Gemma Warren makes tabloid history

23rd June 2000 at 01:00
My newsagent thinks I'm mad. For the past year, I have been coming into his shop and scanning headlines. Mostly, I walk out without buying anything, but occasionally I buy one of every newspaper from that particular day and exit looking extremely pleased with myself. I can tell that he wants to ask me about it, but he's frightened that if I'm a real loony he won't be able to get rid of me, and I'll stand there chatting, propping up his counter for hours. So we both just smile politely.

If you're a member of an English department, you've probably guessed why I've started collecting newspapers. Last summer, as a real sign that I was no longer an NQT, my department let me have a go at putting together my own scheme of work, "Broadsheets and Tabloids for Year 10". And, of course, I take my responsibilities very seriously. So I have become obsessed. No one knows more about the intricacies of tabloid and broadsheet journalism than me. I've catalogued every major news event of the past year, or at least any news event that's merited a headline on a selection of newspapers. I now have 15 sets of tabloid and broadsheet headlines, all covering different events, faithfully dated, collated and laminated. The first time my non-teaching boyfriend came round to my flat, I'd just finished cutting out the headlines on the Shipman trial. "I collect tabloid and broadsheet headlines," I told him. Surprisingly, he didn't walk out.

I'll do anything to raise a flicker of enthusiasm from my Year 10s. I think it's the same impulse that inspires people to spend years tracking down the Yeti. Finally, last week, the great lesson came. The laminated teaching resources were to have their trial run. You can only imagine my feeling of pride as I walked down the corridor to my classroom. Here I was, with a genuine, bona fide teaching resource that I had collected and made myself, and was now about to put to valid educational use. I hadn't done that since I was a student. Gone are the days of hastily photocopying a worksheet from a textbook and only realising halfway through the lesson that it bears no relation at all to what you're supposed to be teaching. Gone are the days of panicked improvisation. I had recaptured the enthusiasm of my youth.

I'll never forget the first day of my PGCE. We were shown round the facilities, and then they finally took us down to the basemnt of the library. "There's everything here that you need to generate your own resources," they told us. And indeed there was. Video editing, laminating, printing, even a bit of DIY. Using the complicated-looking machines were loads of earnest teachers, surrounded by the saintly glow of manufacturing their own educational props. From that day on, I laboured under the impression that if you were really a good teacher, you'd spend your evenings in this version of the Blue Peter studio, hammering and sawing like Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. If it wasn't laminated, it wasn't good enough.

I had planned a double lesson on the headlines. I wasn't exactly sure what I was going to do with them, but I was certain that Year 10 would be so overwhelmed with gratitude at my thoughtful provision of these tools that they would remain engaged for hours. I'd have to tear them away. Ignoring the fact that there weren't exactly gasps of admiration when I revealed the laminates, I quickly put them into groups. "Just discuss them," I told them, and settled back to enjoy a Dead Poets Society moment. Five minutes later they were finished. Finished? These things had taken me a year to collect. We had a feedback session. I got a few flickers of interest. "Aren't you fascinated?" I screeched, waving around six different headlines covering the budget. "It is Wednesday afternoon, Miss," one sympathetic lad reminded me.

Of course, I should have realised, I thought bitterly as I hastily photocopied 30 worksheets that seemed to be vaguely about journalism. It's Wednesday afternoon so we'll ignore the fact that Ms Warren has lost blood, sweat, and tears over this scheme of work. It's Wednesday afternoon so we'll forget that she actually gave some old lady concussion trying to get the last copy of The Sun after Cilla Black's husband died. We won't pay any attention to the fact that she actually carried five English newspapers to Spain and back because she noticed at the airport before her summer holiday that they had all covered the latest GCSE results.

Do pupils have any idea of how much work goes into their lessons? There is no justice in this world. Mr Newsagent, if you're reading this, you're absolutely right. I am mad. It's a prerequisite for the kind of job I do.

Gemma Warren teaches at the Latymer school, north London.


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