Lucas Wellington, the author of The Kaos World Chronicles recently shared with us his story, inspiration for the series and the fantastic feedback he has received from students. Take a look…
Sometimes it can be tough working in education, particularly in the current climate when everything seems to be changing. It can be especially tough if you have chosen to work with students with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) difficulties (or EBD or BESD as it used to be!), which is what I left an outstanding school in rural North Somerset to do. People told me I was mad and that I wouldn’t last. That was about 16 years ago. I am still there… just! Many staff aren’t. It’s not a job for everyone.
Yes, it can be tough. Students with SEMH have to trust you and the systems in the school before they let their guard down and take the risks that are necessary for learning. There can be a long testing process and this can be soul destroying at times. I have lost track of how many times I have been sworn at or threatened or assaulted.
But there are magical moments too – moments when the barriers come down and a student reads aloud for the first time or writes something amazing (or just writes something) or speaks to you without swearing. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up and it seems like the best job in the world. All the battles to get to that point are forgotten in that instant; it all becomes worthwhile. When it gets really tough you have to cling onto those memories!
I teach English, which brings additional complications for many students. The daily struggle for those with literacy difficulties to make sense of the written word and to conceal their difficulties from their peers is hard to watch.
It was a combination of this and a frustration with a lack of suitable resources that led me to create The Kaos World Chronicles, a structured reading scheme that helps students overcome their literacy difficulties. It has been hard work. After the initial excitement of getting a publishing deal, there was a lot to do and long periods of proof-reading and editing. No media stardom. No invitations to meet JK Rowling (another Bristol teacher)!
I also had my day job to focus on too: budget cuts, a management of change process, possible academisation, on top of exhausted staff and students with a whole range of needs and difficulties in an entire system that was being squeezed. It all seemed a bit bleak.
After a particularly tough day in a tough week, I came home and there was a brown envelope on my table. The way things had been going I expected it to be some sort of legal demand. Maybe my house was being re-possessed. That would be about right.
I opened it nervously.
It wasn’t anything bad. In fact, it was something unexpectedly brilliant – something that sent tingles down my spine. It was a collection of letters written to me by students from a school in Essex. They had been reading my books in class and had liked them – and their reading ages had improved significantly because of them. Their teacher had contacted my publisher LDA, and they had sent the letters through to me.
The children said things like ‘when I started this school I couldn’t read and now when I read I can’t stop,‘ and ‘when I started in Year 7 I couldn’t read but now I have gone up 3 years in the space of 4 months and I am really proud of myself.‘
It was an amazing feeling. They made suggestions for the stories that I wish I had thought of. They explained their thoughts and feelings about the characters, but best of all they enjoyed reading the stories and were overcoming their fears.
It all felt so worthwhile again. I was making a difference, and that is so fundamentally important. There are students who, without us, would struggle or feel invisible or be filled with fear every time some knowledge that they lacked was required. Teaching can be tough but we make a real difference to people’s lives and we need to remember that, no matter what people throw at us. Sometimes we are reminded of this when we least expect it.