Saturday, 24 December 2016

Chapter 4 Mistakes and learning from them

Chapter 4

Mistakes and learning from them

Everyone makes mistakes, so they say, and they are right. The important thing is to recognise them and to try to learn from them, and that applies equally to teachers and pupils. I would like to think that I did learn from my mistakes, but it should be borne in mind that this appears to be a continuous and perpetual process.

A few examples of mistakes I made and lessons I learned early on:

It is best to prepare thoroughly in advance and not to leave a class to collect some photocopying you’ve forgotten, giving the class time to set up a waste-paper bin filled with water above the classroom door which has been left ajar. This is particularly true if the depute rector decides to pop in to your room just ahead of you.

It’s probably best not to physically remove a pen from a pupil’s mouth – even if he has arrived late, is under the influence of magic mushrooms and refuses to remove his pen when speaking to you. Physically removing the pen is particularly ill-advised if you consequently discover it is ridged and causes a distinct rattle of teeth while being removed.

It’s probably best not to suddenly roar out of the blue at pupils who are inattentive and chattering, even if it has the desired effect of correcting their behaviour. At least, not if you have a pupil with a heart condition right in front of you who has such a fright when you bellow that he struggles to catch his breath and goes a very worrying shade of red. (He did survive.)

It’s best not to assume that parents will be able (or willing) to exercise control over their offspring. At one parents’ evening, a pupil and his father sat in front of me and the pupil held a polystyrene cup filled with tea. While I was speaking to this pupil, he bit a chunk out of the lip of the cup and proceeded to eat it. A little taken aback, I pointed out to the pupil slowly and clearly, “You’re eating the cup”, whereupon he took another bite. I looked at the father and said equally slowly and clearly, “He’s eating the cup”, at which he looked at me, smiled, and made a bizarre sound which indicated agreement, amusement and a complete inability to influence events.

It is probably best not to engage in potentially dangerous automotive activities at lunchtime ……

My colleague Andy was particularly keen on cars and motorbikes, and announced one Friday that the following day he was going to London to take possession of a new 600cc motorbike. I had to confess I had never even been a passenger on a motorbike, far less ridden one, so he suggested that I accompany him as a pillion passenger the following Monday at lunchtime.
I did my best to find excuses such as not having a helmet or suitable clothing, and I had a class immediately after lunch, but whatever excuse I produced, Andy furnished a solution. Nothing was going to prevent this man from providing my initiation to motorbiking.

Monday arrived and so did Andy on his rather large and impressive 600cc motorbike. Lunchtime came and I wore my leather coat and the helmet so thoughtfully provided by Andy. I sat in the pillion position and I have to say the sheer width of the seat took me by surprise. For a moment, I doubted if my feet would make contact with the footrests! When Andy got on, I realised I would have to find something to grip in order to steady myself and I didn’t want to grip Andy, so I felt around for some other means of delivering some sense of security and I discovered a form of handle (undoubtedly a bar allowing the secure transport of luggage) about level with my backside. I held on with both hands, safe in the knowledge my hands and arms effectively formed a backrest, preventing me from sliding backwards.

After warning me that I would have to lean into corners to help with balance, Andy started the engine and I suddenly became aware of the sheer, raw power available immediately beneath me, and before I could express any doubts about continuing, we were off.

We drove through the town and I handled the curves and corners of the streets well, leaning in to them as necessary. Once out of town and moving in a relatively straight line, Andy accelerated to about 60 mph (I could see the speedo over his shoulder) and I actually enjoyed the experience! I started to relax, though I continued to grip the handle behind me as we headed north, doing a steady 60 along the not very busy A9 above Invergordon. It appeared my fears had been ill-founded and I actually started to find the experience, well, a little mundane – almost disappointing, at least compared to how I had built it up in my mind before setting off.

We arrived at a couple of bends which preceded another long straight and Andy had to slow to a crawl as we came up behind a tractor.

“Are you alright?” Andy turned and asked, shouting through his helmet.

“Yes” said I, quite matter-of-fact. Then a doubt struck me. “Why?” I asked. “Because we’re going to overtake the tractor in a second.” “OK” I said, thinking nothing of overtaking a vehicle moving at 15 mph.

As we rounded the corner Andy could see there was no traffic ahead, so he made the manoeuvre to overtake.

The sheer force of the acceleration pushed me physically back along the seat so that the only things stopping me joining the A9 were my hands and fingers which were now gripping the bar behind me so tightly that they would have cracked nuts! At exactly the same time, my head dipped down behind Andy’s shoulders and my thighs clamped down hard on the seat, the throbbing power of the engine passing through me like an electric current. I was not in control of my limbs – instinct took over and I seized on anything and everything to survive!

I did manage to raise my head, albeit wobbling like jelly, far enough to see the speedo which read around the 100 level, and we had reached that speed in some three or four seconds.

Once out of the straight we slowed again to what now appeared like walking pace – about 60, and we headed back to the school without communicating.

When we stopped in the school car park, Andy got off, removed his helmet and asked if I was OK. He also had a wry look of satisfaction on his face, and wore an inkling of a smile.

I had some difficulty removing myself from the bike. My fingers had to be unwrapped from the bar to which they were now virtually fused, and my thighs felt like I’d run a marathon in record time. Worse, I had pulled a muscle in my right thigh and I couldn’t walk without limping. It took three days to recover.

I managed to muster a somewhat bemused “Thanks” for Andy, and I headed up to my room where my class was waiting for me. I have to admit that not a lot of French was taught that period – it was more of a debriefing, and destressing!

Most teachers will set out to build a rapport with their pupils in order to make their lessons more palatable or even amusing. However, not all would go as far as transforming into a superhero ….

Before becoming embroiled in the world of teaching, a colleague and very good friend of mine completed his education by gaining a PhD in chemistry and naturally became known by the title, Doctor.

Early on in his career, and aware that chemistry did not lend itself to verbal banter enjoyed in various other disciplines, the Doc decided to inject a bit of much needed fun in his own particular way.

And so, especially when he had younger classes, the Doc would wander up and down his lab (furnished with traditional science benches), explaining reactions and reciting notes to his hard-working, if somewhat gloomy pupils. Suddenly, however, he would duck down behind the bench at the rear of his room, pick up a black cape he had previously placed there, tie it around his neck, and with a single bound he would jump onto the bench, declaring “I am Superdoc!”

The Doc then proceeded to leap from one bench to the next, much to the amazement and admiration of his (captive) audience!

Now, you may be wondering why this educational superhero has not become a household name. Well, I have to tell you that Superdoc’s career was fairly short-lived.

On one occasion (his last appearance), he got a little carried away with his own success and, while leaping with balletic grace from one bench to the next, he failed to notice a protruding gas tap which brought his performance (and his career) to a somewhat abrupt and decidedly earthbound end!

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