By Tracie McBride
One of my many roles—some might call it my “real job” as it’s the only one for which I receive regular financial recompense—is as a part-time teacher aide at my local primary school. I work mostly with grades 5 and 6 (eleven- and twelve-year-olds). It is a low-key, low-stress position that is intensely rewarding because I get to see the kids’ personal and academic progression and feel like I might have played at least a small part in it.
All the kids knew I had written a book. They kept asking questions about it, the main one being, “can I read it?” and the main answer being “no” (or if I was feeling verbose, “Hell, no!”). One of the teachers with whom I work had read my book thought that, despite the mature themes of the subject matter, it would be a good experience for the kids to hear from a “real author”. So she identified what is possibly the only story in “Ghosts Can Bleed” that could be safely read to twelve year olds (in that story, a father pushes his teenage daughter off a cliff; so you can imagine how much less suitable the rest of the collection might be) and organised for me to make an “author visit” to the class.
It had all the trappings of a “real” author visit, except that I wasn’t actually visiting from anywhere; I was simply stepping out of my role as teacher aide and into my role of author. The kids seemed to know how the game was meant to be played—for about a week prior to my “visit”, the excitement built up. I got, “you’re reading to us next week!” several times a day, and then, “you’re reading to us tomorrow!” and then on the big day itself, “after you’ve read to us, can I have your autograph?” Never mind that I could be found reading to them any time in the classroom without it being a noteworthy occasion, or that on any normal day of the week I had access to pen and paper and knew how to use it should a signature be required; this was going to be an Event, and would be treated accordingly. As the children’s anticipation heightened, so too did my nervousness; their expectations were high, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to live up to them. The fact that I knew them all by name and had just told half of them off that morning for various misdemeanours suddenly was irrelevant.
The moment arrived. I took up a seat in a comfortable armchair while the class of twenty-five students gathered around my feet. The teacher and I talked a little about my book, and then it was time to read. Twenty-five pairs of eyes gazed up at me intently. My mouth was suddenly dry, and with a voice I hoped was not going to crack under the pressure, I began to read “Becoming”.
Because it was a particularly short piece (under 500 words), there was time to read it twice. Afterwards came an in-depth discussion and analysis of the text that put me on more comfortable ground, because it resembled a classroom lesson and I then felt able to treat the text as something separate from myself (which is usually how I feel about my work once it has been sent out into the world on its own). Then the students returned to their desks to draw an illustration of the story. This is where the autographing came in; most of them asked me to sign their works-in-progress, which apparently is the done thing during primary school author visits.
“Tracie will be judging your pictures later, and I’ll put the top ten on display on the wall,” the teacher announced, and BOOM! There went my anxiety levels skyrocketing again. Judge? But…but…that’s like asking me to choose which one of my own children is my favourite! In the end, though, nobody disputed the first place winner, an anime-style illustration by an exceptionally talented young artist (I’ll be asking to take that picture home at the end of the year, and probably shoulder-tapping him to illustrate for DCP when he gets a bit older, if he continues with a career in art).
And then it was over. I’d had my fifteen minutes of fame, and just like that, I was back to being Tracie the teacher aide. And that was quite alright by me.