Susanna Freymark left teaching to start the Young Authors Publishing Group. Charlotte Wolff reports on a winning career change.
Susanna Freymark's story is unusual, but one that may inspire teachers who dream of branching out with their skills. Susanna left classroom teaching 11 years ago, and has been doing "what I love best" since. The result is the Young Authors Publishing Group, and it has been beneficial for all concerned.
Susanna came to Britain in 1984 from the Australian bush (where she taught young Aborigines) to work in a struggling north London school. Walking into the Year 3 classroom was a serious shock. "I went in and the children were all over the place," she says. "I tried everything: shouting, threats, and the softer approach - but no response. Finally, I slammed the door, and the glass smashed. It was a dramatic start, but it worked."
Susanna applied the teaching methods she was used to, and luckily found she had the freedom to do whatever she wanted. With the help of aerobic classes and a class rabbit that roamed free she had the children under her spell. And when her chair damaged Flopsy the rabbit's ear, the children wrote a book about it. The foundations of her future career were laid.
Susanna left full-time teaching when she became pregnant, and had a short spell as an English tutor. But she found it limiting, and began running creative writing workshops for seven to 12- year-olds. She has never looked back.
A 10-week creative writing programme with Susanna is no ordinary affair. Influenced mainly by educationalist Donald Graves, Susanna believes in treating her students as "writers" rather than children, and allows them to make their own creative decisions. Add to this her love of games and celebration, and you have a workshop that can hardly fail to be enjoyed.
"My strength is motivation. I get the children to believe in themselves as writers, and my passion is being able to see them express themselves," she says. "If I was working in a school I wouldn't have the time to sit down with each child and help them find their motivation."
Her approach works with almost every child. Even children who think they hate writing find themselves creating their own story and taking it through to publication.
Susanna "publishes" the books on her home computer and holds book launches, at which each child celebrates their achievement, sells copies of the book and receives royalties.
Susanna's work has featured on Woman's Hour, Radio 5 and in The Times. The coverage provoked a flood of calls from young writers, and Susanna decided to write books that would help others do what she does.
The result is A Self-Publishing Guide for Young Writers, which includes five examples of young authors' work, which is now on sale for use in schools.
Next will be a series of workbooks aimed at parents and teachers - the first of which is The Creative Writers' Launch Pad, containing rapid writing activities for seven to 11-year- olds.
"Teachers like what I do, but they recognise the restrictions within the classroom," Susanna says. "I wrote The Creative Writers' Launch Pad to show teachers how they can help the children come up with their own ideas, using 10-minute sessions."
"There are so many avenues you can take when you get out of classroom teaching, but ideally you need to specialise," she advises. "You can do so much if you have something that is a bit different."
To contact Susanna Freymark, write to the Young Authors Publishing Group, PO Box 17010, London NW3 2GA.