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Another brick in the wall

By Bruce Pinnock

As every teacher with his face to the blackboard so the pupils cannot see he is sobbing knows, a student teacher’s first time in a classroom is the most traumatic experience a young person can face.

It is comparable to being flung into a Turkish prison. At the commencement of my first teaching practical, the teacher-mentor to whom I was assigned made a sign to a Higher Power, handed me a copy of Macbeth, and muttered, “Teach them anything, they’ll learn nothing – good luck.”

I flung open the door to be greeted by – dead silence. Not a sound. A silence only 30 boys not making a noise can make. It wasn’t just no noise. It was – expectant. Holding Macbeth in front of my quaking breast like a shield, I did my best to screw my courage to the sticking place, and said, “Er, good morning, class.” But the unnerving silence prevailed, the sort of silence in a movie-house where you want to shout to the unbelievably naïve girl at the door of the isolated farmhouse, “Don’t go in!”

They didn’t exactly sneer or leer back at me – although the nearest thing to a nerd in the class, sitting in the front row, looked around at the gang behind him, the ones he would have loved to call ‘mates’, and did a nudge-nudge, wink-wink grin. The boy behind him smacked his head and he hastily readopted the poker-face attitude.

I had to do something. I held up my copy of Macbeth. In a voice that even to my ears sounded pure White Flag, I asked them to take out their copies. Noone moved. “Oh! Okay! Don’t worry!” I said, brightly, false heartiness coating every syllable. “Not your fault! No-one said we were going to do the famous Banquo ghost scene in Macbeth!”

There was eye-rolling that I would have seen, except I rushed into the next question. “Who knows what happens in this scene?” In the predictable silence, I blabbered an answer to my own question. The class sniggered, and looked at each other, sort of knowingly. But it was a reaction, so I rushed on, “I’ll read the scene.”

Now, every teacher suspects he possesses at least one of the cardinal teaching skills, and mine was that I could dramatise a reading. Which I attempted to do. The class’s reaction was most puzzling. Sporadic bursts of laughter greeted obscure lines. “To our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss” had them roaring, and “What sights, my lord?” had them rolling in the aisles. It was as though they were being prompted – and I suddenly realised they must be, for they were staring at the cupboard behind me.

Ah! The boy-hidden-in-the-cupboard-making-rudesigns- behind-teacher’s-back trick. And out of the corner of my eye, I saw the rude finger protruding from the cupboard crack. “Never shake your gory locks at me” got a special wiggle, while “Why do you make such faces?” got the full face-pulling treatment, including the rude tongue sticking out. “Hence, horrible shadow!” and “Avaunt! And quit my sight!” got a cheery wave goodbye, with the hilarity assuming gale-force proportions. The ghost in the cupboard took a quick bow.

But he had gone too far. The class sensed I must have realised what was going on. They waited for my reaction. What should I do? Rage at them? They would love to see teacher throw his toys. Or laugh goodnaturedly? Too weak, pandering to them. By chance, I caught the eye of the boy who had smacked the nerd on the head, and out of pure instinct, raised my eyebrows and moved my head, indicating the cupboard behind. His reaction was as unexpected as it was prompt. He turned to the class, put a finger on his lips for silence, got out of his desk, sneaked up to the cupboard door, and gently locked it. The class cheered briefly as he returned to his seat, then they waited expectantly. Sure enough, after initial silence, understanding dawned on the ghost. His initial tentative knocking changed to plaintive cries, accompanied by loud banging, which evoked much hilarity from both the class and me. The class begged me not to let him out. “It’s only Piggy Bates,” one boy told me. “His parents will thank you!” It was classic boy-humour.

Now, I know you are waiting for me to say that I turned this episode into a learning experience, explaining to the class the theatrical possibilities of dramatic irony in which the audience (the class) knows what the actor (me) does not. Nah. I chucked Macbeth into a corner, pulled up a desk to sit on and spent the rest of the lesson chatting to them about soccer. (Oh, you say, so Bruce is one of those teachers. Not true. They wanted to talk about sex, and I said, no. I knew this would not have been educational. Mainly because I knew so little about the subject.)

The rest of the teaching practical swam by. I knew teaching was for me. Oh, and the ‘mentor’ was right. I did all the learning. In the words of the legendary teacher Terence Ashton, “Boys do not come to my class to learn. They have an experience and may pick up something as a result.”

Category: Winter 2012

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