What keeps me awake at night

4th March 2011 at 00:00
Anonymous views from education's front line. This week: an English teacher in a south-coast secondary

When I first started teaching I was sworn at most days. I taught English in a rough school on an estate, and the leadership team had decided the best way to tackle behaviour problems was a complicated "assertive discipline" policy that only wound the kids up a treat. Less than a tenth of the pupils got five good GCSEs.

I remember tripping over a cable at the front of the room while teaching Year 9, cutting both my knees, and looking up to see that not one of the 30 students had noticed. I regularly broke up fights and struggled to keep order in big mixed-ability classes.

Nowadays, I teach in a sleepy seaside secondary school. The staffroom chat here is very different, dominated by discussions about the cheesy chips in the canteen rather than diabolical behaviour.

So, until just before half-term, I hadn't been sworn at for years. When it happened I was surprised and bemused.

I had let my bottom-set Year 10 GCSE English watch part of a blockbuster as background to our war poetry topic. Unfortunately, a couple of classic miscreants took this opportunity to throw planes made out of my starter activities at their indignant classmates. Instead of stopping when given "the look" they continued, so I turned off the DVD and gave the class some notes to write instead.

This so enraged one of the boys that he had a meltdown, calling me a "fucking bitch". While the other pupils looked on bewildered, I contacted reception to get him removed from the class. On his way out he informed me that he was going to send me a Valentine's Day card addressed to "the biggest twat in the world". As the English department is located in a far-flung corner of the school, we had to endure him popping in and out of the room, complaining about having to wait to be spoken to by management.

The student received a short, fixed-term exclusion for his outburst, but I went home feeling battered by the experience, only to log on to Facebook to see a message from an ex-student from my old job, who regularly swore at teachers.

He was a boy, now a man, whom I worked with for years, attending pastoral support plan meetings and re-admission conferences as he struggled with secondary school rules and his parents' divorce. I have a limited public profile but quite an unusual name, so I am quite easy to find on the internet.

I opened the short message with trepidation. It said: "Hi Miss, would just like to say thanks for helping me sort out my problems back at school. You made a massive impact on how I changed my life around. Thanks."

The highs and lows of the job are not as dramatic as they were when I was an NQT. But teaching can still be a thankless task and incredibly rewarding - sometimes on the same day.

To tell us what terrifies you or to share the unscripted events that have happened in your classroom, email letters@tes.co.uk.

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