I'm pretty proud of myself for completing my latest dyslexia teaching qualification. Essays, reading, hours of teaching; all completed. The final hurdle - or assignment, as it's politely called - is to videotape myself assessing and teaching a child. Four hours' worth. To the layman, and maybe to the people who laid this minefield - sorry, set this assignment - it may seem straightforward. Get the child. Get the video. Press record. Bob's your uncle. But anyone who's ever worked in a large secondary school will know that attempting a project of this magnitude can make climbing Everest naked seem easy.
First, I've got the child. Lovely girl, but she's got a habit of swinging on her chair. Not a problem you might think. But she keeps swinging out of shot. The first time it happens, I smile sweetly, gesture frantically under the table at the video, and she swings back into focus. By the end of our first hour-long lesson, she's done it 50 times, my cheeks are sore from smiling, I'm itching to yell at her, but I've got to keep her on-side for three more weeks.
The subject of the camera is a bit touchy because I've had to borrow it from the media department. This means sweet-talking a load of Year 12 would-be Tarantinos into getting it back into school for my lesson times, when they want to be off shooting a video to accompany a garage song.
I've got to find a room. I don't have my own teaching room, and our lessons are 40 minutes long, while my taped lessons are meant to be an hour long.
This means finding one that is free for a double period, which is equivalent to finding a million pounds in your pigeonhole. I beg, borrow and negotiate with my colleagues. I tell the sixth-formers where to bring the video. I tell my student where to go every week. She's dyslexic. I write it down in 10 separate places. I phone her. I practically tattoo it on to her forehead. She can't be late, because the sixth-formers need to shoot a scene that subtly blends sex, death and misogyny to the tune of an early Kylie song. I stick a sign on the door: "Please don't come in, videotaping in process." You'd think it would be obvious. The first week three Year 7s come in because they want to see if we're shooting the new Gareth Gates single. I ask them why we would be doing that. The camera's rolling. The next week I write a note that covers half the door. "Please do not come in. On pain of death. We are not shooting the new Gareth Gates video." A colleague comes in. She wants to see how I'm doing. And do I have a red board pen? I point to the recording video. "I thought this was just a practice," she gasps and rushes out.
The final week I lock the door. I cover it with red sugar paper that says:
"Danger! No Entry!" The cleaner lets herself in with her master key. Do I mind if she quickly clears up? I smile nicely, curse her under my breath, and the rest of our lesson is drowned out by the sound of the vacuum cleaner. This had better be worth it. The assessors are in for a laugh when they watch my tapes. I write on my evaluation form that my lessons "capture the difficulties and challenges inherent in teaching in a busy inner-city secondary school". I wonder if the examiners have ever been in a school.
It's probably better not to ask. I'm sure professional development was never meant to be this complicated.
Gemma Warren is an assistant special needs co-ordinator at a London secondary school. Email: gemmablaker@hotmail. com