My best worst lesson

12th September 2008 at 01:00
Best: I was determined to find a way to make Beowulf interesting and relevant to my class of rowdy 13-year-old boys. Recordings of Old English failed to excite anyone, so I decided to give them an idea of what it might have been like to live in those times.

I made a few hasty phone calls to role-playing friends of mine (and some heartfelt apologies for previous mocking of said hobby) and managed to borrow fake skins and furs, rubber shields and latex swords.

One roaring fire screensaver and some authentic music later and my classroom was beginning to look the part. I invited another class to join us and as the boys entered the "Great Hall" they seemed to appreciate instantly the deviation from normal lessons and the usual classroom set up.

Each took their turn sitting on the throne to tell their own epic tales that they had been set for homework. The other boys listened well and got into the atmosphere.

The funny looks I got with all the equipment on the train that day were worth it to see the boys realise what it might have been like to be alive at the time of Beowulf and to suddenly understand why this epic poem is so popular, even now.

Worst: It was my NQT year and one of my first observations - nerves were running high. Observation is the wrong word, an English consultant from the borough was coming to see how I was getting on and give me some advice.

"Don't panic, she's not there to criticise, she's there to help," I was told. Unfortunately at that point anyone watching me teach was enough to have me crying into my morning tea.

So, I planned the lesson - all-singing, all-dancing, prepared my resources and checked the seating plan. All good. Unfortunately, I wasn't prepared for the other visitor that my fabulous lesson had attracted.

As I walked into the room I saw a flash of grey out of the corner of my eye and heard a disturbing scuffle in the corner of the room. Either the consultant was early, very quick and exceedingly skittish or I had a new guest to worry about.

It didn't take long for the squirrel to come back out and do a victory lap around the room right before the consultant walked in, five minutes before the Year 8s were due.

Thankfully, the consultant was lovely. We opened all the windows and rushed around, trying to encourage the squirrel to leave. But he decided to stay put and was clearly impressed by my lesson, as he made no attempt to escape. Neither did the consultant.

Sarah Alderton teaches at Coombe Boys' School in New Malden, Surrey.

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