Monday, November 07, 2011

From Tough Teenagers to Student Doctors

I had a big class of medical students today - there were fourteen of them.

Yes, I know, huge! Most times, I am working very intensively with groups of four or five.

Anyone who's ever taught in a school is now thinking "WHAT? Only fourteen! Lucky woman!"

Yes, indeed. For I too used to teach in schools.

I started teaching at a hellhole of a secondary school in Newport, Gwent, South Wales. The school was a split-site school. The two sites were half a mile apart across the town centre. If - as frequently happened - I was teaching in one site before break, and the other site after break, I would spend break running as fast as possible across the centre, scattering bemused shoppers all around me, to get to my classroom for the next session before the little darlings wrecked the room.

My drama class was held in a wide piece of corridor outside the Head Teacher's room My brief for drama teaching was "Don't let them make any noise, or it will disturb the Head". A few years later, with a bit more confidence, and I would have replied to this with something much less than polite. But as I was young and keen and green, I did a year of mime in my drama lessons.

Then I taught in a school near Wakefield which was - er - going through a difficult time. Here the problem was staff politics - - basically, everyone hated the Head, because he was a very, very, very bad Head. It's quite hard to sack a Head. A specialist school-sorter-outer was sent to the school for six months to try to help the Head to sort out the problems. He lasted two days. "The conflict between the Head and the senior staff cannot be solved." It didn't make for a happy working atmosphere.

Then I taught in a school in one of Leeds' most deprived areas, for several years. Although I was technically there as a supply teacher - to fill in when teachers are absent - and was booked a day at a time, in fact I was generally there every day. The teenagers I taught were poorly fed, pasty faced, and had more important things on their minds than anything we were trying to teach them. "Sorry I'm late, Miss, but my Dad was arrested last night and I've just come from the police station."

It was tough. Sometimes very tough. Because I was on supply, I tended to get the classes that nobody else wanted.

Step One: Get all the class into the classroom, without them noticing that this is what you are doing.

Step Two: Get them all sitting down. A triumph!

Step Three: Get them all to stop hurling insults at each other, and also get their attention by trying to be both really interesting and preferably funny, too.

Step Four: Teach them something. And it must have a spin on it that makes it meaningful for them, or they simply won't listen.

There are advantages to teaching teenagers like these.

Firstly, anything you can do for them - or teach them - is a plus, as their lives are full of a lot of empty shouting and often violence, too, and not much else.

Secondly, it can be very rewarding on those occasions when they actually see the value of what you're teaching. Amazing.

Thirdly, when someone who learns very slowly finally grasps something, it can be a delight.

Fourthly, when you know that they have given you a grudging respect and you know that they wouldn't smash the room up even if you left them for ten whole minutes, it can be positively thrilling.

There are, however, lots of disadvantages. Mostly along the lines of it being very, very, very stressful and requiring you to be totally on the alert every minute - - eyes in the back of your head, all right! You need to know when they're about to kick off, a whole minute before they know it, so you can distract them.

I learned a lot from them, much of it about the unfairness and horrors of some people's lives, and the resilience and bravery of the ones who rose above it.

So - - now I'm teaching medical students.

Here the advantages are many. They come in much smaller groups. They are polite. They wouldn't smash the room up even if you left them for a whole hour. They are witty and they make me laugh: and what's more they have the good sense to laugh when I am trying to be funny. They are very, very quick to learn and if they see the importance of something they can learn it, absorb it and instantly use it.

I am learning a lot from them, too, about all sorts of things.

Sometimes I hear others who do a similar job to me complaining about the students. You won't hear me complaining. It's bliss. I am enjoying every moment.

As for teachers who teach in schools - they have my utmost respect and admiration. I did it then, and I'm glad I did: it was never dull, and I learned a lot.

I'd like to think that I could still give a class That Look that would quieten them immediately.

And I'm very glad that I no longer have to.


Anonymous Alison Runham said...

Ah yes, I too don't miss working in a 'hellhole of a school', although not all my experiences of teaching adults have been great either!
Haven't commented much recently but often pop in for a read - so I've left you an award on my blog here
Back to lurkdom I go :)

11:42 pm  
Blogger Jennyta said...

Daphne, you have reminded me, if I should need it, of why I would not touch secondary teaching with a barge pole! :)

1:13 pm  
Blogger WendyCarole said...

I agree with you about supply teaching. Sadly, today steps 1-4 apply in primary schools too now and not necessarily in yrs 5/6. getting through the day can be a nightmare and I can't face the thought of having to back to it in the new year.

My daughter teaches ICT , five years in Middlesbrough where she was sworn at, pushed and all sorts happened but did by the time she left have the respect of most of the pupils she taught. She now teaches in a much calmer school thank goodness but i worry about her somedays.

1:31 pm  
Blogger Daphne said...

Alison - good to hear from you, thank you so much for the award, and I'm glad I have found your blog again!
Jenny - - yes, but the way little children fuss all the time is really tricky - -
WendyCarole - yes, it's so sad that even primary schools can be like that!

10:08 pm  

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