What keeps me awake at night - They're F-grade kids, but they're mine

18th November 2011 at 00:00

The way situations escalate can seem baffling in the aftermath. When I heard myself, after one particularly memorable incident, explaining to a senior member of staff how it all began, I was only too aware of how ridiculous it sounded. "Joe wanted to open a window ..." The raised eyebrows of this colleague did not feel particularly supportive, nor did his drawn out comment: "Riiiight ..."

Joe likes to open windows in cold weather. He likes to tear off and eat the corners of worksheets. He likes to bounce plastic bottles off the ceiling and floor. In short, he likes to do anything that will garner attention and, ideally, my disapproval.

Sadly, Joe is in a class with boys who have similar inclinations. Meet 11F. There are only 10 pupils in this class, and some of them are absolutely lovely. About three of them, in fact. The others present various levels of challenge, which depend on their mood and how many sweets and energy drinks they have loaded up on.

This is a special group for pupils who are considered too weak to access English literature and who need extra work on basic literacy skills. They follow the English language GCSE course and I create other units based on their needs. They know that a C grade is king and that they are, on the whole, unlikely to achieve this. I can always tell when they have had an assembly or a tutor session on the value of attaining A*-C grades because one of the most difficult boys will ask me earnestly: "Miss, what can I do to get a C?"

I am pretty sure that saying "Nothing - you've completed 50 per cent of the course at grade F already" would cause tantrums, so I adopt a gentler approach. "Aiming for a C would involve a lot of work ... you could start by doing the work in front of you." Earnest nodding and a general attentiveness may mark the rest of that lesson, but by the following lesson they seem to have forgotten their desire to achieve more in English than building towers using their neighbour's pens.

The level of challenge this class presents was captured by a conversation I had recently with a cover supervisor who spent an hour with them. "Did you know before you went on summer break that you would have this group again when you returned?" I assured her that I had. "Well, I wouldn't have come back," she fumed.

Yes, they may regularly keep me up at night, thinking about how to manage their behaviour and learning, but when they all have a good lesson I feel like I am walking on air. Besides, it's not long now until May.

The writer is an English teacher in Berkshire. To tell us what keeps you awake at night email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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