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Pupils dive into puddle
teacher Keith Butler
reckons teaching English
is ''the most exciting
thing ever''. He talks to
Spirit fingers: Ross
Intermediate School teacher
Keith Butler has an
inimitable way of
encouraging young writers.
Photo: LEILANI HATCH
Muddle, puddle, cuddle.
It's one of Keith Butler's
homebaked'' theories -- his
Muddle -- what and how to write,
it is a problem.
Puddle -- plunge in, write, there's
something, bubbles of ideas, where
there is water there is life. Seek
Cuddle -- it's looking really good,
give it a hug.
He teaches Ross Intermediate's
gifted and talented class and says
many of the 28 students are reading
at pre-university level.
Writing is the only meditative
area for kids at the moment. They
work at twitch speed because of
He has taught the class about
James Joyce and stream of con-
sciousness and had them excited
about not using full stops.
Are you serious, Mr B?'' they
question. Won't we get into
Mr Butler says he has no secret
for teaching English -- the good
students naturally write and he
won't intervene. Instead, he will cre-
ate an exciting environment'' and
say to them go for it''.
The biggest thing a teacher can
do is recognise a child's writing for
what it is and sometimes leave it
alone because there is a certain raw-
ness and perfectness in it.''
Natural writers can create a
metaphor and turn a simile.
They themselves don't know they
have it because it just happens.''
Step five of his 10-step writing
toolbox is create a problem''.
The kids will say they cannot
think of anything, they have boring
lives. He will remind the hormones
on legs'' -- don't they give their
mother cheek? Don't they say to her
Step seven, drafting, calls for
absolute quiet'' and visitors are
Mr Butler says he will forgive a
child anything if they give him a
simile that wins him over.
The reward for teaching is seeing
the gem in the porridge -- that lovely
beautiful sugary piece.
The 63-year-old moved to Palmer-
ston North from Melbourne five
years ago to be with his partner,
Massey University social anthro-
pology lecturer Dr Robyn Andrews.
He is happy to be here.
I'm glad I didn't become a head
master. I'm glad to be the age I am
and to be teaching because you do
get better at certain things.''
He used to write feature articles
for The Age and in 1998 won the
Melbourne newspaper's short story
He has had work published in
Penguin short story collections,
drawing on his Anglo-Indian heri-
I'm very, very lucky to have that
background because you sip from it.
It's like that marvellous cup of tea.''
Born in Delhi in 1948 and educa-
ted in Calcutta, he started his
teaching career with the Jesuits.
In 1972 he emigrated to Australia
and obtained a Bachelor of Arts,
majoring in English, as a mature
age student from Melbourne Uni-
His first story was published
when he was 15.
I never ever forgot that and I've
never stopped writing since.''
An unpublished manuscript is
with an agent.
Therapists will say write it out
of your system' and it's quite true.''
In Melbourne he felt Indian eth-
nicity was being airbrushed and
hated the way the West had altered
Indian food and said it was real. No
self-respecting Indian would eat
butter chicken, he says.
Short stories are his favourite
form of writing, which he likens to
You have got to hook the reader
from that opening line.''
Then you can pull, but any flat-
ness in the story and the fish will
get away. Short story writers need
to dip their pen into the poet's ink
bottle to get the required com-
Ross Intermediate is the first
state school he has taught in; he
says the resources at Ross are
amazing, with a television station,
radio station, and digital classes
providing the world at the pupils'
Mr Butler reckons inside him is a
child who never grew up.
If you can wonder about things
like kids wonder and explore that
world and chortle alongside them,
wouldn't it be wicked?''
He does not see teaching as work,
but says it is emotionally draining.
I get a lot back from the students
and that keeps me going, otherwise
I wouldn't do it. This isn't a job for
Mr Butler says he will keep teach-
ing until he is told not to.
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