My best worst lesson

Suzanne Chinnock

Best - My best lesson was in my NQT year. I was a few weeks into A Midsummer Night's Dream with my Year 9 pupils; it was their first encounter with Shakespeare and they were captivated.

I decided to feed on their enthusiasm and asked them to arrive for our next lesson in role as one of the characters. Having dreamt up this homework in a moment of inspiration, I had no idea what to expect.

The next lesson arrived, along with a relocation to accommodate mock examinations. Feeling more than a little grumpy at being turned out of my room, I spent 10 frustrating minutes waiting for my group to traverse the corridors to the humanities suite.

Suddenly, I saw two Titanias (complete with costumes and flowers interwoven in their hair) approaching me rehearsing a speech written in rhyming couplets. Several Oberons, Pucks and other fairy folk followed and entered the room before my astonished eyes. Bottom even made an appearance. It seems they were late because they'd all been changing, and not because they'd been dragging their heels as I'd suspected.

Even the less-enthused members of the group had made an effort, arriving at the lesson with a prop or a prepared speech. The lovers were notable by their absence.

My lesson plan was forgotten. Instead we heard speeches, performed sections of the play and interacted and were hot-seated in role. One boy had learnt Puck's final speech by heart and so ended the lesson - a wonderful, spontaneous experience that I will never forget.

Worst - My first day at a new school - a promotion and a January start. Monday, Period 1: Year 11, bottom set.

Fifteen pairs of eyes met mine as I entered, already assessing me. It turned out they'd had a string of supply teachers and the atmosphere was thick with hostility, disillusionment and defiance. I'd been (incorrectly) told that they needed to complete a piece of coursework on Macbeth, but my painstakingly prepared lesson plans proved useless when I learnt that half of the pupils had already finished the piece, some had read the play but written nothing, and one or two did not seem to know which text I was talking about.

As I hastily improvised, surreptitious movements towards the back of the classroom caught my eye. I discovered one boy eating from a lunchbox filled with pasta in tomato sauce. The most I got was an apologetic look but he continued eating his breakfast.

Two girls were busily applying make-up and several boys were engaging in illicit trading of biscuits and chocolate bars raided from kitchen cupboards. This was clearly normal behaviour for an English lesson.

I'll be honest; I nearly gave up. One girl had written my name and "for now" in large letters on her exercise book and I knew she was mentally calculating how long I'd last. I've never been one to turn down a challenge and I'd already been saddened by how demotivated these young people were, so I kept on.

It wasn't plain sailing, but most coursework folders were completed. Trading ceased altogether and the breakfasts became fewer. The crowning moment was when the words were scrubbed from the front page of the book - I'd arrived.

Suzanne Chinnock is a secondary teacher from Dorset.

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Suzanne Chinnock

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