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My best worst lesson

Best: My NQT school was near Heathrow, and described as turbulent. Not because of the 747s that forced you to stop teaching mid-sentence, or because the pupils were especially unruly. Rather because mostly immigrants came to the school for brief periods, before moving on. Nearly 100 different languages were spoken. The newest pupils skipped many lessons to undergo intensive English courses, but we had fought to keep them attending French.

I had spent the term teaching Year 9 everything to do with the house, presenting this with carefully selected pictures and mimes. We had played games, sung songs, chorused, shouted, whispered, in an effort to digest the words.

Then came the dreaded end of term test. Why would a group of 13-year-olds bother about a French test? Good results in languages weren't cool, especially for the boys.

But that particular day, when the results were handed out, I realised these pupils had bothered a lot. This was one subject they were allowed to attend and they were intent on success.

As the papers were handed back, mostly proud faces shone back at me. The boy with top marks had recently arrived from Eastern Europe and at first had had a hard time telling people his name and age in English. As I showed him his result his face changed from worried to ecstatic. He closed his eyes, punched the air with his fists and then asked if he could take the test home for his mother to see.

The fight had been worthwhile. While learning French, these pupils had developed the confidence and self-esteem that would set them up for life.

Worst: I was second in department, in charge of French. I was teaching a class of 12 Year 8 pupils on a Thursday afternoon with a teaching assistant. Should be a doddle, I thought. Except that most of them had a hard time remembering their pen, let alone the French alphabet.

Had I known about "positive affirmations" then, I would have spent the entire lunchbreak saying them. It was setting myself up for failure, checking where the deputy head would be in case Wayne started throwing books out of the window, or making sure the Year 8 head was in the staffroom when Shereen accosted another pupil.

This particular lesson started well, with pupils in seats, books on desks, but I was soon interrupted to remove a boy who was burning pubic hair with a cigarette lighter in another class. When I returned all hell had broken loose. Once order was restored and I was calmly writing the days of the week on the board, the pupil at the front piped up: "You're doing it all wrong, you dumb troll." I was stunned by his vocabulary and shocked to see I had written the words in Spanish. Now that the horror has faded I am impressed that he noticed.

Dawn Francis-Pester is a home tutor.

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