Walking the teaching tightrope

Dreams slip away like blown leaves and mine from last night are just a jumble of images and feelings.. I was starting a new job in some creative setting – I have no idea what, and I was being shown round and asked to do various things – which included hanging some items of clothing on an indoor clothes line. I pegged a pale green cardigan on the line, but I’d not done it in the  right way and was shown what to do. I wasn’t anxious or annoyed but interested to learn how to do whatever the job was correctly. I had an engaged and excited feeling – I was going to love working here – wherever here was.

Now I only work here at my keyboard I never have that same feeling, those almost physical sensations when you start in a new place of work. Most of my ‘proper’ work (as opposed to my ‘real’ work here) was in teaching. The first day of a new year, the first lesson with a new class, the moment you walk into a staff-room for the first time, or those first days as a new teacher in a completely new school. It’s like walking a tightrope with a blindfold – however many times you’ve walked other tight-ropes, and however adept you were then, it’s not the least like this new tightrope – this new class sitting in front of you.

It was my first experience of working at what became my favourite place of work as a teacher, here in Weston. It was a small unit for young people who were being taught out of the main-stream, in a tiny ‘school’ for what were described as the most challenging twenty 15-16 year olds in Somerset. Every teacher in every class at that point also had a teaching assistant, even though there was only about twenty of these students altogether and they were divided into groups..

All was going not too badly; I’d had the usual challenges, the foul language, spitting, throwing things, shouts and yells and some low-level abuse – but before long, they were all sitting, more or less looking at me, and we were talking about whatever it was I was teaching them (I have no idea what it was – lost in the mists of thousands of other similar lessons)

One boy had some pipe cleaners – those short wires covered with a fuzzy material which were designed to clean the stems and bowls of pipes, but which are also useful in craft lessons for making into shapes. He made himself an elaborate crown as the lesson progressed. The other students were becoming more engaged and all was going not too badly. Louis, the crown maker, began to fashion himself some antlers, and it was a little distracting as he was doing rather a good job of them – distracting to me, not to the other students, they were used to him

All was well until I paused, looked at his magnificent structure now resplendent on his head.

“That’s impressive Louis, that’s really good! I can see you have artistic talent!” I exclaimed (writing that now it sounds patronising, it wasn’t meant to be and encouragement and praise was an important part of raising the students self-esteem!)

He stood up and paraded around, then took out his cigarette lighter and set fire to his antlers.

I have to say, I had never before, and subsequently never again experienced a flaming-antler situation in a classroom or anywhere else.. I stood, a thousand things flashing through my mind – grab the antlers, grab the fire extinguisher, shout, raise the alarm…

“Don’t be silly, Louis,” drawled my classroom support as if this sort of thing happened every day. “For goodness sake, put them in the bin before your hair catches fire.”

Louis took off the flaming crown and threw it in the bin where it died out harmlessly. I thanked him and he returned to his seat and we continued the lesson… None of the other students had said or done anything, they were obviously used to Louis…

This is what really happened, it isn’t a dream! No dream could ever be as weird as Louis and his flaming antlers!

Needless to say, the students I taught looked nothing like the pair in my featured image!



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