Don't do what I did - So nervous I had to stop to breathe

6th March 2009 at 00:00

It was my third week into my teaching placement and I had been asked to take half of a lesson. I was so excited; this was the real teaching that I had been looking forward to. But I had not banked on how daunting a group of 17 to 18-year-olds could be.

The Year 12s walked in and sat down looking like zombies. "Never judge a book by its cover," I thought. The class teacher briefed them on the lesson's objectives and then handed over to me.

"Tell me what you already know about genre," I started. No response. I tried a joke. "So no one knows anything then?" Bad move: not even a giggle. Maybe they were zombies.

I broke down the concept into more manageable chunks, but the students were still unresponsive. Even my carefully prepared PowerPoint presentation didn't provoke a blink. "More questions," I thought. What about ...? Who is ...? Why is there ...? How ...? When ...?

I had made the classic mistake. They were not answering and I could not stop talking because I was nervous and impatient. I was rushing. I needed to stop to breathe.

If you find yourself in this situation, don't panic. Develop a slow pace and don't be scared about being patient and having some silent time for pupils to respond.

Try to find other methods of assessment. Get pupils to write their answer first, before asking them to share it with the rest of the class. Develop a good questioning technique. Use more open-ended questions as these will provide more than one-word answers. Even if the answer is short, use a follow-up question to expand the pupil's answer.

Remember, stay calm, don't be nervous but be patient.

Emma Bowden is a PGCE media studies student at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Email your experiences to

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