Don't do what I did - I stormed into class, waving my war plan

6th February 2009 at 00:00

I made a mistake. It's inevitable. I am a new teacher. But I didn't expect a major mistake to have been made after taking university tutors' advice.

"You're the new breed," they said. "There's a lot of advice out there that's been around for decades and much of it is rubbish. A lot of sayings are antiquated twaddle, we don't think like that anymore and neither should you."

So I didn't. For a couple of months or so, my fifth form class and I had a laugh. I wove humour in whenever necessary, even on worksheets. On my first day I beamed. The pedagogical zeitgeist shone from my eyes. Then things started to slip. It began with the offers of high-fives. It ended with the whole class thinking the homework I had set was a one-liner.

After they had all done abysmally in their personal study, which they needed to pass to even consider taking the lower level of higher exams, I realised something needed to be done.

I took a leaf from the book of American foreign policy. The next day I stormed into class, brandishing my war plan. Shock and awe had begun.

Every pupil was assigned a new seat, with gulfs of empty desks between them. From now on there was nothing funny about what we did, no one was going to talk unless I gave them permission. Work was to be done in absolute silence.

I was amazed at how things changed. Tightening everything up made for a much more efficient machine. We ploughed ahead with our close reading practice and a few weeks later virtually all pupils passed their next personal study exams. Mission accomplished. Class 5.2 and I still have a laugh, but pupils are learning more.

Conrad Watts teaches English at Bishopbriggs Academy in East Dunbartonshire near Glasgow.

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