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‘Sir’ is a state school English teacher in a big city in the UK. Prior to this he worked with children with a variety of Special Educational Needs, particularly those with behavioural and social problems. His teaching has been rated as ´Outstanding´ by Ofsted which means he once did a great job for 50 minutes. Save for a light dusting of fiction in order to protect the innocent (and indeed the guilty) anything recounted here is absolutely true. Otherwise, there will be some exciting political debate where everything Sir thinks is also absolutely true. Twitter: @seekingsir

17 June 2010


The funny thing is, despite all the horror stories you hear, my first lesson was actually, well, rather good, all things considered. The kids learned something, I was my naturally authoritative yet witty and engaging and infinitely knowledgeable self and my Head of Department informed me that I could ‘really hold an audience’. This, I reflected, was no mean feat, particularly given that I was teaching punctuation. Indeed, he was so flattering about my ‘on stage persona’ that I briefly pondered writing and starring in a one-man-monologue called ‘Much Ado About A Semi-Colon’. Sadly however, the West End is today a poorer place on account of my second lesson which, with a fairly spectacular crash landing, brought me right back down to earth.

In my head, the lesson script went as follows:
1.Class come in; they sit in silence and get their books out.
2.I await their full attention.
3.They provide it.
4.Wit, engagement, authority and imparting knowledge to fresh young minds ensues.
5.The class leave, buzzing with their newly acquired knowledge.

Pretty reasonable expectations for my second ever lesson I’d say. In my classroom, the real lesson script went like this:
1.Class half come in; some are coming in piggy-back-style; some are play-fighting in the corridor; some are wearing headphones.
2.I await their full attention.
3.They don’t provide it.
4.Panic, sweat and irrational shouting ensue; there are vain attempts at imparting knowledge to small insane people.
5.The class leave in a sort of carnival conga; Jim leaves by throwing his chair over his desk (he does say ‘bye Sir!’ as he does so, which I thought was nice).

I’m sure you have been able to spot the differences between plan and execution, subtle though they are. When you’re teacher-training you have to write an ‘evaluation of each lesson that you teach. This in itself is already a great exercise in reliving your torturous degradation but is made notably worse by the fact that your ‘mentor’ – an experienced teacher in the school - has to sign them all off for your training university.

In other words, unless you’re suitably self-deprecating – admittedly not that hard when you’re as palpably terrible as I was – you risk facing all manner of challenging questions in your weekly review with your mentor. Usually, this would be along the lines of: ‘So, Sir, do you think your evaluation here really reflects what happened in the classroom? Didn’t you think that Lee Marshall establishing a transnational gambling den in the left-hand corner warranted inclusion?’ And then you are gently dragged over the hot coals of educational shame that constituted your foolish attempt at teaching. Best of all, you will likely
be asked to rewrite the thing afterwards with a bit more ‘self-reflection’.

Far better then, just to be honest and to have your mentor read your evaluation, look at you with a wry smile and say: ‘Yes, I agree with you there… that wasn’t the best lesson ever was it?’ and let you proceed with the rest of your (probably humiliating) day. And so it was that my second lesson evaluation came to read:

‘Thought I was doing all right after no1; no 2 not so good. Stereotypical lesson from hell. Chair over desk, shouting… Seriously need to improve behaviour management. I have a lot to do!’

Ignoring the fact that if you read only the first sentence it may appear that I was writing a euphemistic report about the progress of some kind of venereal disease, it is perfectly accurate. And this was probably the most pivotal point in my development as a teacher. This was the first time that I had really engaged with the problems of behaviour management on a serious level. I had never had problems engaging small groups of children, regardless of whatever behavioural difficulties they exhibited. At this point, however, I realised with a cold slap that youth work and teaching are two entirely different beasts. If I was to become a successful teacher, I was in desperate need of making some profound stylistic changes to the way that I worked with children. There was indeed ‘a lot to do’.

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