What keeps me awake at night - I'm checking out of lessons in the library

17th February 2012 at 00:00

Last year, when I accepted a supply teaching position in a local academy, I assumed I would be teaching in a room - a classroom. This being my first experience of supply, I quickly learned that it is best not to assume anything. Supply teacher is basically a euphemism for doormat, so if one expects the worst, anything better is a bonus.

Naturally, I got the most challenging duties, which in this case involved the "open-space" classroom, also known as the library. It not only accommodated my teaching area, but also a computer suite for 30 pupils. The two areas were separated by a row of bookcases, which acted as a veil but utterly failed to reduce the noise escaping from either area.

Teaching in a library surrounded by great works of literature should be every English teacher's dream. But the dream turned into a nightmare as the lesson deteriorated into a battle of noise. Class reading amounted to either shouting over the hubbub or giving up altogether. Listening to Year 10s read Romeo and Juliet was like trying to tune into a radio station - there were glimpses of a clear voice, but the rest was just static.

Better lessons were delivered when the computer suite was empty, although pupils would then be distracted by staff wandering through the library shortcut, some of whom I am sure just wanted to gawp at the struggling supply teacher.

The use of open learning areas is on the up in some schools, as TES reported last week, and not just because of a lack of space. But there are few pupils who are able to cope with them, especially children with low abilities and short attention spans.

Over the years the classroom has not changed; the desks and chairs may have been redesigned and the board has been converted from black to white to smart, but essentially the class is still conducted in a room. And the reason for this is simple - it works.

The four walls of the classroom give boundaries within which pupils are accustomed to the rituals of removing outdoor clothing, facing the board and having pens and books on the desk. Open-space classrooms might work when used in moderation, but they fall way short when used as one poor sod's full-time teaching environment.

The thought of having to return there to teach kept me awake at night. So I decided to quit, with the silent hope that my replacement might be treated to better conditions.

The writer is a supply teacher from Kent. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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