BestWorst Lesson

4th April 2008 at 01:00
BEST - My best lesson, with a junior Latin class, was so successful that I have repeated it several times. It all started when I glanced idly from my second-floor window and noticed that the school drive resembled the spot on the River Medway where the first great battle of the Claudian campaign took place, a two-day tussle that led to most of Britain becoming part of the Roman Empire for the next three-and-a-half centuries.

As many of my pupils were members of the school's Roman Legion, run by my husband as an activity, it followed that the best way to learn about the events of the battle was to re-enact it.

So it came to pass that the Romans (in red tunics) met the Britons (in tracksuit bottoms) on the field of battle, armed with home-made shields and swords.

First we just walked through the course of the battle, tracing all the moves. Then the battle was joined in earnest. The Batavians - a Germanic tribe that fought with the Romans - "swam" the river and the Romans used this distraction to launch a crossing further upstream.

Forming ranks, shields joined, they met the initial onslaught of the Britons with equanimity. Unfortunately, boys being what they are, the Romans forgot their discipline and, with ear-shattering battle cries, launched themselves on the "barbarians".

A rout ensued, not quite historically accurate, as we later discussed. However, the Romans were ultimately victorious and Pax Romana reigned on the field. The pupils voted the lesson as "the best and funniest ever".

WORST - My worst lesson was years ago when I was a young and enthusiastic French teacher. A well-planned lesson on Alphonse Daudet's Lettres de Mon Moulin for my A-level pupils was just under way.

My painstaking planning had ensured that I was perfectly au fait with the background, the writer's style and message. But as the worksheets were being handed out, the earth moved. I mean, it really moved.

The year was 1987, the place was the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand, and the shaking was the Kawerau earthquake. Although it clocked in at only 6.3 on the Richter scale, it was shallow, thereby causing huge and widespread damage.

Yelling at the pupils to keep away from the windows, and tossing a few stunned ones under their desks, I leapt to the door to stand under the frame, which used to be recommended as the safest place in a building during an earthquake. The pupils were calm and did as they were told without question, perhaps relieved at the apparent divine intervention that had put an end to their French literature study.

Poor old Daudet - his short stories bit the dust for the day, and I have never felt quite the same enthusiasm for him since

Christine Williams is head of Latin at Beeston Hall School in Norfolk.

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