Bestworst lesson

20th April 2007 at 01:00

I was young and enthusiastic and in my first year of primary school teaching. I had spent the evening before preparing the music needed for a Year 4 drama lesson. This involved the long and laborious process of transferring suitably atmospheric tracks from vinyl to tape with a hand-held microphone.

Next day it was into the hall and I told them they were free to just react to the music. And react they did. They became robots to the synthesizer sounds of Kraftwerk and they were transformed into stomping zombies under the doleful dirge of The Sisters of Mercy. Then there was a Thomas Leer instrumental track which was jazzy, cool and up - tempo.

It wasn't obvious how they were going to interpret it, but that quickly became apparent as the hall was filled with 30 little secret agents.

Holding imaginary pistols in their hands, they hid behind vaulting horses, peeped out at imaginary enemies and performed perfect SAS rolls and leaps as the music reached its crescendo.

My 30 children became, really became, 30 James Bonds and I felt that excitement, that frisson of joy and pride, that a really good lesson can provide


Fast forward 10 years and there's another school and a complete change of mood. My worst lesson also involved the school hall but this time we weren't there for long and no magic was created.

An uppity Year 6 class was misbehaving at the beginning of a PE lesson, their mood darkened by a rainy lunch hour spent caged indoors and getting on each other's nerves. I was not letting them get away with it, I was going to make a point and show them who was in charge.

I ended the lesson there and then and marched them back to class, telling them to get changed and read in silence. And if we could not follow instructions and read in silence, we would spend the rest of the afternoon practising how to.

First one child and then another shattered the silence with a giggle or a whisper, but I was determined they would not win. So we kept on reading. I could feel the waves of hatred breaking over me. The tension was growing, the windows were gradually steaming up.

Then a boy coughed and another copied and another and another until there was a cacophony of sound in the room. It was their protest and a very effective one, one I felt unable and unwilling to stop.

They had discovered the power of the collective and I had realised it is only possible to teach a class if you have persuaded them to let you Paul Warnes teaches in Kent

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