Ready, steady, teach - I want to be their muse

24th October 2008 at 01:00

Every trainee English teacher, I think, has a dream about instilling children with a passion for literature. You know, like the film Dead Poets Society, although we'll be younger and hipper and somehow greater than Robin Williams.

In thinking this, we forget that we too struggled with Dickens when we were 13, never ploughed through that Hardy novel for GCSE, or hated some exam set-texts.

It should not come as a surprise to us, as trainees, when we are faced with 14-year-olds who "just don't get it" when reading the subtle irony of Jane Austen or when we watch as the intricacies of Hamlet fail to inspire our pupils. Yet it does.

This was the position in which I found myself when I stood in front of my first class. Instead of pupils being caught up with a passion for poetry, everything I said was met with the question: "Will this be in the exam?" or, even more frustratingly, "Do I need to write this down?" Pupils ranged in their attitudes from exam-focused to completely disinterested.

I like to think I have come a long way from those first, eye-opening lessons. Lots of work on making texts accessible, planning for pupils' responses and designing a variety of tasks have paid off. I may not have a class full of passionate readers who are desperate to hear Shakespeare's next powerful insight into the human condition, but at least I have pupils who are mostly engaged and have a decent chance of passing their exams.

Above all, I've found that you live and learn in teaching. I should have foreseen that Year 8 would find the word "knob" in The Hobbit the funniest thing ever. I should have thought that Fanny Price, Jane Austen's heroine, would cause hilarity at every mention. I don't think, however, I could have ever predicted that one of my brightest Year 10s would have thought that a sonnet was a type of hat. You deal with it and move on (and save your own laughter for the staffroom).

None of this has dented my enthusiasm for teaching. If anything, it seems like even more of a challenge. Whatever the lows, it beats being a buyer (my previous incarnation) and the highs are indescribable. I am just re-watching Dead Poets Society for tips.

Kate Baty finished her PGCE at Manchester Metropolitan University in June and is now taking a maternity break.

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