I took to words like Oliver Twist took to pickpocketing—by misfortune.

(October 5, 2019)

(Yes, this is me)

I was studying English Teaching at the time, a Bachelor that requires 32 weeks of practicum.

I’d already completed my first placement, a 2-week immersion at a primary school where I had to meander around the rows making sure 7 year-olds didn’t stick coloured pencils up each other’s noses. But as a 19-year-old second-year, I was now taking on the high school kids for an entire 10 weeks.

How I came to teaching students who just got out of Juvenile Prison

Before the practicum, the Unit Coordinators rallied us, the cohort, into a lecture hall and handed out a paper slip that asked us to list the top 5 schools we’d like to teach at.

I listed mainly prestigious private schools located within an 8-kilometre radius from where I lived. I then dropped the slip into a timber box at the front of the lecture hall, already imaging myself at the front of a class full of attentive, studious kids in blazers, hanging off my every word.

I later found out the slip was a mere courtesy. And that, instead of a prestigious private school, I was allocated a public high school that was a 45-minute drive from home and had just been ranked in the top 4 most disadvantaged schools in the state.

The neighbourhood—in which the school was located—was even in the news two weeks before for being the site of two murders.

On the first day of term, I walked into the Deputy’s office. The room was the size of a janitor’s closet and there was an overwhelming amount of loose paper scattered about. Here, she lectured about the rules and requirements, naturally, and then took out files from a steel draw that had within them information on 3 students.

“He’s just got out of Juvenile prison,” she pointed to a piece of paper with the photo of a boy with a skinhead.

“What was he convicted of?” I asked.

“Can’t say,” the Deputy said. 

“So why are you telling me this?”

“Just thought you might like to know.”

The Teaching Degree so far included units like, Introduction to Teaching, which was a series of workshops on how to make a Prezi (a type of presentation software) as well as make grammar interesting to a 21st-century learner who apparently, according to certain textbooks, have the attention span of a goldfish. 

What the course failed to teach, which I believe would’ve been far more practical, was Karate, so when a nimble 16-year-old confronts me, I wouldn’t chuck the crayons at him and run-off screaming.

I went to an all-boys private Catholic school, so I didn’t have much in common with kids like the skinhead who just got out of Juvenile prison and probably killed two parrots on his way to class with a home-made slingshot. So I didn’t know how I was going to make anything relevant to them, let alone grammar.

Besides, I didn’t know much about grammar at that point in my life, anyway. I liked English but I wasn’t a talented student of the written word, yet. I spent most of my teenage life resisting reading anything other than surf mags, which is why, at 17, my vocabulary consisted entirely of monosyllabic colloquialisms.

So I was in a compromising position by the time I was standing in front of an unruly class of teenagers, handing out a grammar exercise, which half the students’ eventually scrunched into paper ammunition and threw at kids in the front row.

Amid the prattle, though, one teenager sitting at the front scanned the first question, notably confused.

He then, surprisingly,  asked quite a technical question on the structures of a sentence—a question I didn’t know the answer to. I stood sheepishly as every awaiting eye for the first time that lesson rested on me. I doubt the students even cared for an answer. Yet, they still leveraged the upper hand.

“Mr O’Neil can’t do English,” they shouted to the rhythmic pounding of hands hitting desks.

I never thought that a horde of teenagers who’d just failed a grade 6 spelling test, could be so critical of someone for having a loose hold on the English language.

“Mr O’Neil can’t do English.”

The mentor teacher, meanwhile, who evidently didn't know the answer either, sat quietly in the back corner.

After being humiliated by a class of illiterate teenagers, I took to spending hours studying the structures of language, the mechanics of sentences. I was determined to not only give the smug kid in the front row the answer but also teach him how to write a sentence. Curiously, the more I studied, the more I fell in love with not only writing, but storytelling.

After all, the best way to communicate and teach an unruly teenager, or any person for that matter, is through telling a story which resonates with their worldview.

I did eventually teach the kid how to write a sentence. And I coaxed him by telling him the faster he can learn how to write a sentence, the faster he can leave school. Because writing a darn good sentence means you can write a darn good resume, which means you can get a job.

And at the end of the term, he walked into the office, beaming. He did finally present a resume he wrote, remarking that English wasn’t so useless after all. With a little help, he communicated, quite eloquently, talents and interests that any employee of a 16-year-old would like to read.

He listed photography, cooking and volunteering at an animal shelter. Remarkable, really. How little abstract symbols in the right order could provide so much insight—insight that did lead to a job.

Now, you may be thinking what has this got to do with my business?

A lot, actually.

Because there’s a screen in-between your brand and your customers. The screen is responsible for a lot of disconnection. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The power of thoughtful communication has the ability to break down those barriers and stand out from the noise, so you can connect with your customers—where ever that may be.

That’s why there is an advantage in coming from an English and Teaching background, not a marketing background.

For I use the background in thoughtful communication to help businesses who, in an elementary way, are sort of like the Yr 11 student. They have something authentic that people want. But they need a lover of the written word to help communicate the value of it.

Brew Copy, a storytelling studio that helps you build your brand—with words. Contact me at jayden@brewcopy.com. Stay in touch on Instagram. Or on Linkedin.