The best of times, the worst of times

9th May 2003 at 01:00
We've all been there: to the top of the mountain, then plunged into the depths of despair. Tessa Bartley asked new teachers to share their highs and lows

Have you ever had a teaching experience so fantastic that you felt like bursting into a chorus of "We are the Champions" or one so horrendous that "I Want to Break Free" would have been more appropriate? As your last ounce of dignity waves goodbye and you pray the ground will swallow you up, you try to recall some moments of inspiration and wish they had never ended.

Here are some great moments shared by other teachers to remind you it is all worth it - and some awful ones to prove you are'nt the only one!

Good times

"My choir from a socially deprived area was performing for the first time - in the Symphony Hall. Their dumbstruck faces were memorable, and their elation once we'd finished the performance on stage was the most rewarding moment of my year.

"It kept me going!"

Di Levine, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

"While teaching the feudal system, I used my pupils to create a human pyramid to highlight the fact that the king was at the top and below him was everyone else who had to obey the rank above them and give orders to those below.

"I deliberately chose my king as the smallest, and most shy and insecure member of the class and allowed him five minutes of ordering the rest of the pyramid around. The other pupils went along with this and they ended up in a line singing "I'm a little teapot short and stout ..." complete with the actions!

"All the kids had a laugh. They knew and understood the feudal system - an exceptionally boring topic! - at the end of it and, even better, the pupil I had chosen as king went from being a fringe figure to the centre of the class and integrated much more with his classmates - so much so that for the rest of the week, they did whatever the king asked them!"

Paul Hargreaves, Kettering, Northamptonshire

"My best moment was being told that I'd passed induction, after failing to make satisfactory progress in second term.

Ginette Smith, Year 2 teacher, Middlesex

"While teaching English to a Year 7 mixed ability class, I wanted to encourage them with their reading. So I arranged for the class to take part in the Scholastic Global Reading Day. The class took it in turns to read aloud for a total of 33.3 minutes. I had two pupils who were very poor at reading and didn't want themto feel pressurised into takingpart in something that could embarrass them.

"One decided that instead of taking part she would colour in a poster about the event - which we later had laminated and put up on the wall. I asked the other if he would mark off the minutes for me on the board so we would know when to finish reading.

"The same child, who hated reading, told me he wanted to join in with the others and asked if he could be the last person to read aloud to the rest of the class. He was so enthusiastic that he read for longer than necessary. Definitely my best moment."

Stephanie Britton, Southampton,

"During my first lesson with a Year 10 class, two boys kept going on about how good my whiteboard writing was - "The best we've ever seen, Miss." In fact, they would not shut up about it, even while I was trying to teach.

Just this once, I let them talk.

"Some of the best moments happen while watching teachers who have been at it for years but who cannot keep control any more than you can as a trainee.

"It is probably wicked of me to enjoy it, but satisfying nonetheless.

"The best moments are the ones the kids produce. One lad said to me at the bus stop, after a friend shushed him and warned him there was a teacher near: 'I didn't think you were a teacher, Miss. I thought you were a normal person.' Hmmm! That explained everything.

Fran Hill, Hampton, Middlesex

Bad times

"One of my worst experiences so far during my PGCE has to be my first lesson with my new Year 7 class. By the end of the lesson, I had been locked in a cupboard, repeatedly told to "Fuck off" and threatened with a fire extinguisher!

"You will be pleased to know that I have not let them get the better of me and I am still going - due to graduate in June!"

Emily Townsend, Egham, Surrey

"My worst moment was having to tell my Year 2 class that the mother of one of their classmates had died from cancer. I was an NQT, and I was being observed by my mentor at the time."

Ginette Smith, Year 2 teacher, Middlesex

"During my training, a Year 9 class was so rowdy I ran out of the room without a word and fetched their regular teacher, complaining 'They're uncontrollable', as we hurried back to the classroom. Well, you know how it is when you get into the doctor's surgery and suddenly your rash disappears? When we arrived, they were sitting, completely unsupervised, but quiet as the grave.

"New to a school during training, I spent a horrid 15 minutes wandering the corridors looking for my class. I even started teaching one very amenable group of Year 7s until their real teacher turned up late. They were not at all fazed that this strange teacher was doing short stories with them in their geography lesson.

"Early in my training, I realised that in one lesson I had broken all my own idealistic principles. I shouted, threatened but did not carry it out, used sarcasm, made personal remarks, everything bar swearing and throwing things - I think. With all this, there had been only a little time left for teaching, which I did badly, needless to say.

Fran Hill, Hampton, Middlesex

"I was scheduled to teach key stage 3 physics on energy transfers to my form straight after assembly. I went through my son's toys looking for examples of energy transfers and produced a fine selection, supplemented with torches, dynamos and electrical devices from the prep room.

"I skipped assembly and spent the time rearranging the classroom, with toys and gizmos, putting bright, funky labels on the tables and arranging worksheets. Assembly ended just as I was admiring my handiwork and recalling course references to 'creating a positive classroom climate'.

"The class returned to the room, collected their belongings and headed for the door. When I reminded them their first lesson was with me. 'Yes Miss, but we always have Thursday science in M6'. Great, I had just spent 30 minutes painstakingly rearranging M1 for a physics lesson, and now there was a history class outside the door.

"I got each pupil to grab a piece of equipment and we dashed across to the right room. Then, 60 seconds of chaos as we re-set the equipment and dished out worksheets. It was all completed seconds before my mentor came into the room to observe the lesson, by which time, the class were seated and quiet, beaming at me and waiting for the lesson to begin. What a great class!"

Sue Cook, Oxford

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today