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First encounters

Sarah Tomlins almost makes peace with Year 10.

What is it? What do they want from me? At least I'm not the only person Y10(2) has declared war on. In fact, I have come off unscathed compared with the PE department. Year 10 classes - in whatever subject, set or school - always seem to see it as their duty to make life a misery for whoever sets foot in front of them. So no, I am not alone. But this offers little relief once that door is shut behind me and I am the focus of 33 hostile pairs of eyes.

I enter the room with a firm, hard attitude, taking no pains to try and be the new "pally" student teacher. Quite the reverse. I spot their pulverised, battered, and torn to shreds dog-eared copies of Daz 4 Zoe. It's a book that I was more than enthusiastic about when I first encountered it during school observations at the start of my PGCE, well over a lifetime ago. At the time, as I guided a small class through the paces of a lesson based around group work and hot-seating, I didn't foresee a similar lesson six months on, with roughly three times as many pupils, a GCSE syllabus and speaking and listening assessment sheets.

As I struggle with the jargon dictating the class grades - grappling with the mystifying differences between "formulate and interpret" and "synthesise" - the group struggle with their attempts to say "something, anything vaguely positive about the text" in a Jerry Springer-style set-up.

Oh, don't get me wrong, they were fine with the Jerry Springer chat show bit. "Miss, can we punch each other? Can we have the music louder? Can I drag her out of her chair by the hair now? When can we start fighting?" But when I got down to the assessment criteria part, they struggled a litle more. As I did.

I wanted to be able to give them some marks, if only to save my own skin when I had to hand out their results. My subject mentor and I tried interfering a little at times, in an attempt to pick up the pace. "But why, Emma? Remember, you're Zoe's father. Would he just have mumbled, 'I don't know', do you think?" And even better, the class loved the sight of Miss dancing around the "stage" area with a board marker as a microphone, in her mad attempts to enthuse them. Or at least, to elicit some kind of response.

Despite all the moans and groans, self-conscious giggles and yawns, the results weren't bad. OK, so a few slipped through the net and uttered nothing more than, "yes", "no", "don't know", and then wondered why they got a "U". But we got some real emotions flying across the room, and not only some well thought-out questions and responses, but some impulsive and feeling responses.

The past few weeks might have been a struggle - of intellect, enthusiasm and will - yet I think we were all left with the feeling that something had been achieved. For the pupils, it was the realisation that they know more of the text then they gave themselves credit for, and a rethinking of their future careers in television; for me, it was a greater insight into the class as humans. Yes, they might by Year 10s, but I swear I saw feelings beneath those terrifying exteriors. When I next walk in, I hope that I can keep up this more relaxed and friendly attitude. Well, at least for the first five minutes before I receive the howls of dismay at their grades.

Sarah Tomlins finished her PGCE in secondary English last year. She is now an NQT at Poynton county high school, Cheshire

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