Joshua Seigal – Spoken Word: An Education

The third instalment of our blog series on the fantastic work of Spoken Word Educators. Joshua Seigal testifies to how spoken word poetry can inspire creativity and growth in children who are otherwise flagging behind in conventional education.

SZC_6053I am part of the second cohort of Spoken Word Educators, a group of poets placed long-term in various inner-city London schools. I am nearing completion of my first year at Plashet School, a girls’ comprehensive in Newham.

This has been a very special year for me and I have learnt a lot, not just about the students with whom I have come into contact, but about myself too. Prior to embarking on the Spoken Word Educators programme I earned a somewhat precarious living as a freelance poet, a role which, whilst hugely rewarding and enjoyable, did not usually allow me to develop sustained relationships with my students. Working four days a week at Plashet has enabled me to get to know many of the students, and to embed a culture of poetry and creativity across the school community. Aside from English lessons, I have made my presence felt across the RE, History, Music, Geography and even the Mathematics departments. Students have written letter poems from the perspective of Kindertransport evacuees, explored their own family histories from surprising perspectives, written personification poems from the point of view of mountains, and described themselves using mathematical equations. Throughout the year I have had to challenge myself to create new and interesting ways of looking at subjects, some of which I haven’t studied since I was at school.

A particular highlight for me has been the weekly lunch clubs. Unlike some of the other Educators I did not set up an after-school spoken word club: an early attempt to do so proved unsuccessful, due both to the proliferation of other exciting clubs at the school, and the reluctance of many of the girls to go home in the dark. The lunch clubs proved to be a successful substitute, and they have garnered a small but hardcore following, attracted to the opportunity to read and write poetry in an informal, non-judgmental and non-academic atmosphere (and, it has to be said, to a free lunch!). Interestingly, a number of the regular attendees have been students who are not doing well in school generally, and who have found an outlet for their latent creativity.

In many ways, my experience as a Spoken Word Educator is atypical. The school at which I work is one of the highest-performing in the borough, and I was struck at the outset by an obvious desire on the part of the pupils to learn and to develop. I encountered very little resistance from either the pupils or the teachers to the idea of being taught by a poet, something I was led to expect during my training. This is testament to the forward-thinking, creative ethos of a school who appreciate that, in order to get the best out of their pupils, it is no good being merely an academic conveyor belt.

I am continuing at Plashet next year, and there is still much I hope to achieve. I feel that I have only just begun to scratch the surface of what could potentially be achieved by a Spoken Word Educator. My focus this year has mainly been on timetabled lessons, and I hope next year to explore ways of engaging with London’s wider poetry community. The fact that I am down to three days a week from September is also a good thing in terms of my own development, as I will be able to continue my rapidly developing parallel career as a freelance poet and children’s author.

Follow my blog for lesson ideas and updates on what I’ve been up to: @joshuaseigal 

If you would like more information on the Spoken Word Educators Programme, please contact Twitter: @SpokenWordEd