Humour is the key
"Just pass me that tin of alphabetti spaghetti," he asked impatiently.
Did I hear him correctly? The way my mouth opened and closed without a sound, combined with a vacant stare, must have given away my inner turmoil. What on earth was he talking about?
"That tin of alphabetti spaghetti," he repeated. "Chuck it over here 'cause I could crap a better essay than this."
I'm accustomed to gallows humour. My previous career was as a journalist for a local newspaper where jokes flew around the office faster than Superman on speed. But I have come to realise the teaching profession can be just as amusing.
My own classroom favourite is from a Year 10 pupil. I was attempting to portray the dire circumstances of Chidiock Tichborne, a 16th-century Roman Catholic poet who conspired against the English throne. He penned "Tichborne's Elegy" on the eve of his execution in the Tower of London, a moving poem about the loss of a young life.
To empathise with his situation, I asked my class to write in a different format (on this occasion a letter). The objective being to see how poetry crystallises meaning much more clearly than a letter ever could. (Sorry, force of habit, I haven't written anything without including an objective for the past nine months.)
One particular lad, never normally enthusiastic, was bursting at the seams to read his work out, which should have set alarm bells ringing.
My own pride at motivating him came before my fall. He began demurely enough but then it all began to sound a little too familiar.
"When I die and they lay me to rest. I'm gonna go to the place that's best. When they lay me down to die. Going on up to..."
I'm sure you can all finish off the next line. I died for 10 seconds but then thought actually that's pretty funny. It taught me not to take myself too seriously.
Martin Burley is a newly qualified English teacher at Noel-Baker Community School and Language College in Derby.