First encounters

22nd January 1999 at 00:00
New teacher Gemma Warren on her efforts to spice up her PSE classes Twice a week we have form time. I get to spend 20 minutes of emotional bonding time with WAR 10, whether they like it or not. Strangely enough, they seem to have managed perfectly well through the first 15 years of their lives without the nurturing guidance of Ms Warren, but I take my pastoral duties very seriously.

It's a bit like an unrequited love affair. I enjoy spending time with them, and spend weeks trying to think of things that will please them; they see me as a mildly irritating, amusing object of pity with useless dress sense. I've been in these kinds of relationships before.

I try to make our time together structured, yet relaxed; relevant, but recreational. I want to make my PSE delivery unique in its child-centred appreciation of contemporary issues. "I'm so lucky to be close in age to my form," I tell my year head. "We share so many of the same experiences."

But he replies: "WAR 10 are well organised and on top of things, actually Gemma - and they are able to complete at least simple tasks." The cynicism that comes with age.

In my PSE for the new millennium, I try to share something of the Ms Warren experience, let them into various aspects of my life. It teaches them sympathy, if nothing else.

Of course, to be absolutely truthful on the "life experience" front would mean flying in the face of the "teacher as role model" theory, so I practise a bit of creative story-telling. I make each trip to Sainsbury's sound like a moral crusade, and try to add some pithy reflection on life at the end. I'm managing to turn my life into a modern Pilgrim's Progress.

Or alternatively, I just bodge together the self-help quiz that I've ripped out of last month's Cosmopolitan, glossing over the unsuitable bits. So far we've had: "Is your teacher giving you the attention you deserve?"; "69 ways to improve your organisation", "when one subject just isn't enough"; and my personal favourite, "How to reach homework heaven". I really think they're learning something.

"Can't we just talk, Miss?" they ask me every other morning. "We are talking." "Yeah, but you're choosing the subject." I get the feeling that today may not be the best day to introduce my lovable new friends Mr D'eadline and Professor Proof-read. I'm supposed to be pushing study skills, and I've spent the whole weekend thinking up the fun antics of this happy pair, in the hope of giving this subject a creative new twist.

I try something different. "Do you want to hear about when I went to fill up my car with petrol, and then realised in a flash that we shouldn't be polluting the environment?" "No." "Do you want to hear about when I went to the library and then realised in a flash the importance of reading every day to increase our general knowledge and literacy?" "No." "Do you want to do my exciting new quiz: '10 ways to tell if your partner is cheating on you - in your chemistry test?'" "Miss, that's just a quiz from last month's Cosmo that you've ripped off, and taken out all the interesting bits."

So I think that I might just get out the anti-smoking video and try a more conventional approach to PSE. WAR 10 perk up at this. "If you turn out the lights while we're watching, Miss," they tell me, "then we'll be able to get a bit of sleep before first period."

Sounds like a good idea to me. I'm sure there's a moral in there somewhere.

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

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