First encounters

14th July 2000 at 01:00
Bridget Jell prepares for interviews

With finals out of the way at last and application forms winging their way to prospective employers, I have been dipping into First Post, the NUT guide to getting a teaching job. Reading a bulleted point about "preparing key examples of knowledge and experience" reminds me of the advice I recently received from a head. Apparently, it is possible that during an interview I may be asked to recall my most successful or unsuccessful lesson. I may be expected to explain why the lesson went well (or not, as the case may be) and what I would do if I were to teach a similar lesson again.

During 32 weeks of teaching practice, I have taught several hundred lessons. Plenty to choose from then. I suppose I could play safe and relate one of my literacy hour lessons which was observed by my university tutor. It went like a bomb, partly because I had been up half the night drafting a lesson plan and practising reading upside down from a Big Book, and partly because the class teacher was seated at the back of the room giving me encouraging thumbs-up signals. The children's behaviour was also immaculate, simply because the class fully understood that playing up on this occasion would not only be inappropriate, but also downright unfair.

But really I would rather talk about my second-year teaching practice experience of the sewing lesson. It was a hot July day and everyone was wilting at their desks, children and student teacher alike. I wasn't due to teach that afternoon, but timetable reshuffles and rehearsals for the school musical left me with half a class of Year 5s, a pile of hessian squares, some tangled sewing silks and 90 minutes to home-time.

I suppose if it had been entered on the weekly timetable it would have been design and technology strictly speaking, but really it was sewing. I had no lesson plan, no written objectives.

We spent the afternoon untangling silks, threading needles, stabbing our hessian squares and producing unusual deviant variations of closed herringbone stitches. I tried to suggest long and short stitches as a less restrictive form of "mark making", but several of the boys insisted on getting to grips with French knots and were dead chuffed with their efforts.

We talked as we sat round in a circle, and most of it was not task-related. We chatted about EastEnders, football, netball, boyfriends, girlfriends, pets, passions and hobbies. We even put the radio on with the volume turned v-e-r-y low. It was a wonderful, conspiratorial time that will never be recounted during an interview. Instead I will, if asked, talk about the successful literacy hour lesson, or if I am asked to reflect on an unsuccessful lesson, the maths lesson where I didn't have enough fractioncharts to go round.

I certainly won't mention the time I allowed 34 Year 3 children to paint papier mache musical shakers. The chosen colour was yellow, and by the end of the afternoon the children looked as if they'd been swimming in custard. And I won't talk about the science lesson where strings of spaghetti flew round the classroom, stuck to the walls, slid behind the book case and festooned the light fittings, where they dried hard and had to be chipped off at the end of the afternoon.

No, making a favourable impression at an interview is a serious business and I want to get it right, so I'll stick to objectives, class management and provision of resources.

What unit of science were we studying? Don't ask. I haven't told the whole story...

Bridget Jell is a fourth-year student at Exeter university

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