BestWorst Lesson

19th October 2007 at 01:00
Best - "Today", said the headteacher brightly, "we have a special visitor in school. Now, you all know it's Ofsted week? Well, we have an HMI today as well. He'll be with ..." I knew what she was going to say: the English department.

I had my morning meeting with the Ofsted inspector as usual. I had become quite fond of him by this time. It's called Stockholm Syndrome. "Do come to my Year 11 class," I urged. They were a top set and I could be confident they'd be on my side. We had been studying Twelfth Night and I had told them about the Fool in King Lear. I had just got going when - of course - in came Mr HMI, a large jolly man in a green jacket.

I started again. "Who has any views about the Fool in King Lear?" An earnest girl at the back put up her hand. "I think", she said, "that the Fool is in a cage of his own making".

"Right." I said, wondering how on earth I could pursue that idea. "Could anyone ... er ... develop that thought?" And, bless them, they did. We ranged right over both plays, everyone contributing.

After about half an hour, a furious argument developed about Sebastian - one half of the class attacking him for being dim and the other half defending him as a romantic soul. I let the discussion run on until nearly the end of the hour. "I'm sorry for mistiming the lesson," I said to Mr HMI at the end. "My dear," he responded. "What a discussion." He told the headteacher later: "Better than any grammar school."

Worst - Immediately after my triumphant King Lear lesson, and exhausted by the discussion I had just had, I went into the sixth form. We were going to discuss three paintings and poems written about them.

I opened my folder. Where were the colour photocopies of the paintings I had done at my own expense? Nowhere, it seemed. We would have to look at the poems instead. The door opened. Obviously an observer. No, it was Tom, who was always late. "Tom!" I shrieked. "It's Ofsted week. Couldn't you be on time for once?" "Sorry, Miss," mumbled Tom. "Couldn't find the room."

We started to read the poems. They made very little sense without the pictures. "Let's do a little revision on poetic techniques," I said. "Tom, remind us what a metaphor is." A hunted look came over Tom's face. "Er ... never been very sure, Miss."

"Tom," I said hysterically, "we revised metaphors and similes last week. Can you remember nothing?" "I can't remember either, Miss," said Tom's girlfriend in a quite unnecessary show of solidarity.

"Please God," I prayed inwardly, "don't let anyone come in and see that this class has not only made no progress this lesson but seems to have remembered nothing from GCSE." And, fortunately, no one did come in. And Tom never did remember what a metaphor was.

Susie Paskin, now retired, was an English teacher in Surrey.

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