My best worst lesson

18th July 2008 at 01:00
Best: There isn't much of an ethnic mix in my semi-rural, middle- class school and I was surprised to hear some of the older boys, in particular, come out with some xenophobic comments

Best: There isn't much of an ethnic mix in my semi-rural, middle- class school and I was surprised to hear some of the older boys, in particular, come out with some xenophobic comments. However, it was felt that their attitudes smacked of provincial ignorance rather than genuine hatred. A shock was needed.

Year 11 was assembled and shown images of people from different cultural backgrounds - butch-looking women, a Polish man, an immigrant wearing a scarf - and asked to write down their thoughts, on the assurance that their notes would remain private. Standing on the sidelines as a sea of pupils frantically scribbled their notes, some sniggering at an image of a man in a turban, has to go down as one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life.

Later, I informed them that a visitor was coming. When he entered they weren't to speak, just note their thoughts. The turbaned Sikh from the morning slideshow walked in and calmly joined their circle.

A few students went white, some shuffled their feet, others hesitated and began writing. Then they talked. "Why did he wear a turban?" "Why did he have a gold tooth?"

Questions were answered and ingrained misconceptions confronted.

One by one, the people from the slideshow visited and I watched a change in attitude take place among some previously hardcore students. It was, without a doubt, the most surprising but beneficial learning experience I have ever been part of.

Worst: I was teaching a challenging Year 11 media class that was full of confrontational, boisterous, exceedingly tall boys and disaffected, indolent girls who had little respect for a blonde, 23-year-old NQT. Every Tuesday lunchtime, after a 100-minute battle with them, I would retreat to the edit suite, snivel at my blatant lack of ability to teach them anything and trawl the jobs pages for alternative careers.

One Tuesday morning, I found a competition taking place in class: how low could you pull a skater boy's trousers? The boy in question was standing, laughing at his friend who was tugging said trousers with gusto, testing their owner's theory that they would stay put.

I had got halfway through the sentence "Boys, stop that and sit." when the worst wardrobe malfunction I have ever witnessed occurred and skater boy was left standing there, naked as a jay bird from the waist down and laughing hysterically. What do you do? I stood, horrified, as the class erupted in hysteria. The boy stood there for what seemed like an eternity before pulling up his trousers and leaving the room without my even having to ask.

Typing up an incident report later, I couldn't help but keep my tongue firmly in my cheek as I recounted how upset and horrified I was at this poor behaviour.

Emma Webb teaches at Teign School in Kingsteignton, Devon.

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