Tales from new teachers

3rd January 2014 at 00:00

The problem

It was the first lesson with my class of 15-year-olds. We were looking at some of the core texts for their English course and I set them a challenge: could they find a word that connected these texts for every letter of the alphabet?

By the end of the lesson they had done well: we had a word for every letter except "v" and "w". Unfortunately, a particularly difficult boy saw this as an opportunity to try to embarrass me.

"I have some ideas, Miss," he shouted, smirking and triumphant. "Vagina and willy."

Silence followed. All eyes were on me. My mind froze. I could think of nothing clever to say back, so I ignored him.

I got to the end of the lesson, ignoring the student's persistent comments, such as "I'm not wrong, there are men and women in the books and what do men and women have?" He even showed me a drawing of a "willy" in his book. He had succeeded in making me look stupid and, ironically, more immature than him.

The options

One of the more senior female teachers took pity on me and explained that this type of thing was relatively common. She suggested that I ignore it.

My mentor advised that I begin the next lesson by explaining that in the context of the activity, the answers the boy gave were inappropriate and that I expected better of a group of 15-year-olds.

Another option came from a teacher close to my own age who had qualified a couple of years before. "Embarrass him back and show you are not embarrassed yourself. Confront him in front of others and ask him to explain himself - he'll never do it again after that."

The result

I chose the last option. I started by challenging the student to explain his answers from the previous lesson. I asked him to justify why his response would get him the grade expected of him in the exam, and made him show the class his drawing and explain it.

Of course he couldn't. He cringed throughout, mumbling and seemingly on the verge of running away. The other students looked on in horror.

I don't have problems with students trying to embarrass me any more. They know the comeback will be much worse for them.

The writer is an English teacher in her first year of teaching. She is based in Scotland.

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