First encounters

12th March 1999 at 00:00
Alex Hinds on the day he said goodbye to Mister Nice Guy.

Our trainers have encouraged us to become "reflective practitioners" during our PGCE year, and indeed beyond. The theory is that we don't learn from our experiences unless we reflect on them - mull over each event to bring out its full potential for professional development.

I have taken some comfort from this theory. The way I see it, the bigger the disaster, the greater the learning potential. And even though this interpretation may not be the one intended, it has been helpful.

My first experience of teaching with a hangover is a prime example. Excess drinking is perhaps not something I should be publicly confessing to, but it was a seminal point in my development. Hangover day marked the final nail in the coffin of Mister Nice Guy.

A school must rank fairly high on the list of worst places to spend the day when you have what feels like 30 screaming children pounding the inside of your skull. My least favourite child was drumming the back of my eyeballs with a half-eaten lollipop and I had to teach him.

Staff and pupils were uniformly unsympathetic. My self-inflicted state was a source of amusement in the staffroom, where colleagues took unusual interest in the talking toys on display from an agent. The only time a musical talking guardsman alarm clock is more annoying than when it wakes you up is when it sadistically mocks your fragility.

In lessons, of course, I tried to raise myself to something approaching vigour - you can't tell the children you've got a hangover. All I wanted was to curl up in the corner for a snooze while they got on with it - quietly. But they are not the sort of children who do anything quietly, and on hangover day my tolerance finally snapped.

I have gradually been becoming a more effective, stern disciplinarian, but acquiring this mask of toughness has been a slow process. Practising the advice of teacher-observers has definitely improved the tone of my lessons and behaviour of many of the pupils. Simple classroom management measures, such as insisting the whole class stand quietly behind their chairs at the start of a lesson (the sort of thing I thought was pathetic when I was at school but which I now understand) are paying big dividends. The firmer approach is definitely making my lessons better and my life easier. But there was still too much of the soft-centred, laid-back Mister Nice Guy in my teaching style.

Hangover day finally got rid of those wimpy tendencies. Unable to curl up in a quiet corner, I had to survive in the classrooms, and that meant keeping the noise at a bearable level - a level substantially lower than I had previously tolerated. Any misdemeanours were swiftly and firmly terminated. I wouldn't recommend teaching with a hangover but it did teach me that I could shout and be nasty when required.

As a reflective practitioner, I consider this a valuable lesson learned. The ability to shout and be nasty is a tool that was lacking from my teaching armoury. It is, hopefully, for selective and sparing use only, but at least I know I have it available now. More to the point, the children know, too. They have seen me fire a few volleys and have, for the most part, adjusted their behaviour accordingly. On hangover day I redrew the battle lines in my favour and took a big step forward towards winning the war.

Alex Hinds is a PGCE student at the University of the West of England, Bristol

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