Bestworst lesson

22nd June 2007 at 01:00
Best It was a Year 10 English lesson with a media focus and the title I gave the class was "news values". In order to find out how news organisations decided on their agenda, the plan was to develop our own one-off class newspaper about school life.

Being only a fixed-term supply teacher, nobody thought to inform me that an Ofsted inspector would be present in my lesson. He was there waiting at the rear of the classroom.

Each pupil submitted a story idea that was based around school life. The ideas were submitted orally at first, with each story being given a headline that I scribbled on the whiteboard. Cycle stolen from school bike shed; Work progressing well on music block; Teacher to wed...

Then gormless Dicko came up with a masterpiece. "Sir, we've got all these inspectors in school and one of 'em is in our class now. What about doing something on that?"

Gulp! I smiled at the man at the back. "Is that all right with you?"

He was a credit to his calling and for the next 30 minutes was bombarded with questions which he handled manfully. He even agreed to posing when Dicko borrowed a camera from art for a head and shoulders snap. We had a front page story for our newspaper and my lesson was marked at the top of the scale, but I still shudder to think what might have happened.

Worst Citizenship I count as one of my strengths, but not that day with a bolshie Year 9 class, who were unschooled in the art of meaningful discussion.

The idea was to choose an issue and, rather than just hold a whole-class discussion or make notes about it, to invite pupils to place themselves in a continuum along the length of the classroom wall.

I chose foxhunting as the topic, thinking it suited to a fairly rural school.

"At this end of the room," I indicated, "is where you stand if you strongly oppose it. Whereas, at this end," I continued, walking to the opposite side of the room, "is where you go if you think foxhunting is fine and does a lot more good than harm."

The idea was that by inter-pupil discussion, each pupil worked out their place on the continuum. The lesson speedily veered towards disintegration, with pupils thinking they had been given free reign to walk about the classroom, possibly for the first time in their school lives.

I should have stopped there and then, but I thought the continuum idea such a good one.

I simply brought the class to order and switched topic from foxhunting to capital punishment. "All killers should be hung," shouted one bigmouth, sparking a near-riot response.

Face to face confrontations and wide scale furniture abuse threatened as the lesson fell apart. How I regretted introducing serious crime into that class.

Alan Coombes is a retired teacher from Hull

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