Moment of purity spoilt by a girl's filthy joke

14th March 2008 at 00:00

The first class. Some people love them. Others can't stand them. The days when they only happened in September, though, are long gone. Indeed, I taught one just the other day.

When it comes to love or loathe, I definitely fall into the former category. I really like going into a classroom for the first time and meeting a roomful of new people. It's like a clean page of paper, or walking on virgin snow. It's there, laid out in front of you, for you to make a difference.

And the first class is one time when you really can make a difference. At first they just sit there. Most of them are completely petrified; full of anxiety about themselves, their new classmates - and you. If you get it right, you see an instant transformation. People begin to relax, smile, even talk to one another.

The first class also brings out the performer in you. All right, so maybe you're not Kenneth Branagh, but to succeed in the classroom you've got to have some sort of presence, something that will make them want to listen. In the first class, too, there's a good chance that this will happen. That they will listen. No one plays up in the first class. It's phoney-war time - and how gratefully you receive it.

Pleasant though they may be then, not every new class runs quite as smoothly as you would hope. This is partly because you know nothing about the individual students, or how they might react.

One year I turned up to meet my new class of 16-year-olds, fresh from school and - theoretically at least - raring to go on their exciting new A-level course. For a while I bounced around the place in typical first class mode. Somehow though that excitement didn't seem to be happening.

Then, apropos nothing at all, a particularly innocent-looking student asked if she could tell a joke. This wasn't on the lesson plan, but - what the heck - it was the first class. It was nice that she had the confidence to speak up in front of all her new classmates.

She then proceeded to tell a tale so filthy even Billy Connolly would have blushed. In fact, it was so crude I'm not even going to repeat it here. After that, I decided that humour of the student-generated variety would have to wait until at least the second class.

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