Bestworst lesson

15th February 2008 at 00:00

Best: As an RE teacher I always aim to develop skills of empathy among the pupils. When I was teaching at an inner city Leeds school, I was constantly amazed that once the surface was scratched these hardened pupils had hearts of gold. I remember, for example, the girl who gave her cherished gold locket, a present from the dad she seldom saw, to the Samaritans for disadvantaged children abroad.

My best lesson with these children involved the death of my goldfish. I talked about it to get a discussion going on what happens when we die. The pupils did seem moved but I didn't appreciate how much until two children, each unaware of the other, arrived at the staffroom with replacement goldfish they had bought with their dinner money. The headmaster gave me a funny look as I proudly marched to registration armed with my new pets.

Driving home with them was a bit of a challenge. They were in bags and I was trying to hold on to them as I drove. Changing gear was the hardest and their heads popped above the surface level of the water at roundabouts.

The following morning one of the fish was worryingly still. Was it dead? What would I tell the pupils? I offered up a quick prayer and, luckily, the fish started swimming again. That day, the lesson was moving from the theme of death to miracles. I decided against mentioning this little miracle, though - two fish were quite sufficient.

Worst: I was reluctant to return to school after my six-month maternity leave. As the head formally welcomed me back I burst into tears at the thought of having left my beautiful baby girl, for the first time in her life, at a nursery. I was still breastfeeding her and at after-school meetings I would try to camouflage the damp patches left by my leaking milk.

Such was my desperation to spend as much time as possible with my beloved baby, I approached the childcare teacher to see if I could bring her into one lesson for the pupils to feed, bathe and nappy change. The teacher decided it was a smashing idea and the deputy was happy to cover for me to allow for transport and collection. I was therefore to be with my daughter for an extra half day. Super.

However, the deputy forgot the arrangements and the cover fell through. But I was determined the idea would go ahead so using my only free lesson, I quickly drove to the nursery and brought my baby to school.

Things did not go according to plan. She was plonked in a cold bath and screamed the place down. She wouldn't take her food from strangers. They put her nappy on inside out and we didn't have time to change it before I had to whisk her back to nursery so I could return to teach my Year 8s. I decided she would be better off in the nursery than as a prop for my teaching.

Angela Hindle is head of religious studies at Selby High School, North Yorkshire.

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