Bestworst lesson

30th March 2007 at 01:00
Best. Given the chance to share a passion or interest, pupils will invariably express their devotion to a computer game, sitcom or football club. But once, a shy, solitary boy at the back of the class confounded expectation.

His chosen subject: his Christian faith, a belief that the Earth was formed 6,000 years ago, that we are all descended from Adam and Eve and that heaven and hell are as real as Ibiza and the bus station.

Keeping a wary eye on the class, I listened as he spoke with an eloquence that he had successfully hidden for almost two years. I watched as the pupils responded with respect and admiration for his guts in sharing his beliefs - beliefs that he was intelligent enough to realise would leave him open to ridicule.

In the question and answer session which followed, there was no agreement about the existence of God. But there was a tolerance for a faith that, although baffling for most of them, meant so much to the boy in front of the class; a boy who felt safe enough to share his thoughts.

The boy went on to university and when I saw him recently, I asked him if he remembered making the speech. He nodded and it was clear that for both of us, it was a happy memory - when a boy had had the courage to speak openly and a class had responded simply with inquisitiveness and courtesy

Worst. Like many other PGCE students, I expected the pupils to share my enthusiasm for my subject. How could they find Shakespeare, Woolf and Donne boring? Sadly, I soon came to appreciate that not all teenagers have an innate appreciation of iambic pentameter.

It was a bleak Thursday afternoon. I had dutifully distributed handouts on Carrie's War but the pupils seemed reluctant to share their knowledge and understanding and had to be told twice that I expected them to write down their answers.

To make my plea more personal, I squeezed between desks, turning my back on a row of boisterous boys in an attempt to settle a row of unruly girls. And then it happened. I was pricked from behind by a pair of compasses. I straightened a little. But, knowing that an attempt to identify the culprit would be futile, I reversed out of sniper's alley and did my best to pretend that it hadn't happened. "Shall we move on?" I asked. But, of course, the class had caught the scent of blood. Carrie's War turned in to my war. A colleague, teaching in the class next door, came in to complain about the noise.

Predictably, I lost the battle and the pupils lost a lesson. But I have learnt from my mistake and, with experience and understanding, lessons are now far from confrontational.

Although it does no harm to confiscate an unnecessary pair of compasses.

Stephen Bywater is a teacher in Bedford

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