If only teaching was like it is in the movies

12th January 2007 at 00:00
I could have made a film about it, starring I dunno who as me, and Robin Williams as my sharp but good-hearted mentor. There I was, walking up past the home economics corridor after a trying day where one class in particular had got me down. The delicious smell of scones filled the air. "Check out that aroma," said Williams, interrupting my prolonged moan about 3E.

"Now ask yourself this, Gregor. Do the teachers who work in this part of the building notice that heavenly smell, or do they get so used to it they only notice the bad smells, like when some kid lets one go or leaves the gas on?" He puts a fatherly hand on my shoulder. "C'mon, Gregor. You've been at this game so long, you've stopped noticing the smell of scones."

Suddenly, everything got better.

If only the sentimental mince you see in films about teaching actually worked. Bother with your second year? Whip out an electric guitar and show them how cool you are. Three minutes later and they'll be eating out of your hand, secretly planning to perform the symphony you wrote and forming a Dead Physicists Society.

All of this trivialises what was a genuinely bad time for me, but hey, it's what I do! Of course I've had troublesome pupils over the years, but I have not had a class of my own that I have felt is not largely under my direction and on my side for years. I'm not talking only about the two years when I buggered off on secondment but, when it happened on my return, I came round to the view that I had "lost it".

Past good relationships had been through fortuitous mixes of pupils rather than anything I had done myself. The kindly PT who told me, on teaching practice, that I would never be aggressive enough to be a teacher had been proved right after two decades. Detached, I watched a small figure who looked like me drive to work. I felt separated from him by a dark band I could not cross. Ideas I had about having developed enough to move into HMIE or teacher training seemed ludicrous.

In the end, it wasn't Robin Williams or an electric guitar that helped begin to turn things around. It was my colleagues. They listened. Discussed individual pupils. Targeted key players. Came in and observed my class. I would be foolish to pretend that everything is fixed, but I smell the scones again.

Happy New Year, I think.

Gregor Steele

quite likes Dead Poets Society

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