Crying in the toilets when a lesson goes badly is not necessarily something teachers want their students to know about. And yet, when Oliver Beach retreated to the toilets at Crown Woods School in South London, it was broadcast on national television, as part of BBC Three documentary Tough Young Teachers.
“Of course, kids say: ‘Did you actually cry in the bathroom?’?” Mr Beach said. “I tell them that there will be situations in our lives when things are overwhelming, and everyone deals with it in their own way.”
The final episode of the series, which followed six Teach First trainees over an academic year, was broadcast this evening. Speaking earlier this week, four of the tough young teachers were filmed discussing the programme for a TES webchat (watch it here).
Chloe Shaw, who teaches geography at Archbishop Lanfranc School in South London, was undaunted by her newfound status as school celebrity. “A couple of kids were saying, ‘Miss, can we have a selfie?’” she said. “No” was the answer.
One of the most touching moments in the series involved Ms Shaw’s GCSE students receiving their results. One boy hugged the whiteboard when he heard he had achieved a C. “That was one of the best days of my life,” Ms Shaw said. “I’d worked so hard and they’d worked so hard. It was just a lovely, lovely moment.
“After they stopped filming, I phoned all my friends. They were all: ‘Oh. That’s nice.’ But I just felt like I had to tell everyone.”
The young teacher who had it toughest was Meryl Noronha. Her initial behaviour management at Harefield Academy, in north-west London, made for hide-behind-the-sofa levels of excruciating viewing.
“It was a tough year,” she said. “But I wouldn’t have gone into it if I didn’t think it was going to be tough. I got through it in the end and I learned a lot about myself.
“It’s television, and I understand that people want to see what goes on in the classroom. There are people kicking off and challenging behaviour. Sometimes I wish that they’d shown more of my lovely Year 7s and Year 8s. But I realise that the show is bigger than my personal journey.”
Ms Noronha is not the only one whose made-for-TV journey had poignant moments. In the final episode, Mr Beach talks about his own schooldays, when he was badly bullied, and makes allusion to a suicide attempt.
“Yes, that did happen, sadly,” he said. “I think, actually, the people who caused me pain when I was younger – they should know. Also, any kid who’s mean to another kid should know that you don’t know what happens when that person walks away and the door closes.”
Already, the series has led to new self-awareness among students at the three schools where filming took place. “They have a bit more context of the teacher as a human,” said Claudenia Williams, Mr Beach’s Teach First colleague at Crown Woods.
“I think they thought I lived at school, under my desk. My Year 10 girls have said: ‘Miss, I never thought about how you felt.’ I’ve had quite a few say sorry for their behaviour as a result. They’re now a lot more reflective about their behaviour.”