'Suddenly he's out of his seat'

10th January 2003 at 00:00
Anthea Davey (right) feels college did not prepare her for teaching teenagers with attitude

My first day of teaching practice. I walk into the classroom of a mixed comprehensive in north London. It's a class of Year 7s and we're doing poetry. My heart is racing and my hands shake when I take the register, but by the end of the lesson I'm filled with exhilaration because this lively and enthusiastic class has worked well and there has only been one problem- a boy who keeps getting out of his seat and walking around the room, pushing other children and generally being distracting. I talk to him at the end and he responds well. The class teacher informs me he is "a problem". He was excluded from nursery at three because of his behaviour and has had a difficult school history. They're hoping secondary school will be a fresh start and he's seeing a counsellor.

My next lesson is with a more challenging Year 9 class. I'm warned that there will be an educational psychologist in with me observing the behaviour of two of the boys. They have been excluded for two days already this term for inappropriate comments made to the girls in the class and for fighting. In this lesson, though, they work quietly and cause no problems.

My next lesson, with a top set Year 10, goes well, leaving me time to think about the class I'm dreading after lunch: a bottom Year 11 set with 12 students. Ten of them are boys and of the two girls; one rarely attends.

The Year 11 class begins well, but one of the boys, Jason, keeps calling out and kicking the chair of the boy in front of him. When I speak to him, he sucks his teeth and mutters under his breath. I continue teaching the exam poetry we are working on.

Suddenly, he gets out of his seat and snatches something from the boy sitting a few seats away. I shout at him to sit down and he shouts back that 'I'm picking on him'.

"I'm not," I tell him.

"Yes, you are, he shouts back. "You're picking on me because I'm black."

He storms out of the classroom and the teacher I'm working with goes after him. He works outside for the rest of the lesson.

What is my defence against this charge? That all the boys in the class are black and so why would I single him out? That his behaviour led to me "picking on him"? That I've grown up in this part of London, have many black friends, and in fact my boyfriend is black? I could even point out that, although he sees me as another white, female teacher, my mother is actually Jamaican.

None of this will cut any ice with him. Whether it's an excuse or his genuine perception that he is receiving different treatment because of his colour, he has raised an issue for me that I will have to deal with. An issue which my lectures at college have left me unprepared for and which I haven't honestly even thought about. Reflecting at the end of the day, it dawned on me that the difficult Year 7 boy, and the two Year 9 boys were also black.

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