Bestworst lesson

29th February 2008 at 00:00
Best: My Year 6 pupils were studying charismatic black leaders for English. Most of my set comprises a group of bored boys whose idea of reading encompasses looking at the onscreen television guide to check the time for their favourite programme.

Amid suppressed groans we chose Nelson Mandela's May 1994 inaugural speech as South Africa's first black president as a focal point for reading and writing. The class researched his background, read the speech, wrote a diary account of his typical day in prison and role-played police dispersing political activists at a rally.

The final lesson entailed three pupils delivering the speech while the remainder acted as international dignitaries. I had primed them earlier on the dramatic effect of the language, the tone that an iconic leader such as Nelson Mandela adopts and the physical stance that a leader bears.

My heart swelled with pride when I heard my pupils' voices resonate with the pain, passion and inflection of a nation whose sacrifices helped to shape South Africa's struggle to democracy.

I looked at their faces and found my wonder mirrored in the expressions of their peers.

And there was something else in their eyes - a belief in their abilities and themselves.

Worst: I was appointed to teach a Year 5 class with challenging behaviour and I searched for every strategy to get them listening. On the first day of spring term, I prepared meticulously for lessons. Nothing was going to detract from my mission to win them over.

After a dazzling introduction where I used the interactive whiteboard, the boy who was almost always the catalyst of low-level disruption interrupted: "Miss, I have to tell you something."

"Does it relate to the lesson?" I asked.

"No, but ..."

"Well, then let's save it for after the lesson," I intercepted.

I turned to illustrate further intricacies of place value and by then there was a hum of voices. A group of faithfuls were trying to concentrate while said boy tried to interrupt again. The pupils at the nearby table started to grin and some talked through clenched teeth or cupped their hands over their mouths as they whispered.

I continued teaching. I had made a resolution to enable them to access the curriculum, meet their targets, enjoy and achieve.

"Miss," said boy called out. "Your price tag. You didn't remove it."

I looked over my shoulder. There was, extending from neck to waist, a huge rectangular cardboard label with the words, "SALE 50% off" emblazoned on it. I flushed with embarrassment as I heard giggles and saw considerable eye rolling.

I trusted said boy to cut off the label for me. But the January sale had not only saved me some cash, it also marked that crucial moment. You know - the one when teacher and children suddenly gel.

Sudhana Moodley is Year 6 teacher and deputy head at Foxborough Primary School in Langley, Slough.

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