The class that refuses to ignite

28th May 2004 at 01:00
They loom over me like a curse. The Class I Can't Teach drag themselves reluctantly to my room four times a week. Then we do battle. It is intense, unsatisfactory and leaves everyone involved deeply unhappy. We row, we argue and their work is poor. I force them to stare unwillingly at future exams. They force me to stare at failure.

When he is not at his anger management sessions, Donny spends all his time staring out of the window, looking at cars. Simon hits and pokes the boys around him, provoking a response and a squabble. John is always complaining that he is ill. All Peter will do is draw. Gemma doesn't acknowledge my presence at all. They bring no pens, no curiosity, no interest.

Like most of us, I have taught many difficult classes, with varying degrees of success. But this class I cannot reach at all.

I know that as a responsible professional I need to take the blame and to look for solutions. But so far I have found nothing that works. At 14 years of age they have rejected everything I have to offer them. My strategies are exhausted. All I can do is to shout and impose myself. We have been together since the end of Year 8 and it is increasingly unlikely that we will ever reach an accommodation.

The most important thing that happens in a classroom is that a relationship is established between teacher and pupil, a relationship that endures. This is one of the reasons supply teachers can find it so difficult to teach some classes. They don't know each other; they haven't had time to establish a relationship.

Looking back at my career I can see many positive relationships between myself and my students. Something happens, something indefinable, a spark, and in an instant I have affected a life forever. Advanced level.

University. I am still in touch, like so many teachers, with those I have taught. But this class and I just can't get on.

I shouldn't be surprised. Such unpredictable interaction between randomly selected human beings is what happens in school, which is why teaching can't be reduced to something easily measured. Adam is dreadful in my lessons. Inattentive. Bored. As an English teacher I deal with all those things that he finds difficult. Yet in some other lessons he is exemplary.

But I can't reach him, so the skills I have to teach he will never master as well as those he will master in maths and technology.

Steven is another of my failures. He grins at me as he rejects everything I believe in. There is something about me that brings out the worst in him.

He is disruptive, confrontational and loud. His mother sends him to school to be educated and I accept that as my job. But I can't do it. Whether I like someone or not shouldn't make any difference. But it does.

Throughout my career I know I have said things that have awakened an idea or a thought. But I have also inhibited or closed down; you can never predict when these things will happen.

A student's future is cupped in my hands. Put them in my class and they might succeed in ways that would be impossible in someone else's. But it works both ways. Put Adam in my class and he will fail, whereas next door with a different teacher things could be completely different. I have to work harder to establish a relationship. He is a child. I am an adult. It is my responsibility. But I can't do it.

Geoff Brookes

Geoff Brookes is deputy head of Cefn Hengoed comprehensive, Swansea

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