My best worst lesson

BEST: The big day had arrived and I was about to experience (or suffer) the final observation of my PGCE year. I had planned my science lesson carefully and told the appropriate staff, most importantly the teaching assistant who worked with Billy*, one of the livelier pupils in the Year 5 class.

With my university tutor positioned at the back of the classroom, I headed out to collect the pupils from break and inform them about the special visitor.

"He's seeing how good you are, innit?" said Billy, with a glint in his eye.

"Well ... yes," I admitted, trying to mask my concern. Seemingly the teaching assistant had been more honest with him than I had planned.

The class filed in beautifully and set about creating and testing plastic cup telephones, revelling in the practical nature of the task. To round off the lesson I asked: "Tell me something you liked and something you learnt."

With persuasive glances from Billy, the class rattled off how fun, interesting and practical the lesson had been and how much they had learnt. Perfect answers. My tutor smiled and ticked away on his clipboard. Then Billy exclaimed: "We love your lessons, Sir. You are a great teacher," before nodding to the class, which burst into rapturous applause. I smiled, thoroughly embarrassed as they went completely over the top.

"Was that OK, Sir?" asked Billy as I marched out of the room with my tutor, ready for a debrief.

Just fine, I smiled to myself.

*name changed

WORST: My first lesson in teaching found me in Zimbabwe at the age of 18, supposedly a classroom assistant. But the science teacher was called away and thrust a textbook into my hands that was open at the page on human reproductive organs. The class of 12-year-old pupils gazed expectantly up at me.

Nervous enough at being left alone with them, I started to sweat profusely as I realised the exact nature of the vocabulary that I was expected to introduce to them for the first time.

Standing there repeating and spelling words I had certainly never heard said out loud in public before was harrowing enough, but when the pupils were left to answer some questions in their books there seemed to be a growing disturbance from the back of the class.

I marched towards the offenders to see a boy exhibiting his reproductive organs for all to see. Despite the kinesthetic nature of such learning, the resulting screams from the girls were unfortunately not helping anyone.

My rapid rebuke was too late - the class was in hysterics and nothing more was going to be learnt in that lesson. The deputy head reappeared, somewhat surprised and exasperated by the chaos that had ensued in his 20-minute absence.

Little did I realise then that 10 years later I would still be teaching biology, but with a little more confidence and a lot less perspiration.

Mike Lamb teaches biology at Hurstpierpoint College in Sussex.

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