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Bestworst lesson

Best I count this as my "best" lesson, because it felt like triumph over adversity. As was normal for all new staff, I was being observed by the principal. This was nerve-wracking in itself, but I was going to be teaching general studies, renowned for putting students to sleep.

My lesson was on advertising, and I was short of inspiration. Just beforehand, there was a relevant programme on television. I recorded it, then stayed up half the night selecting clips and trying to think of stimulating activities. Unfortunately, I hadn't left myself enough time to get my chosen clips re-recorded onto a new tape. Instead, I had to use the counter to fast-forward to the appropriate place - three times. To make matters worse, the photocopiers were playing up, so my worksheets looked rather scruffy and amateurish. But it was too late to change things.

My hands trembled as I fast-forwarded from one clip to the next. At one point, my tape was a few seconds out and we were all treated to the sight of an elderly lady cavorting about in red nipple tassles.

I organised the class into groups and got them discussing the language, images and taboos of advertising. The principal joined in too. Each group produced an overhead projector transparency summarising their conclusions - except for the principal's group, which appeared to have become completely side-tracked.

Inscrutable as ever, he sat me down for the feedback session, and then broke into a huge smile. "That was great," he enthused.

"Everyone really engaged with the subject - myself included. You even managed to make general studies interesting."

Worst I hesitate to describe my worst lesson, because it sounds like I am making it up. I was teaching English at a prestigious boys' private school, which shall remain nameless, and feeling a little out of my depth. Many of the teachers were quite eccentric - and so were the boys.

My GCSE group proved particularly challenging. I had already fallen off the teacher's dais once while writing on the blackboard - because the platform was shorter than the board - which did not help my flagging self-esteem.

But there was worse to come.

By some means, the boys had got wind of the fact that I harboured some kind of Christian faith. When I walked into the classroom, they had replaced the class text - Twelfth Night - with Good News Bibles and invited me to preach a sermon. After a bit of banter, in which I tried to look as though I was still in control, I managed to steer things back to Shakespeare.

Not for long. One boy jumped out of his chair. He was a scholar (so he wore his black gown to lessons) and of a theatrical bent. "I am the Christ!" he shouted. He stretched out his hands, as if he was being crucified, allowing us all to see the very convincing nail-marks in his palms.

My teacher training had included no advice about how to handle spontaneous crucifixion re-enactments in the classroom

Hilary Cooper is a teacher in Darlington

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