First encounters

8th June 2001 at 01:00
Ruth Powell realises her boys will be all right

When I first met my Year 11 class, it was with a degree of dread. Twelve boys in the bottom set, switched off from English and school, more used to drawing spliffs on their English books than writing anything useful in them. But coming from teaching practice in a school where I'd had a bottle of water thrown at me accompanied by the words "Say I did that and I'll kick your head in, Miss", I felt fairly confident that they couldn't do anything I hadn't seen before.

They had me on tenterhooks for the first few lessons. They tried to kick doors, smash a window, swear at me, make suggestive comments, steal my videos. For a while I dreaded lessons with them, until I found a form of attack. Simply, I learned that I needed to use the fact that I am only a few years older than them. Now, just before they go on exam leave to revise (in the loosest sense), they're on my side. Or I'm on theirs.

They work quietly through practice papers as I wonder where they'll end up. The thing is, they'll all be all right. Not one of them will get above a C at GCSE,but they're not bothered; they all have plans. They talk about the apprenticeships they'll be starting, what they'll earn, what car they want. Some of them harbour dreams beyond their capabilities, but hey, it's OK to dream.

And then - Friday, sunny, lesson before lunch - an awful truth dawns. Some of these kids will earn more than me. Not next year, but soon. One boy, flunking everything, has been working weekends at an electrical store. They're taking him on full-time, as a trainee manager. Within two years he'll be earning pound;18,000.

I trudge away to a plate of curry and chips and to ponder the idea that a 16-year-old scraping GCSEs by the skin of his teeth will soon be earning more than me. But I'm pleased for him, for all of them. It proves there is more to life after school than college, university and qualifications. None of that matters to these students - and it's OK, because there is a niche for all of them where they will be happy.

That almost makes me feel better about the money issue. Almost...

Ruth Powell is an NQT at Waingels Copse school, Reading, Berkshire

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