Bestworst lesson

2nd November 2007 at 00:00
Best: I was excited about the reflective writing lesson that I had planned. I was armed with soil in a plant pot, seeds, twigs and tea light candles. The idea was that the pupils would come out to the front of the class and plant a seed to symbolise something in their life they wished to nurture and grow - perhaps a relationship, talent or ambition. The twig was to be symbolically snapped to get rid of something in their lives they hated and a candle was to be lit to reflect a hope for something or someone.

There was a whole-school assembly before the first lesson of the day and as I left, I noticed a new pupil crying. I encouraged her and her two friends into my room and the story came out. The date was March 13 - the anniversary of the Dunblane massacre. All three girls had been pupils in the primary school when the shootings happened, although thankfully none were directly involved. They were upset because no reference to the anniversary had been made by the headteacher in the assembly. It seemed every anniversary at their last school had been marked by the lighting of some candles. I had never, in many years of teaching, ever taken candles to school, or matches for that matter, but now I knew why I had them today.

"Would it make you feel better if you could light a candle now, here in my room?" I asked. So, while my well-behaved class waited outside, three little girls and I lit a candle each and said our silent prayers. The girls left. I let my class in. The lesson went well but so much was learned in those minutes before the lesson even started, although I'm not sure how to put it into words.

Worst: My class of 13-year-olds was studying The Merchant of Venice. Metaphors flew around the room and I tried to explain what Bassanio meant when he said he wanted to shoot another arrow in the direction of the one he had lost. I chucked a ball into the corner of the room and said it was lost so I was going to throw another one in the same direction and this time watch closely where it landed. Then when I collected it, I would hopefully find the first one, too. This way Bassanio hoped to find his lost money by borrowing more.

One boy was always a thorn in my side. He needed constant reassurance and got edgy when I deviated (as I was creatively wont to do) from lesson plans. "I don't understand," he said time and time again. "The arrow symbolises money," I explained, trying various ways to help him get it.

The class (who got it) became exasperated. Uncharacteristically, I shouted at the boy, who cried. His parents complained. I cried. His mother said he was a "special boy". I agreed but didn't hear the hidden undertones.

Had she told me that he had Asperger's Syndrome, I would have known that metaphors agitated him. No use crying over spilt milk but parents shouldn't leave you in the dark.

Jackie Irvine, a former head of English in Perthshire, is taking time off to bring up her children.

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