Interview: School can be wild!

Karen Hart talks to primary teacher Mark Bonner about what inspired him to write his book, My Teachers Are Animals, and how it supports children's transitions.

Karen Hart

Tell us a bit about your current role

I've been teaching for the past ten years across a range of year groups; between Year three and Year 11. My major passion is for getting to know each of the children I teach. I started my teaching career working in full boarding prep schools, where this was easily achieved out on the playing fields and through meal times and evening activities. I have now moved into mainstream schools where there are lots of opportunities to have fun in the classroom with so many personalities.

How did you get into writing for children?

There was a real combination of factors – but my primary inspiration has to be my daughter. Since she was very little, we have always read lots of stories together, going on to embellish the characters and story lines; going off on tangents. I think this in combination with teaching some Year 3 creative writing, just enabled me to take off the shackles and really dedicate extra time to what has now become a real passion.

How have you been coping during the pandemic?

It is with some guilt really that I answer this question, but I want to be honest. The lockdown has really given us the opportunity to spend quality time as a family. The real joy has come from my wife being forced to work from home. We live in the Cotswolds and Mimi has just loved getting outdoors observing butterflies, walking our dog Ronnie, playing in the garden and building dens. Every day brings new opportunities and new fun games.

Mimi is the perfect lockdown partner; she does not know the meaning of bored and is full speed ahead from the moment she wakes up to the point she finally falls asleep!

I have of course been busy on the emails to my students, setting work and feeding back, and it's great that school is now starting to organise more face-to-face online sessions with the pupils. Without doubt though, I will look back on this time of opportunity to spend so much time with my daughter, as a real highlight of her growing up!

Have you faced any challenges in your teaching career?

Oh absolutely! I spent one year teaching a Year 3 class right next door to the deputy head. I think she must have come in once a week because the class was being too noisy (I should say I was being too noisy). In the end it got to the stage where the children became so good at being model pupils when she came in, we would all burst into giggles when she left. Very akward in the staff room.

How did the idea for your book evolve?

The first stories I wrote were all focused around my daughter and her favourite Teddy. I just loved writing them and telling the stories to Mimi and acting them out. I developed this huge urge to write. One day I was covering a lesson would you believe, and while the children were beavering away I just decided to write a book about school, or at least what school should be like.

I am just not good at sitting quietly, so needed some way to break up the silence. I asked different children for ideas about animals and what they would teach, and then the story evolved quite naturally.

I instantly realised which characters I liked best and just decided to keep in the ones I loved!

How can this book be used in school?

I would say the book is perfect right now for children returning to school or making the transition from nursery into Reception. It shows the fun side of school and showcases lots of the exciting activities that pupils get to experience.

There are understandably lots of anxious parents and children and hopefully the book serves as a reminder of the fun, caring nature of their school.

How do you see your career progressing?

I always imagined I would be a headmaster! My career was progressing incredibly well and steadily before I got married and we had our daughter. However it quickly became the case that a lot of my drive for spending the extra time at school disappeared and I would do all I could just to get home to play with Mimi. The routine of dropping her off and picking her up from school became essential parts of my day. Having said that here still is a candle burning inside for leadership and now Mimi is getting older, it is starting to burn a little brighter. But really the dream would be a stay at home dad/full time writer of stories/performer/dog walker.

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