Bestworst lesson

16th November 2007 at 00:00

Best: My best lesson was teaching Chaucer's The Pardoner's Tale to an A-level English class. I have always tried to use drama to represent the characters we are studying, and this hermaphroditic bug-eyed conman seemed a perfect opportunity.

I jumped up on to my desk and began screeching medieval malady at my class to show them what it must have been like to have listened to one of his sermons.

The class followed suit and all hopped up on to their own tables predicting, in suitably vitriolic tones, terrible deaths for those who did not pay for the Pardoner's dubious remedies.

It was at this point that the headmaster walked into the classroom with some prospective parents. "This is our youngest English teacher," he told them. He went red, then white, then green and walked out again.

The class laughed but I ran out to explain and bring him back.

This time, the class stood on their desks one by one and the parents who were touring the school were highly impressed by their acerbic eloquence in their predictions of eternal damnation.

Worst: My worst lesson was, inevitably, during my teaching practice. I was in my first day at one of Bristol's less salubrious schools. Suppressing an urge to run from the room of frightening looking mini (and not so mini) ogres before me, I took a seat at the back, trying to remain as unnoticed as possible.

Suddenly, the teacher leading the lesson left the room. The hordes turned and looked at me, the next best thing to a proper adult, and I could see my fear reflected in their eyes.

Paper and children flew in all directions and noise erupted in a way I had never heard before, or since. I grabbed the nearest available desk, sheltered behind it and waited.

Appalled at being left in such a predicament with so little explanation I began theorising about what could possibly excuse my sudden desolation. I just managed to keep my head, quite unexpectedly, until the teacher returned.

"Sorry, I just thought I'd put out the fire in the bin outside," he said. It was not so much the information he gave as the matter-of-fact way in which he delivered it that scared, or scarred, me the most.

I take my hat off to all who teach in such schools and maintain a sense of calm. But I learned that day that I could not do it.

Chris Wheeler is head of English at a school in Kenya.

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