BestWorst Lesson

21st March 2008 at 00:00

Best - I had a group of A-level English students who found textual analysis boring. Our next genre was romantic fiction with special emphasis on grammar and, in a 50 per cent male class, there was no interest beyond a groan. Out of frustration, I telephoned Mills and Boon. Miracle beyond miracles, they had a writer living near the college and she was willing to come in for free.

Sixty-something and clearly in the running for the Barbara Cartland look- alike contest of the century, the woman turned out to be much more formidable than she seemed. Her appearance - pink Chanel suit and veiled hat - shocked the class into silence. (Another miracle since their default mode was talking about last night's telly, the football and the shortcomings of various members of staff).

She read an extract from her latest novel and then, as we had arranged beforehand, I waded in with the continuation of the story in which all the adjectives had been removed. The class worked in pairs and, extract by extract, we analysed the grammatical structure of love. At the end, an enthusiastic group set off to do their homework: writing the next chapter in the style of the original.

As for our author, she was, as the students would say, "well pleased". Three girls even ordered her book.

Worst - If you have got a winning formula stick with it, I thought. Faced with the apathy of a City and Guilds Friday afternoon radio journalism group a couple of years after my romantic fiction success, I turned again to the telephone. This time, unfortunately, I phoned a "friend". This FE lecturer had gone into radio journalism after the college sent her off on work experience. She said she'd send me an ex-radio producer who, she was sure, "would fit the bill".

Then I received a phone call from the City and Guilds moderator. He wanted to pop in on Friday. "Great," I thought. "Mr ex-radio producer does his stuff and it's enrichment all the way." The moderator was early. My ex- radio producer was 15 minutes late. I filled in, my panicked voice droning on.

The door was flung open and there he stood; in his forties, fat, and more drunk than I have ever seen anyone in my life. The moderator gazed in horror as he lurched about telling anecdotes of his brilliant career, which ended with a castigation of the bastards who'd fired him. The kids were enthralled.

Finally the moderator had to help him limp out. Later one of the kids said: "He was like a really bad actor pretending to be a teacher."

Susan McCraith is subject leader for English language and literature at Barnet College of Further Education in north London.

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