How the other half teaches

7th January 2005 at 00:00
The tables have been turned on a group of S6 girls to give them the challenge that teachers face daily, Raymond Ross reports.

This is team teaching and the teachers are well in control. The pupils seem biddable, if a little noisy. "We'd like you to try this exercise now," says Lory Murdie. "We might be over-estimating your knowledge but we hope not." It is a game of pin the tail on the donkey and the pupils are learning to give directions in Spanish.

What is unusual is that the pupils are actually teachers and the tutors are a group of S6 pupils taking the staff for a lunchtime class in holiday Spanish at Brechin High, Angus.

Teaching the teachers is obviously a delight laced with a hint of revenge.

"It's good fun to be on the other side. It gives you a sense of power and authority," says Lory. "Yeah, it's revenge. We're agreed on that."

"When the teachers don't pay attention it gets you annoyed. But, don't worry, we've identified the troublemakers. We make them sit at the front.

"Sometimes we do what they do. It lets them see what their methods of control are like, and sometimes they don't like their methods."

Teachers are not very good at doing homework. Of the 15 attending class that day, only six had handed theirs in on time. The excuses? Well, you will have heard them before: "My computer wasn't working", "I had a parents' evening last night" and even the time-honoured ruse of "My dog ate the paper." (I kid you not).

You would think teachers would have more imagination. Well, one does. He got a parent who happens to be Spanish to write his note of excuse in Spanish. This does not faze the girls, though; the class smarty-pants is berated anyway.

There is also a class "sook", who missed the previous class but went out of her way to find out what the homework was. And there's the class swot who points out a spelling mistake on one of the worksheets.

This is the last lunchtime class of the autumn term and it seems to have been a roaring success for all concerned. The girls talk of how it boosts their confidence, develops their presentation skills, gives them an insight into how much preparation teachers do and how teachers can find pupils very, very annoying sometimes.

It is obviously good for pupil-teacher relations and for the school ethos.

"It's shown me just how much work you have to put in to teach a class and it's given me a lot more confidence," says Jennifer McLaughlin.

"I didn't think I'd be able to stand up and speak in front of all these teachers. We've had to learn as we go and teaching actually helps you learn the subject too," says Stephanie Haggart.

"It makes you appreciate how much preparation is needed to teach a class and it gives you a good insight into teaching," says Louise Connolly. "It's also funny listening to teachers making smart comments, just like all pupils do."

"I don't think I'll become a teacher but this experience has made me consider it. Beforehand, I'd never have dreamed of doing it," says Alison Kerr.

Judith Mohamed, the principal teacher of guidance and Spanish and French teacher at Brechin High, says: "There is a good mix of personalities and skills among the girls.

"They share IT skills, presentation and leadership skills, with the work and the responsibility shared out. They have all been present and have done what they said they would do. They even put the teachers' homework up on the classroom walls where all the pupils can see it," she says.

The idea came from a critical skills training course that Mrs Mohamed had attended. The focus was on group working and setting pupils a challenge.

This was the challenge she came up with and the pupils responded with enthusiasm.

"It's a powerful learning exercise for them. They have to produce their own teaching materials from departmental resources and they've made up games, cards, visual aids and acetates, as well as doing the chalk and talk," she says.

"It helps pupils see the teachers in a different light."

This term Brechin High hopes to open the class to the community.

"If and when we teach the community class our approach will have to be different, because the parents won't have the educational background teachers do," says Lory. "It'll be another problem solving exercise and a good challenge."

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