Bestworst lesson

1st December 2006 at 00:00
Best: About two weeks from the end of my first year of teaching, my school decided to organise a day of food-based design and technology, culminating in a picnic out on the field. In Year 3 we were to provide the "sandwich snacks" component of this bonanza, which led to some fairly enlightening discussions on what exactly a bunch of 24 seven-year-olds considered to be healthy (marshmallow sandwiches, anyone?) as well as some frank and honest discourse on personal taste ("I'm not eating that. It tastes like dog poo.")

Finally however, the classroom was set up as an assembly line. The children were primed and ready to go, and I was equally keen to get started, given that the full and comprehensive nature of our discussions had left us only 40 minutes to actually get the sandwiches made.

We began fairly well. They were taking things absolutely seriously and working incredibly hard. But with only 20 minutes to go, we still had three quarters of our ingredients left. An upping of the pace was necessary, so we worked like demons for the remainder of the time. Butter and cheese flew around the classroom like missiles, and at least a quarter of the sandwiches ended up mushed into the floor.

There was one moment in all this mania, however, when I paused, stepped back and just watched them. After a year of squabbling and fussing and moaning, they were finally working as a team. All concentrating, no one tempted to ruin things by being silly. Without wishing to exaggerate, I almost cried. Even with the smell of margarine hanging thickly in the air, it was an incredibly life-affirming moment and absolutely one of the best lessons I have ever had

Worst: It was that same NQT year, and my class of lively Year 3s were sitting before me on the carpet, angelic faces shining up at me. I gave the requisite shake of my feet to throw off the two most prolific shoe-strokers and began speaking in the hushed tones of the primary school teacher.

"Well everybody, today we are going to be finding out about some symbols from one of the world's religions. Can you guess which one?" We trawled through the usual answers ("Sagittarius!" "Pakistan!" "Conservatives!") but eventually arrived at Hinduism. I was naively thrilled by their solemn interest as we discussed the bindhi and the ohm in the big book we were reading. Apparently, they were really paying attention.

The next day I had NQT time so I left instructions for my children to design posters based around Hindu symbols, and then to display them in the corridor outside the classroom ready for parents evening. After school that day, it was only after my fifth set of parents that I wandered into the corridor to have a look at how the display had turned out. I was greeted by a scene redolent of Hitler's campaign office. There were thick black swastikas adorning almost every poster.

A feeling of cold dread washed over me as I remembered the page opposite the bindhi, where there had been a picture of a swastika, the Hindu ancient symbol for peace. I spent no small amount of time that evening explaining that I was not a white supremacist bent on recruiting for some kind of neo-Nazi organisation. It is somewhat needless to say, I have not used that particular big book since

Kate Townshend is a teacher at an Oxfordshire primary

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