in their different ways, was the importance of Literature from the perspective of both reader and writer. They said that books allow us to experience the lives of others and become more empathetic, that writers allow us a safe space to see the hardships that people go through and some of the directions in which the world can head. From a creative standpoint they also said that Art and Literature allow us to outlive our bodies, that a part of us exists within our work and future generations will have the opportunity to know us through our creations.

Wavering: a short story

I wrote this Aussie fairy tale recently but decided not to submit it. I like it though, so I thought I’d share.

Wavering

He never understood why the city was called the big smoke. Maybe it was leftover from the bygone days (whatever they were) or the ‘good old days’. No, as far as he was concerned, you didn’t see the big smoke until you were half an hour south of the city and the chimneys of the industrial area crowded the shoreline. As a kid he thought they were cloud making factories, puffing potential rainmakers into the sky.

The freeway used to end there or thereabouts but now it stretched on much further. From there the speed limit increased from 100 to 110 kilometres an hour and the grey bitumen gradually lost its hard edge to soft shoulders of gravel and dirt.

On these trips he always listened to music from his phone, always downloaded so that he could avoid the static or silence as the radio station or internet dropped out. There was a loneliness in the silence of long car rides that was akin to school hallways during the holidays, the absence of noise where it was expected unnerved him.

As he hummed and tapped along, the view from his open window changed; the city skyline giving way to the cookie-cutter houses of suburbia, the fields and farms holding their place for a while until it was only shrubs that flashed by. Closer to his destination, the fields and farms returned accompanied by vineyards. All the while his brown hair bounced in the wind, shaking free from the holds of the gel he ran through there that morning; the tattoo on his right arm occasionally peered out from under the rolled fold of his shirt sleeve.

Stopping where he would sleep was only a formality – the sea called to him. The beach, precious to him and his memories, was a thin strip of gold. Beyond the shore, the waves broke in long, even lines across the reef below.

He threw his board into the water, upside down first to cool the wax, then he flipped it right-side-up once his wetsuit was on.

The paddle out was easy. The south-easterly that had hit the beach earlier in the day, and would hit again the next day when he would return, had lost its edge.

He sat on his board, a seemingly endless blanket of blue at his back, another above but a softer shade. In front the sand shone brilliantly, reflecting the sun.

He waited.

“Surfing is all in the waiting,” his father had said.

He was ten. Waiting was not in his nature.

“If you go too early the wave will crash on your shoulders and push you under the water; maybe onto the sand below, maybe the reef.”

His dad sat next to him, the pair of them bobbing up and down as the water rose and fell beneath them.

“Go too late,” his dad continued. “Go too late and you’re chasing the wave to the shore.”

“How will I know when to go?”

He was nervous then. He had been taken out to the beaches nearer home but the waves hadn’t seemed so big, the shore so far away, as they seemed here. Margaret River had a mythic quality the other beaches didn’t seem to possess.

That day the sea bullied him, pushed him around. Wave after wave pushed him down, held him under. His scrawny body bruised and bled.

Absentmindedly, he found himself rubbing his left elbow where he had one of many scars left over from that family holiday.

He surfed until the light faded. Back in the car park, after he had slid his board onto his roof racks and blown some of the salt water from his nostrils, he found himself sitting on a rock looking out at the setting sun.

The sound of laughter drew his attention to a small group of teenagers still down on the beach. They were chasing each other around, playfully pushing each other and horsing about. All the while they gathered dry twigs and sticks and placed them within a ring of stones.

He scoffed. Any fire they got going wouldn’t last. There were no trees this close to the beach, only shrubs of knee to chest height. Whatever fuel they managed to gather would burn out quickly. That was probably for the best. A decent blaze would draw the attention of the ranger and they would find themselves escorted off the beach. He watched them a little longer. He wasn’t that much older than them but their carefree attitude seemed so far removed from his own life. Again, he found his thoughts returned to his father.

“What are you doing?”

“Waiting,” he had replied.

“No,” his dad said. “I’m not talking about the surf. I’m talking about life, about school.”

He looked down at the board, looked anywhere he could to avoid eye contact. He could feel the heat in his cheeks but it was from more than just the sun’s rays and the sting of salt on the breeze.

“Your grades are slipping,” his dad went on. “The school says you’ve been wagging classes. Your mum and I…”

But he didn’t hear the rest. He lunged forward, paddled towards the closest wave. His arms throbbed as they tried to keep up the pace his brain desired. It didn’t matter, the wave was too far ahead. It broke in front of him, without him, and he ended up paddling all the way to shore. He didn’t go back in the water that day.

The sun had gone. The teens had settled into cuddling couples no longer interested in running amok.

He, too, decided that this was an apt time for rest and returned to his hired cabin.

The following morning he made his way back to the beach. Slowly, slower than usual, he slid his shoulders into his wetsuit, zipped it up and attached his leg rope.

He paddled out. The sun peered out between clouds that weren’t there the day before. They cast shadows upon the sea. The water shivered and stirred.

He sat, again, as he had done many a time before. His legs dangled either side of the board, his arms stuck out straight (but not locked at the elbow) and his fingers gripped the fibreglass.

He waited.

Waves came and went. Opportunities passed.

He waited still.

He looked to his side – to where his dad had often sat upon his own board, dressed in a matching wetsuit.

Still, he waited.

He looked upwards, questioning eyes searched the clouds for meaning.

He waited.

He looked down at the photo taped to his board, looked down at the face that smiled back at him. His eyes stung. He reached a hand up, kissed his fingers and placed them upon the picture.

He waited no more.

A moment later he was gliding over the sea’s surface, and it was divine.