Like riding a bike

You’d think I’d have managed one full academic year before ending up back in the classroom. And not just any classroom. My classroom – or at least, the one that was mine for 13 years. But an argument between his elbow and some uneven ground has left my successor incapacitated and at the mercy of our crumbling NHS, leaving me once again in front of Year 11. It was something of a surprise – for me and for them.

The timing might seem like it couldn’t be worse but in many ways it couldn’t be much better. When one first imagines the idea of a teacher unable to work immediately prior to the GCSE examinations, it’s easy to panic. But the more I thought about those current Year 11s, the more relaxed I felt for them. They are ready for the exams. They have been taught everything that they need to know by two very competent and experienced teachers – me, if I do say so myself, and my successor, who has spent even longer at the chalkface than I have and who has an outstandiing record when it comes to results. Really, I am just a familiar, reassuring face, reminding them of these facts and helping them along the way in their final preparations.

I thought I would be nervous. Suprisingly, I wasn’t. As one old colleague remarked, “I bet it’s like stepping back into a pair of old, comfortable shoes.” I certainly knew exactly what she meant. Everything is familiar, from the classroom surroundings (although I will confess that my successor is a little less fanatical about classroom tidiness than I was …) to the students (whom I have taught for four years) and the material (which I have taught for more years than I care to remember). Nothing was news to me, other than a few tweaks to the decor inside the school.

One thing that did strike me once again is just how dreadfully long an hour is. I have written before on why I tutor in 30-minute sessions rather than an hour and whilst I understand the practical reasons why schools favour longer lessons, it really hit me on my return to the classroom just how long a time 60 minutes is and just how much time is wasted as a result. Students – especially younger students – will inevitable tire in that time-frame and the amount of learning time that is lost due to poor concentration makes me feel queasy. There has been much welcome discussion recently in some educational circles about the importance of children’s 100% focus and just how the classroom teacher can seek to ensure that they have everybody’s full and undivided attention – it isn’t easy, to put it mildly. The reality, I believe, is that one cannot in fact expect it when one is asking a young person to focus for so long a time on one subject and in one seat.

I greatly enjoyed my return to the classroom and will look forward to further revisitations once a week over the next month (assuming that the NHS waiting time is as long for my successor as I fear it will be). Their reaction was complete underwhelm, which I take as a testmanet to their resilience and a compliment to all the work that my successor and I have achieved with them: they know they are ready, they know they are looked after, they know they will do well.

This wonderful photo of a bicycle propped up against a market stall in Rome is by Mark Pecar, sourced from Unsplash

Author: Emma Williams

Latin tutor with 21 years' experience in the classroom. Outstanding track record with student attainment and progress.

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