A Senior School teacher at Wesley since 2021. When he’s not teaching English, he’s writing it — working on his novel.
English is a compulsory subject for all students at Wesley College. What are three lessons you hope students take away from their English studies at Wesley?
I hope students understand that language is power, and that those who have a good command of language are powerful people. The ability to critically analyse the myriad texts with which we are bombarded every day, and to craft our own as we negotiate our lives, is a key to success in any field. Samuel Taylor Coleridge said that language is the “armoury of the human mind” containing both “the trophies of our past and the weapons of its future conquests.”
English is about much more than comprehending the texts we study. All those books and films and articles we share with students, those compositions we make them write, they all provide pathways to understanding themselves, the world around them, and the experiences of others.
Language can be beautiful, too. There is art in good writing. Essentially, English gives you the skills to change the whole world, or just your own.
Tell us about your PhD in Creative Writing.
I was lucky enough to be offered a scholarship under a collaborative arrangement between Curtin University and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. It is a critical/creative hybrid, which means that I have written a novel and then a critical work – an exegesis – to explain the theoretical basis to my novel.
The exegesis employs spectrality, a cultural studies theory, to suggest that queer adolescence is a haunted condition. Essentially this means that even in the contemporary world, queer adolescents come of age burdened with a legacy of criminalisation, shame and homophobia that, in the Australian context, is traceable to our origins as a penal colony. It also suggests that while conditions are improving, many queer adolescents, particularly those in rural contexts, remain unable to claim presence within their communities, meaning they remain ‘spectral’. So the metaphor of the ghost suggests both the way queer youth are haunted by the fairly traumatic history of those who came before them, and may be relegated to an ephemeral or invisible existence today. It’s not all doom and gloom, though! Ghosts, after all, are powerful objects of fear and fascination, and have their own unique ability to unsettle the status quo.
The novel is, as you might guess, a ghost story; an Australian Gothic tale about a young man haunted by the ghost of a ‘Parkhurst Boy’, one of the hundreds of adolescent convicts sent to the Swan River Colony in the 1840s. An extract from it is being published in a collection by UWA Press this year, and hopefully I’ll find a publisher for the novel itself next year. I still need to actually submit it for my PhD first…
As a past SCSA chief examiner, what are some things that top ATAR English students do to receive the top marks?
Practise! Top students demonstrate a fluency and control that only comes with practise.
Think critically. No English teacher wants students to simply regurgitate what they’ve been told in class. We want to see evidence of a living, thinking human being.
Personal voice. Having the depth of knowledge but also the confidence to express an informed opinion will take students a long way. Emphasis on the informed.
Read widely. The more students read – and view – texts, the more they understand how texts work.
Understand purpose, audience and context. They know that busy exam markers are under pressure and they express themselves clearly, thoughtfully and with well-reasoned arguments.
Revise studied texts. It is difficult to write a convincing essay without evidence or a clear understanding of the text. Out of all the texts they study in a year, they only have to write on one, so know it well.
What are your favourite things to do outside your time as a teacher?
I love cooking and entertaining. I write and every now and then even get something published. Writing textbooks for Insight Publications (currently) keeps me busy, but I seem to be perpetually studying too, although my PhD supervisors would probably say that I don’t spend enough time on my studies… I wish I had more time to read. Oh and I love to travel. My side hustle in writing essentially funds my travel plans!
The responsibility of the writer is to say something true, to give voice to untold histories, to say something sincere about personhood, to speak from the margins of the unseen world, and to say something unsaid about the experience of being human. – Safiya Sinclair
This article was originally published in the Summer 2022 edition of The Wesleyan. To read more, click here.
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