My best worst lesson

Elizabeth Longley

BEST: When I was the same age as the class I am now teaching, I watched Megan Follows, as Anne of Green Gables, give a dynamic and dramatic recitation of The Highwayman:

"The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas ..."

Ever since then, it's been a personal favourite. So I really throw my all into reading it to this small group of low ability Year 8s.

And, because I am enjoying myself, they get into the story of Bess, daughter of the inn's landlord, who kills herself to save her lover, the highwayman in a claret velvet cloak and lacy collar.

We will assess whether we achieve the lesson's objectives through a role-play activity. Our learning support assistant is going to play the detective investigating Bess's suicide and the shooting of her lover. I show the class the list of characters to be interviewed - Tim the ostler, the landlord and one of King George's Redcoats.

Tom is eager to play the military man, the idea of being a soldier who marches over the moor has captured his imagination.

I take a back seat in order to assess the communication skills of the class while our assistant-turned-detective, whose onslaught of questions would put Miss Marple to shame, keeps the children engaged and speaking in detail for far longer than I had ever imagined possible. There is a timeless excitement in the air.

WORST: I spent a morning of my Christmas holiday producing a variety of resources on recent conflicts around the world for Year 9s studying war poetry. The plan was for each group to be allocated a different conflict on which to produce a short TV documentary.

With satisfaction at a job well done, I laid out my coloured printouts, neatly presented in transparent polypockets.

I set the objectives and give instructions, and allocate the interesting-looking (well, I think so) resources to different groups. I begin to circulate around the room.

The first sign that things are not going to go to plan is the whine from the first group: "We don't get what we have to do." I repeat everything I've just said.

I move on to another group hoping for some progress. Joseph has decided it is a necessary part of his group's TV documentary to pick up a chair and hold it over his mate's head. Jamie's group has discovered that my beautifully packaged resources can be removed to create balloons out of the polypockets that explode with a loud pop when given a thump.

Now I am cross, and waste far too much of the lesson lecturing on the price of stationery.

The end of the lesson comes. I peruse the tiny trickle of work achieved. Jamie's group has managed to escape with their balloons, spoils of the battle. I miserably iron out my plundered resources.

Elizabeth Longley is a secondary teacher in Surrey.

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Elizabeth Longley

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