My Best Worst Lesson

Ann White

BEST: Four weeks into my new teaching job at a school for boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD) and it was time for an Ofsted inspection. Inspectors wanted to see me teach an English lesson. No pressure then. I was supposed to feel reassured by the fact that the inspectors expected to see bad behaviour, but would be primarily concerned with how I dealt with it. So I did what I always do at times of great stress, retreat to a well-known book chain with an equally popular branch of coffee shop to seek inspiration.

Help was to be found in the form of that unknown literary figure, footballer Rio Ferdinand. I will forever be indebted to this man. In fact, my regard for this gangling defender has more than quadrupled. Having realised that this particular class had a definite interest in the beautiful game (and it doesn't follow for all boys with EBD) I stumbled across Rio's autobiography, My Story, somewhat by chance. Anyway, by the second chapter I was hooked, genuinely.

As D-Day approached, I had mustered my resources and planned a lesson around securing key reading strategies using chapters 1-3 of the book. The class responded beautifully. Hands were raised, questions answered and observations made. Not a hint of bad behaviour. When the observers left after 19 minutes (such is the nature of things these days) one boy looked me directly in the eye and with a mighty wink said: "We made you look good, didn't we?" Indeed you did, I thought.

WORST: Even now, after more than 10 years, this lesson still haunts me. In the first flushes of being a qualified teacher, you are likely to feel flattered at being given set three of five. This is the class that is borderline C and D grade at GCSE. You have targets to meet and are given assurances that with your enthusiasm and creativity you will triumph. Then you are left alone to lunchtimes of catch-up classes and after-school crash courses. Years later you realise that it is the fate of the shafted. No head of department or clever old hand will touch that group.

It was a lesson on media, pronounced "meedya" by most of my clientele. We were analysing adverts and the troops were definitely restless on that particular afternoon. The low-level noise became steadily more of an issue and my attempts to quell it were not working. In a fit of pique, I announced to the class that I was paid to teach and that, should they want to be taught, they could find me in the staffroom next door. I left the room. It can only have been two minutes before there was a timid knock at the staffroom door. The leader of the pack had been dispatched to recall me. I returned to be greeted by silence and furious note-taking. Point made. And it has never happened again.

Ann White teaches at a school for boys with emotional and behavioural difficulties in Hertfordshire.

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Ann White

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