Why we need a break with some traditions

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Whatever the headmistress of Benenden School thought she was doing when she appeared on BBC2 Television in the programme Back to the Floor (November 2), she was in fact taking part in a deeply cynical exercise.

The edited parts of the English lesson at Forest Gate Community School that we saw seemed typical of an ill-prepared novice.

Any student teacher who stood before a class with so little respect for the nature of the tasks would have at once been hauled out for insulting the pupils and wasting their time.

Any teacher should know how important it is to think through the occasion of any lesson, to understand its uniqueness and to face up to ways of presenting both him or herself - and the material chosen - in an appropriate and effective way. What else have we been doing in teacher training over the past 50 years?

Perhaps only the headteacher of a traditional private school could expect to walk into a classroom and say "turn to page . . ." as an adequate opening to a lesson by a strange teacher. Any new teacher knows that the first impression is vital, and a unique opportunity to "get it right". Children will look to see if this person is going to waste their time or is going to catch their interest.

Real preparation involves an understanding of the pupils and their expectations and requirements. It also involves respect for them, and professional attitudes to the various means available for managing the classroom. The pupils have every right to look to the teacher to be a professional; they are right to be bored and bewildered when they are offered the second rate.

Whatever did the resident teachers make of this display? Their faces seemed to speak volumes. The film should be essential viewing for student teachers. How useful it would be as an opener for any discussion about lesson preparation or as an introduction to teaching in a comprehensive.

Fortunately the programme had a positive side. I can't help feeling that the Forest Gate teachers were thorough professionals who would put on a much better show if they were given the chance of a return match.

The last word must be with the children. When, at the end of the lesson, Gillian duCharme returned a young girl's work with the comment that it did not represent her real ability, the girl rightly replied, "You know nothing about my ability."

The closing shots of the programme were eloquent. The headmistress had to run off camera as she had forgotten something she needed for a lesson.

Brian Wilks trained teachers of English and drama at Leeds University until last year.

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