Cautionary tale of the closet cupboard jumper

11th April 2008 at 01:00

Teachers are thieves, forever grabbing what they can, where they can. Luckily, "borrowing" other people's teaching ideas is a victimless crime. One I came across recently looked promising. It was used by a junior school teacher to get the attention of her class and to stimulate their imaginations.

Before the children arrived, the teacher hid herself away inside a large wooden cupboard in the corner of the room. Her classroom assistant let the class in, drew down the blinds, and began to create an imaginative scenario involving spooks and ghosts and things that go bump in the night.

Suddenly there was just such a "bump". The kids all jumped. Bump! They jumped again. To their amazement the noise was coming from inside the cupboard.

The assistant turned up the tension a notch or two. Had they ever heard of things called poltergeists?

At the climactic moment, the teacher gave a great howl and leapt from the cupboard into the classroom. All right, so maybe one or two changes of underwear were necessary afterwards, but the lesson was deemed a great success. So successful, in fact, that she now performs it whenever there's an inspector in the room. The kids all do great pieces of writing, and never forget the day "Miss" jumped out of the cupboard.

I thought this sounded great when I first heard of it, but wasn't sure how useful it might be in an FE context. True, it would liven up a dull day. But could it really be justified when teaching the three uses of the comma?

And I have come a cropper over a cupboard before. At the time I was teaching - or trying to teach - business communication to a group of secretarial students who went by the unprepossessing name of Basic Clerical Procedures. We tend not to use words like "basic" in course titles any more, so today they'd probably be called something like "Foundation for Management Studies", or perhaps "Onwards and Upwards in Business".

My lesson on how to lay out a letter had fallen a bit flat, so when a cupboard door mysteriously creaked open, I took the opportunity to spice things up a bit. Had they, I asked in all seriousness, heard about the former head of department who'd committed suicide after being unlucky in love? They hadn't. It happened, I said, in that very cupboard. The cleaner found her hanging there when she arrived in the morning.

At that moment the door helpfully gave another creak, and for a brief instant I had them in the palm of my hand. Then a particularly sensitive young woman broke down in tears. Unluckily for me, this incident coincided with the arrival of the head of department - an upright and formidable woman, not known for her sense of humour - outside the classroom. Hearing the wailing from inside, she put her head round the door to see what was going on.

"It's Mr Jones," one student answered obligingly. "He's been telling us how the head of secretarial topped herself in that cupboard because her sex life wasn't up to much any more."

So it would probably end in tears, too, if I decided to give cupboard jumping a go. Knowing my luck, I'd just get to the point of leaping out when the door would jam tight shut. Of course the class would kill themselves laughing . and I'd still be stuck inside the cupboard.

And this time it wouldn't be the head of department who happened to be passing, but the college principal. First thing I'd know would be a hammering on the door. "Jones, come out! You can't escape from your paperwork like this. If you've cracked up again, you'll have to do what everyone else does and see the college shrink."

So if not cupboards, what can I do for my party piece next time there's an inspection in the offing? Maybe I should up the ante and go for something really dramatic. Have myself delivered in a coffin and burst out of that. Or arrange for a "kidnap-a-gram" to come busting in and drag me out at gunpoint.

Or maybe not. Maybe it would be safer to stick to the three uses of the comma after all.

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