Sometimes we just try too hard. Our enthusiasm to teach can get in the way of the children trying to learn.
It was my first year in teaching and I was full of beans. I was young and energetic and seemed to have endless patience, enthusiasm and idealism.
But this was Hackney in east London. Kids there don’t go in for extraordinary rendition, let alone POW status. They were tough, no-nonsense and often battle-hardened even by the age of ten or eleven. Full of personality, character and talent, they demanded good teachers who would stick around for more than a single tour of duty. They could spot a ‘clean-shirt’ a mile away. Most of them wouldn’t recognise Qualified Teacher Status if it had been flown in on a Black Hawk helicopter. Their idea of an Induction Year was that you had better be prepared to learn more from the lessons they were about to teach you than the ones you thought you were going to teach them.
My first came early on…
One day I was teaching ‘creative writing’. I’d set it up with a choice of topics the kids could select from, using a variety of characters from a range of traditional tales, they could switch and swop around in various plots and settings. I thought it was a fun lesson.
The kids settled quickly and quiet descended over the classroom. “Wow! This is it…” I thought, “it’s all down to good planning, preparation and clear direction… now produce the results…” was my self-satisfied conclusion.
After a few of minutes I began to move cautiously around the room – observing, peering over shoulders and making the odd encouraging remark. I could see most of them had already started to write – jotting notes, scribbling ideas, visibly thinking.
I paused beside one very sweet, quiet, pretty little girl who was very shy by reputation and a loner by preference. She sat with one arm around her writing book jealously protecting it from view.
“Have you made a start?” I asked sympathetically. She looked up darting glance at me as she pulled her writing further towards her. I could see half a page of text she had written. “Good..!” I said.
“Do you want to tell me how you’ve started..?” I added.
“What’s your setting…?”
“Who are your characters..?”
She looked up at me again, this time quizzically. Without comment she put her head back inside her arm and protectively curved it round her script.
“Oh go on…” I urged gently, “show me what you’ve written…
It looks a lot already. I can see…!
You must have some good ideas to have got that much down in such a short time…”
Again she turned and flashed a glance up at me. Her pretty little nose wrinkled. Without a word, she curved her arm in tighter protection, buried her head in the crook of her elbow and began writing at an even more furious pace.
I thought to myself: “You’re looking down at her you idiot… no wonder she won’t engage… bend down and talk to her …”
So I did… and tried again. In a softer, gentler tone this time…
“Don’t you want to talk to me about all the good ideas you’ve been writing about…? I urged.
Slowly she looked up. Turned to face me. In a calm but determined tone she jerked her head to one side and said: “Piss off…!!!”