Bestworst lesson

7th March 2008 at 00:00

Best: I decided to do a lesson on the Battle of Hastings where my Year 7 girls would write the script, direct and star in their own news broadcast-style video.

The pupils divided into four groups, each of which wrote a script for one part of the four-stage battle. They volunteered for such roles as William the Conqueror, King Harold, director, camera person and news reporter and we drafted in two classes of younger pupils to be extras. The youngsters designed and made weapons such as swords, spears and shields and were asked to provide a costume.

The filming took place on a cold winter's day and it began to snow just as the filming started. Perfect. For the next half an hour, carnage ensued as the dogs of war were let loose and 40 pre-teenage girls dressed in knights' costumes armed with cardboard weapons ran riot on the hockey pitch causing death and destruction. The director added credits and a rousing soundtrack to the film, which was shown to the school in morning assembly. It was greeted with a round of appreciative applause worthy of the Oscars, even though the film was of questionable historical accuracy (much like Braveheart).

The girls had a fantastic time and the Battle of Hastings has become an annual event, eagerly looked forward to by junior and senior girls.

Worst: I was teaching 16-year-old Australian boys the Vietnam War and wanted to show them the hostage scene from the film Platoon.

When the action reached that scene, one boy stood up and left the class, followed by a classmate. The second pupil explained that the first boy was from Vietnam and many members of his family had been killed during the war.

I felt sick as I imagined how traumatic it must have been for him to witness such a scene and the memories that the image must have reawakened. I apologised to the boy for my insensitivity and he accepted my apology with good grace.

The following day I passed by a classroom where I knew that the lunchtime film club was showing a film. I heard Tom Berenger's dulcet tones and entered the classroom. The youngsters were watching Platoon and who should be in the audience but the two boys from my history class.

The traumatised pupil was not from Vietnam, he was from Hong Kong. A wave of relief flooded over me as the boys explained that they had played this joke on teachers before and it had worked a treat.

Although I had been given a fright I learnt my lesson that it pays to be cautious in your choice of source material.

Andrew Mackay is head of history at Brigidine School in Windsor.

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