First encounters

3rd July 1998 at 01:00
Dear Year 10. As we're reaching the end of our time together, I feel there are a few things that need to be said. I've been teaching you for nearly six months now, and I feel we know each other pretty well. You don't know it, but you've seen me though five bouts of severe premenstrual tension, a major hair cut, and a change of address. That's more than most blokes I know.

The strange thing is that you don't know about any of this, just as I don't know when things go wrong for you, although I can tell more than you think from your writing. That's why I stick up for you, even though I'm sure you often don't understand why. I like to think that, in a funny way, we look out for each other.

So what I really want to say is thank you. Thank you for giving up so much of your precious time to let me entertain you. Thank you for walking a whole three seconds from your form room to my classroom every day; I know it's hard. Because I'm under no illusions about who's really in change. It's you. I submit freely. When I'm with you, I become the student, continually trying to work you out. I'm working to a curriculum of my own here - a GNVQ in you.

I've tried everything to get a reaction. I've been excruciatingly friendly, I've been the mad professor, I've been horribly unfair, I've been to the worst place of all - Trendy Teacherland.

The last one got a couple of rolled eyes, but it was a start.

I wonder sometimes what I should do to get a reaction - lap dancing? But I can see you seem to have been inoculated. "You're enjoying this aren't you, Miss?" you sneered after one particularly heartfelt session on Shakespeare's sonnets. Well not really, Year 10, but I hoped I might trick you into a response.

We obviously need relationship counselling. We're just not communicating. I once asked you if there was any reason for your silence. Do you have a participation phobia? Do you have a fear of committing your thoughts - to anything?

"It's because it's first lesson, Miss," you said. "We're not properly awake." Okay, then. What about yesterday before lunch? "We were hungry, Miss." So I try to trick you and ask you last period on Friday. "We're tired. We've had a hard week."

Hodan came to me in tears last week. "I don't understand why you've given me such a bad report, Miss." Hodan - in the past two terms, I haven't had one piece of work in from you. Until now, I don't think I've heard your voice except when I've taken the register, and even then you don't sound too sure. You wanted to know when we were starting Macbeth, and we'd finished it three weeks ago.

I've tried praise. You'll never get adoration like this again. "Can we have some more paper, Miss?" Yes, brilliant, absolutely, thank you for that Azmina. "I didn't have time to do my homework, Miss." Well done, Sara. Thank you for taking the trouble to tell me. "I can't write this essay, Miss." Don't worry, Joanne, I'll take some notes. I'll take anything now, Year 10 - I'm teaching bargain-basement style.

When I was in school, I spent all of my time trying to impress girls like you, and now I'm doing the same thing. What does this say about why I'm teaching?

So all this explains, Year 10, why I'm surprised at the card that I found in my pigeon hole this morning. "Dear Miss Warren. We'll really miss you when you go. We really enjoy your lessons. You're the best teacher - ever!" Year 10 - you've won again. You're one of life's mysteries, and I'm hooked.

Gemma Warren is a PGCE student at London University's Institute of Education. She graduated in English from Leeds last summerl First Encounters returns in September

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