It All Began Here

25 07 2019

‘Pitbulls I Have Known’ was one of the prompts that I offered students in my writing classes. Initially, they worked in their notebooks but as time passed we published using Bravenet. Then, as I worked the Soul Food Cafe, I found ways to publish their work and extend their readership. 

I was working as a Secondary School Teacher in a northern, former technical school as an English teacher when I began to introduce my students to the internet.

The guiding principle behind the work that I was doing as a specialist teacher of writing was that if my students wanted to become polished writers then they had to gain experience and practice the art. I also believed that if we used internet forums such as the now-defunct Bravenet, I would provide extra incentive for them to write.

To establish a daily writing practice, at the beginning of each year, I encouraged students in my English classes to create a special notebook to store their words. Most years students filled at least two notebooks.

One of my favourite exercises was to spend the first session covering the book.  I liked to get students to design a door that expressed their personality. “Are you like a fly-wire screen door, a big heavy front door with a solid doorknocker, a cathedral door?” I asked. I bought plenty of art supplies into class and we also made use of those lovely brightly coloured kinder squares and pages from glossy magazines to create a collage.

Once we had our notebooks established we make a commitment to write each day and we always counted the words we managed to get down on the page. The aim was to get as many words as possible in twenty minutes and to try to get more each session. I always provided quirky starters, students would read selected pieces to the class and we discussed how particular prompts drew out a lot of writing. It was exhilarating when students actually clapped in response to particular readings.

It was the redrafted responses to some of these starters which students published on Bravenet. This was the time when the internet was brand new and my students were very excited to see their work go live and to be able to show their work off to their parents and friends. I went on to publish the prompts and their work in the Student Lounge at the Soul Food Cafe. 

Consider covering a notebook with a door that represents your personality, follow links into the Way Back Machine which photographed this part of the site. Perhaps you will try some of these exercises.

Pitbulls by Jeff Hogan
From participating student folios

Lunch money! At school it was a valuable resource like gold was to gold miners, clients were to lawyers and at least one trip a year to somewhere in the world was to my grandmother. However, with all these things, there was something to steal these resources. Other gold miners, lawyers, deaths in the family and, with lunch money, school bullies.

The school bully at our school was James Mortimer Rela. He was rich, had a family who didnít give a damn and he received everything he wanted, and if he didn’t, he stole it. Like the time when he was eight, he nicked a womenís handbag so he could buy a racing car. Or the time when he was eleven when he stole a computer game from the library. The librarian, an overweight and elderly male, could never catch him. But the one I will never forget was when he shoved me into a video stand at an electronics store. While everyone was helping me up, he walked out with a brand new, shiny Playstation 2.

You might ask why I never stand up to him. The reason is, his weight, speed and strength. He weighed a good one hundred and sixty pounds. He could run the four hundred meters and never get tired as well as being able to lift up his own body weight, and more if he tried harder. He was as indestructible as a tank, as powerful as a nuclear explosion. But then one day I had an idea.

The one thing James could never resist was to take lunch money. He could make fifty dollars a day and not even have a job. And almost always he would spend the money on the canteens most valuable, edible cuisine, the Mister Feaster. It was ten dollars though, but it would have all youíre eating needs. Chocolate, sandwich, fried rice, soft drink, hot chips and more. It cost a pretty penny but it was worth it and James would always get it. However, James also had a fear. Pit bulls. Large, fierce, ugly, mean, slobbering, Pit bulldogs. That’s what James called them. My plan was hideous but it just might work.

It was photo day. I came into the canteen with a ten-dollar note in my hand. All the people in my class gave up fifty cents each to put into my plan. I walked right past James gang. There were a lot of teachers around getting their photos taken so they could do nothing but stare. I went up and ordered the Mister Feaster. Once I received it I slipped on the ĎMister Dumb Jokes sleeping potion, I sat right near the gang. The teacher’s left and James struck. He picked me up and threw me into the garbage. He then started eating and soon afterwards he had zonked out. A group of nine kids helped me carry James away and towards the pitbull cage.

James never returned to my school after that. The shock when he woke up and found himself surrounded by pit bulls made him think he shouldnít come to school anymore. As a celebration, everyone ordered the Mister Feaster and ate it in a piece. No James came and took it away. However, I didn’t end up going to the party. I was suspended for throwing James to the Pit bull’s but I will always remember that experience.


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