First encounters

19th March 1999 at 00:00
New teacher Gemma Warren remembers her first school

Never mind OFSTED. Never mind lesson planning, marking, INSET or class management. We've just got that National Teaching Awards bumph through, and I have only one thing on my mind. Newly qualified teacher of the year. It will be mine.

I've begun to realise that teachers don't get much praise and my stocks of naive idealism are running a bit low. Seeing as I can't get through the day without screwing up everything in the building from the photocopier to someone's career prospects, it would be nice to feel that I was doing something right. At the moment I need more support than a pair of Lycra knickers.

Strangely enough, kids aren't renowned for giving you a lot of feedback, unless it's the negative kind. Even if they're quite enjoying a lesson, they'd never tell you. Teaching is like endlessly trying to please a brick wall, except the wall doesn't fall asleep or pass round notes saying "Ms Warren's put on weight recently hasn't she?" I was quite pleased when I found that note, because at least it meant that they'd understood my lesson on apostrophes. "It's not that we don't like English, Miss," one of my Year 10s told me. "We just hate reading. And poetry. And writing. And drama." "So my entire life's work, you mean?" "We like reading your column in the Times Ed, Miss. Is it true that you still don't have a boyfriend?" All of a sudden they're into Practical Criticism. Why will they do it to me and not a poem?

My head of department happened to be walking past my room the other day when by some miracle I'd persuaded my Year 9s to look like they were doing some work. "Looked like a good lesson, Gemma," he said afterwards.

Immediately I'm on the defensive. "What do you mean by good? Why good and not great? Good as in better? Or good as in good for that particular class? Good teaching? Or good learning? Good-interesting? Good-bad? You think it was awful. You hated it. I'm a terrible teacher. Pass the chocolate."

My head of year was listening to this particular exchange. "You shouldn't take everything so personally," he told me, "the kids enjoy lessons with you."

Don't take it too personally? At the moment, my form, WAR 10, have informed me that it's an infringement of their civil liberties to sit quietly for registration, participate in discussion group, attend detention and do anything that I want them to. And by the way, have I had my hair cut, because they liked it better the way it was before. The buck has to stop somewhere, and at the moment it's lodged up my ego. I need this prize.

So here is my NQT of the Year manifesto, to any Year 10s who happen to be reading. No, I still don't have a boyfriend. But nominate me and you'll get no homework, you won't have to read, and we can just watch the Romeo and Juliet video over and over again all year. I feel pretty secure that you're not going to do it, but failing that, here's just one little request. See my lessons like the greatest party in the world. And, at the end, say "Thank you for having me".

Gemma Warren teaches at The Latymer School, Edmonton, north London

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