Content writer Penny SK talks us through ‘one of those lessons’. Buckle up. It’s one of the most intense teacher stories we’ve ever heard…
We’ve all had one. The lesson we think will never end. The lesson where all our training deserts us. The lesson where the bell goes and we speed to the staffroom to make ourselves a cup of tea with shaking hands. The lesson we still have nightmares about and wake up sweating. That one lesson we know will be immortalised in a collection off harrowing teacher stories…
I was being observed. That’s the first hellish bit. This wasn’t a private humiliation – oh no, it was documented by a Dragon With A Clipboard. Somewhere, the notes are probably still tucked away at the back of a filing cabinet, with a big FAIL stamp on them.
It was a Key Stage 3 lesson on Macbeth, if I remember correctly. I hadn’t been teaching the lesson beforehand, and I had forgotten to ask the teacher using the classroom to be out on time. So my class and I waited, with the Dragon, in a crowded corridor while the previous lesson overran. It wasn’t pretty. At one point, students started singing Why Are We Waiting. Eventually, the noise got so bad that the Head of Department came to investigate and booted the other teacher out of the room.
Ten minutes late, we piled into the classroom, to find that the previous teacher had rearranged the desks.
My beautifully drawn seating plan, with each student’s individual needs carefully annotated, went out of the window. And because this was the third week of September and I didn’t know this class properly yet, so did any chance of calling each of them by their name.
Swallowing down my panic, I tried to log on to the computer. It wouldn’t work. I felt myself becoming short of breath. A friendly student whose name I didn’t yet know offered to try for me. Recklessly, I gave him my login details (fortunately, this was before the days of online registers and databases).
I turned my attention to the class, and started to hand out the starter. It was a quick matching activity on a worksheet, designed to keep the students occupied and help them settle while I prepped the next activity. On the computer. Which wasn’t working.
A student put up their hand. ‘Miss, I can’t do this.’
I smiled brightly, and assumed an air of calm superiority. ‘Oh come on. There’s no such word as can’t.’
‘Yes there is.’
‘Yes, well, I know there is, of course-’
‘It’s in the dictionary.’
‘It’s an abbreviation of cannot. I thought you’d know that Miss.’
‘Yes, thank you. Alright.’ I was suddenly feeling very hot and bothered. I pulled at my blouse which was sticking to my back in the humid classroom. The class was laughing and I could actually feel my blood pressure rising. ‘Settle down now.’
‘But Miss!’ A girl at the front had her hand in the air and was smirking at me. I decided to ignore her and spoke to the class.
Pleased with my stern tone, I looked at the Dragon, sure she would be impressed at my steel-like control of the situation. Instead, she gestured to my blouse, and I looked down to discover two buttons had come undone around my chest.
As I hastily did them up, the girl at the front, the one who had been trying to grab my attention, mumbled. ‘We tried to warn you, Miss.’
I took a deep breath, and soldiered on. We had two minutes of blissful quiet while I walked up and down between desks, ostensibly checking on work but actually just mentally talking myself down from the parapet. You can do this, I reminded myself silently, you are a good teacher.
I was about to move the class on to the next task, when the students erupted into laughter again. I turned around to discover that my good Samaritan with the computer was actually the devil incarnate and had not only managed to get the technology working, but also managed to project a picture of a Ali G (remember him?) onto the whiteboard. I hastily ran to the front of the class and ejected the culprit. I closed the browser, but the damage was done. Twenty-eight thirteen year-olds were laughing uproariously and the Dragon was scribbling frantically on her clipboard. As I collapsed into my chair at the front and wondered if I could just walk out, down the corridor, out of the front doors and never return, a kindly colleague put her head round the door.
‘Is everything OK in here?’
‘No’ I confessed, shaking my head wearily, ‘no, it is definitely not.’
I’m afraid there’s no happy ending to this story. I did fail the observation, and I was known for the rest of the school year as the teacher who flashed her bra. But I got over it, and the students involved are now all adults themselves, and doubtless have had similarly blood-curdling on-the-job experiences. The Dragon actually turned out to be a lovely if formidable mentor. And I am still alive.
So, I guess my message is that we have all been there. We’ve all had lessons so toe-curlingly awful we want to sink into the ground. But we do survive and learn from it and maybe eventually learn to laugh at ourselves.
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