First encounters

24th March 2000 at 00:00
Sarah Tomlins learns to have fun

It's a great feeling, the first time you realise that the hours of sweat, pain and tears are not all completely worthless. In other words, that you haven't signed your life away for a lost cause, a bunch of ungrateful so-and-so's, a non-existent self-ego, never-ending early nights and constant exhaustion.

I sat at the desk in my form room today, relaxing in the luxury of a free period, sun streaming in through the window, uninhibited by the ragged old curtain the kids are so insistent on pulling across any signs of daylight. Heater working, blowing out welcome warm air. Biscuits - chocolate, of course - close at hand (an apple too, but who could survive as an NQT on a healthy diet?), rapidly aging mark book spread out in front of me. (Take note: I am doing lots of marking. Or at least, I am doing enough; any more and it wouldn't be good for me. And I am doing plenty of research into television and soaps.) Next to this is a pile of scripts, story-boards and plans for television programmes written by pupils - colourful, neat, detailed, beautifully presented, painstakingly produced and inspiring in their spread of imagination and effort. Even the slightly tattered, dog-eared copies, barely finished and certainly not thought about too much, are enough to induce a smile of immense satisfaction.

This work means more to me than... well, put it this way: 9SH have been the bane of my life since I started life as a "proper" teacher. I might now be getting paid for the pleasure of suffering severe torment at the hands of such "spirited" youngsters, which makes a pleasant change from last year, but that has offered little relief. I ouldn't believe what I was saying on that one fateful day when I finally cracked, and suggested an "agreement" with them.

It wasn't exactly what I'd planned for the lesson, but it was that or walk out, and no way was I going to let them beat me. So showdown time it was, and since then something has happened. Don't get me wrong - life hasn't exactly become an easy ride, but I sit and look at the work in front of me now, and I just wonder. One of the questions on their self-assessment forms asked: "What was a positive outcome from your spoken presentations on TV programmes?" And the answer from one of the loudest, hardest-to-handle, most disruptive children (I could go on), read: "The opportunity to do something more creative in English." And from another, one of those lads whom it is hard to resist strangling, especially by this stage into a long term: "It was a laugh." I had to think hard about it, but I think he deserves a fail or a top mark for that one. I think they all do. Why shouldn't it be fun?

I had almost lost sight of the reason why I was at the front of a classroom, suffocating beneath the paperwork, the planning, marking, hyperactive kids on a bad day, constant homework not done or handed in. Don't think I'm going to let that go, because I'm not. Definite detentions for some. But for most of them, and for me, this is a success story I'm not easily going to forget. I never dreamed they would, or could, produce such brilliant work. And as for the fun and inspiring bit, isn't that what learning is supposed to be? Otherwise, what are we actually here for?

Sarah Tomlins is an NQT teachingEnglish at Poynton county high school, Cheshire


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