Create magic and you're in a class of your own

6th June 2008 at 01:00
"Come in, my pretties
"Come in, my pretties. Welcome to the magic forest of learning. Here you will climb the trees of imagination and swing on the vines of laughter. Talking flowers will tell you alarming stories. Ghost clowns will iron themselves for your amusement and witches will serve you invisible cake. Jewels of the mind will gleam, rough-cut in the shadows, then glitter when you polish them in the sun.

"But be warned, if you are annoying or lazy, sharp-nailed harpies will come to take you away."

Well, that's how I'd start my lessons if I had a classroom of my own. Instead, like many secondary school teachers, I traipse from one room to another - heavily loaded, but trying to hurry, the way you do in those nightmares when you can't run properly.

Once upon a time, I did have my own classroom - for a year - and at first it was a dream. The kiddies came to me ("Cackle, cackle"), leaving me free to create my own fantasy grotto of learning. I was worse than King Ludwig of Bavaria. Every class was enlisted to create amazing displays and the room was a feast of words and paint. For about a month.

The trouble was that neither my glue, nor my enthusiasm, lasted the year. The 6ft Tigger started to flop away from the wall, his sugar-paper tail fading sadly in the sunlight. The cuddly rabbit, that had looked so raffish leaning on the miniature Globe Theatre, slumped forward and squashed the groundlings. The Macbeth newspapers leaked fake blood into the video. Finally, the Shakespearean fairies mysteriously lost their tinsel in December. Everyone knew that they'd been stripped for the Christmas postbox, but nothing was ever proved.

After a while, I hardly noticed the floppy Tigger, the bloodstains and the half-naked fairies. Other people did, though, and usually just before an Open Day.

It's not easy when you have to teach in someone else's fantasy grotto of learning. You open a cupboard and a dusty double helix falls on top of you. Or you get swamped under a slithering mass of boring but free posters that somebody saved from a newspaper in 1996, but never got round to putting up.

You're on someone else's patch and you know it. I remember one classroom that had a magnificent mural of a blue dragon floating across the back wall. He was splendid, but his rather sarcastic expression tended to make me feel worse whenever the class was ignoring me.

I'm glad I had my own territory once, but now I don't mind carrying my forest of learning around with me. Power is an illusion, anyway. Whether you're teaching in your own room or not, your pupils are only passing through. If they need what you have to offer, they will use it to plant their own magic forest.

As for me, I may think I'm in control, but in the end I'm only a paper Tigger.

Catherine Paver, Writer and part-time English teacher.

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