Neal Zetter is a poet and author and works in schools, delivering fabulously funny workshops! Here he talks about his poetry, inspiring children to read and his love of comics and magazines!
Name: Neal Zetter
Twitter handle: @nealzetterpoet
Link to blog/website: cccpworkshops.co.uk
What is your current position?
Poet/author for 3-103 year-olds (although I wouldn’t shun a 104 year-old). I am in schools virtually every day running fun poetry, writing and performance workshops for all ages, performing myself and staging Q&As, book sales and signings.
When, how and why did you get into education? What did/do you want to achieve?
To pass on my talents to others so they can develop their own literacy, presentation and comms skills and improve their confidence. And to make them laugh!
How do you feel the education landscape has changed since you started in your role?
In no order or importance…
- Teachers are more stressed and strained due to having to work harder in more challenging environments without corresponding financial reward or personal recognition or necessary resources.
- Teaching is increasingly difficult with reduced support staff such as TAs and SENCOS to assist children.
- Budgets are tighter so opportunities are fewer for many poets/authors (although as an established poet/author these fortunately have not directly impacted on my income or days worked).
- School sizes have increased as have, in many cases, class sizes.
- Many schools are risk averse due to tight budgets (as above) and the fear of being criticised by OFSTED for doing something less ‘curricular’ like working with a poet/author. (Not a criticism of teachers; I fully understand these external pressures you are under!)
- BUT many schools, now realise that reading is the key to developing students and, despite what I have written above, are keener than ever to book authors and poets.
- Teachers have got younger on average; staff rooms rarely have many teachers over 40 in them as the burn out rate is sadly so high nowadays.
What are your earliest memories of reading and writing?
Dad reading to me in bed from when I was tiny and Mum taking me to my local library every fortnight to take out six books at a time. I wrote my first poem aged six which features in my award-winning Bees in My Bananas book.
How do you try and foster a love of reading in children?
Enthusiasm! Encouragement! Humour! Performing! And if they buy my signed books (optional of course) that too can be a great inspiration for them for many years (“I met a real live poet and have his book etc…”).
What has been your most successful reading or writing lesson or activity with children?
Too many to list, although children and teens of all ages have really enjoyed my writing workshops linked to my Superheroes and Supervillains books
What advice would you give to parents whose children say they don’t like reading?
Take them to a library, buy them books, read to them, lead by example and do the same, have books all over the house (even in the loo), restrict IT/new media/TV access at certain times of the day.
What books do you remember from your childhood? Do you have a favourite?
Cat in the Hat, Wizard of Oz.
What was the first book that made you cry?
- An encyclopaedia I dropped on my toe
- How to Cook Onions
- Spider-Man no. 121/122 (in which his girlfriend is killed by the Green Goblin – still got that one, still makes me sad).
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Classics, until I studied them for A level.
Have you ever experienced reader’s block?
No, unless I have actively disliked a book. If this happens, I leave it on a train for someone else to enjoy rather than let It waste.
Are you drawn to a particular genre or type of book or do you read a variety of genres?
Mainly non-fiction/biogs/auto-biographies, movie/music/arts, travel, popular science plus children’s fiction and poetry. I have also read Marvel comics since I was wee and without them, I would not have become a poet/author.
What book are you currently reading?
Billy Bragg’s biography and Marvel’s Fantastic Four.
Where’s your favourite place to read?
Bed at night, train/tube.
Which three books would you recommend to primary school aged children and why?
- Any of my seven books; if I don’t believe in them, I shouldn’t be writing them!
- Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss
- Varjak Paw by SF Said
Finally: in one sentence, what does reading for pleasure mean to you? Reading is a best friend who is always there to streeeetch your brain and take you to a magical world