First encounters

7th January 2000 at 00:00
Nicholas Lind, NQT, hasa competitive spirit

Bloody hell it's cold. If you can picture the scene from Withnail and I where Richard E Grant has covered himself in Deep Heat to warm up, then you can probably imagine how cold I am. I can barely keep typing. This is getting out of hand; why doesn't the Bastard give in and turn the heating on?

The Bastard is my flatmate Ben. We are in the middle of a little war as to who will crack first and admit that the flat is cold enough to put the heating on. A couple of years ago, the pre-teaching me would have given in by now. But that was then. The old Lind has gone, kicked aside by the new, mean me.

I blame teaching. It all started in the flat. We had this great vision in the summer. We're mates on the PGCE, so let's get a flat together and live the Men Behaving Badly lifestyle: constant supply of beers in the fridge, nights on the town and Leslie Ash living in the flat above. The reality has been quite different. We live above a pet shop, we come home knackered with six lessons to plan. And then we moan.

The moaning is competitive, like some form of macabre poker. We have to outdo each other on how naughty our pupils are. If Ben has a kid who throws a paper dart, I match that and raise it with a kid eating his exercise book. Ben then takes the hand with a kid eating his exercise book while throwing a chair.

I'm the same at school. Take my tutor group: I am quite happy to admit that some of them are no angels, and I do give them bollocking after bollocking. But outside my classroom, they can do no wrong. I refuse to believe any colleague who tries to come up to me in the staffroom to tell me that someone has been a pest again. The shutters come down. I may be nodding sagely and muttring something about seeing to it at tutor time, but inside I'm thinking "Liar! 7NPL can do no wrong - they're mine!" I'm just the same with the inter-tutor group competitions. I'm not above being tight with the merit marks for the other Year 7 groups I teach in order to ensure we win the cup. And as for the tug-of-war, I had to be physically restrained from joining in - I'm still convinced Steve's tutor group cheated!

But my classroom has become the nemesis of my new competitive self. When I started teaching I was convinced that I would turn my classroom into the perfect learning environment. I envisaged acres of display boards with pupils' work, pictures posing educational questions, posters of historical movies showing how cool history is, and the odd artefact thrown in for good measure. Pupils would be drawn from all around to witness the E6 experience.

And then I saw E5. How can Lord Kitchener's accusing finger and Lawrence of Arabia compete? There is not one free inch of wall space. They have more artefacts than the British Museum and - the crowning glory - a fully kitted-out Andersen bomb shelter. Pupils may come from miles around, but only on their way to Glenn's Grotto next door.

Still, that is only one battle I have lost, and there are others to be won. It may be a harsh winter's night outside, but it has to be warmer than my room. It is time to make the ultimate sacrifice. I'm taking my laptop outside. I may be some time.

Nicholas Lind gained his PGCElast year. He teaches history at Ashton Park school, Bristol. Students and NQTs can send contributions (maximum 700 words) for First Encounters to Jill Craven at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX, or e-mail

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