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My best worst lesson

BEST: I had a call to go to a Catholic primary school to teach Year 6 and was slightly disconcerted by the wheedling tone of voice from the secretary at the agency. "Have you worked at the school before?"

A warning light flashed at the back of my mind. The voice then spelt it out: a difficult class and a series of supply teachers who refused to return for more the next day.

I must like a challenge. I arrived at 9.30am to be greeted by the lovely but frazzled headteacher. She was pleased to see me and insisted I sit down with a cup of tea while she talked me through problem areas and then left me in her office while she read the riot act to the class.

In-service training had covered strategies to reduce stress. We had had to visualise the day as a desert to cross, and we needed to visit five watering holes during that journey.

Today though would need Ray Mears, a couple of helicopters and sponsorship from Perrier. The class was as volatile as any I have ever encountered, but I read pupils Just Stupid by Andy Griffiths, a brilliant story that captivated and motivated them to do writing linked to it.

I was fortunate that my choice of book was just what was needed to hook into their minds and cool enough to not switch off the alpha males.

The head, meanwhile, was so impressed that she took their writing home with her to read that night.

WORST: I had planned my science lesson meticulously, as one does in the early days of teaching practice, but nothing would have saved me from the disastrous series of events that became the nightmare of my practical session on which conditions do woodlice prefer?

I was lulled into a false sense of security by thinking that post-Sats Year 6 in a pretty rural school would be a nice class. They were to be as squeamish about woodlice as any other class.

My plan was to introduce the lesson and quickly ask them to establish how to conduct the fair test by keeping some factors the same and only changing the materials in each corner of a cardboard box, bark chippings, damp paper, towels, egg boxes etc. I would produce all the necessary equipment for them to put together the investigation.

This was behind me, hidden under a cloth beneath the board, sorted into packages containing cardboard, pots of woodlice, sellotape, soil, paper towels and pots of mulch: everything that they might conceivably need to conduct a fair test in groups of four.

During my opening sentence, and without warning, apology or preamble, a workman appeared behind me and proceeded to dismantle the blackboard using hammers, chisels and an electric drill.

Why did I decide to continue the lesson by raising my voice and demanding focus on me rather than the entertaining spectacle of the board assassin? Probably the memory of the time spent gathering 50 woodlice from dark and mouldy spots in my garden before breakfast.

Then the peripatetic brass music teacher started his lesson in the open- plan area outside my classroom. Finally, the workman knocked over my pile of yoghurt pots containing the allotted number of woodlice per group.

Rowena Riden is a supply teacher in Lancaster.

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