My #teachinghighlight

On Wednesday 15th October I read this post from @cazzypot. She wrote of taking her disaffected PRU children to visit Shakespeare’s territory. Without giving too much away, the trip could easily have been a disaster but was billed by @cazzypot as being the highlight of her teaching career to date. @ICTEvangelist, @cazzypot and I discussed this and thought it would be good to see if people wanted to share some positive stories. So, here’s my contribution.

I have several teaching highlights as it happens. Working in a special school provides you with many tear jerking moments. For example, there was a boy who had only learnt to read ORT stage 1 words by sight right up until the age of 15. We never ever gave up on teaching him phonics and word building although to an outsider it must have seemed as though we were on a hiding to nothing. One day, he suddenly got it! You could almost see the penny drop and he began to read at a functional level. This was a wonderful moment for class staff and there were a few moist eyes in the room as we realised that this was job done!

Another highlight was in April this year when Ofsted came to call and our HT was absent. You can read that post here I’ll cut to the chase for brevity. Myself and our other AHT guided the school to an Outstanding inspection. I don’t mind admitting to a tear or two for that one, such was our relief.

My earliest teaching highlight also concerns Ofsted. It was 2009 and I was a teacher in Key Stage 2. At that time I had 8 children in my class and they were a pretty diverse group. 4 had severe behaviour difficulties, one was completely blind, (not VI) and 3 were very poorly or had learning difficulties. One of the boys with behaviour difficulties had real problems. This is not the platform to go in to his background but let’s just say that B had experienced cruelty that no child should ever suffer. His was the kind of story that makes newspaper headlines and the nation weeps for that child. His experiences had left him volatile, explosive, emotional and very insecure. I have always had a soft spot for ‘naughty’ children. I understand them and can generally see where they’re coming from. B was like no other child I have ever met. He was totally unpredictable. None of the behaviour strategies I had at my disposal really worked for him. Each day, in fact each lesson I had to think outside the box. I had to pre-empt his behaviour and come up with a strategy before his behaviour occurred. B was not averse to over turning tables or chairs, he often ran away and had a very limited attention span.

I came up with a routine that kind of worked for him and set him up for the day. First thing each morning I left my class with my trusted TAs and I took him to a quiet room, just me and him. I gave him time to tell me about his evening and his morning and to off load his worries. I had no real idea of what I was doing but it seemed to help him and this strategy left him able to face the day having left his troubles in that room. Lessons would begin and it was an emotional roller coaster for both of us. He needed to succeed for his confidence and self esteem but he also needed his behaviour containing as he had to join the real world eventually. It was a fine balancing act. Every lesson I had to wrack my brains for ways to keep him engaged and on task. All the usual behaviour strategies were deployed and generally his behaviour was showing a slight improvement. He remained very unpredictable and even after 6 months I still never knew if or when something would trigger and he would wreck the classroom and or run off the premises. Then came the call. Ofsted were coming! My heart sank. My boy was so unpredictable and I had no idea how he would react under such close scrutiny from a total stranger. I will also admit to being very defensive about him. I had invested so much time and nervous energy in him that he felt like my own child. What if the inspector took against him? What if he upset him and B ran out? Strangely I didn’t give a thought to my own teaching, this inspection was all about the boy.

I had planned the lesson in minute detail. We were doing Venn diagrams. A bit risky with such a mixed group of children but that’s where we were on the maths curriculum and that’s what we were doing. It was differentiated well and the child with no sight had sensory figures that he could feel to allow him to sort them. We had different colours for those on that level and a PC program for another child. I was using hoops on the floor for B and toy soldiers to keep him interested. He loved it. He really enjoyed it. The inspector wandered around the children and spoke to them. He was fascinated by our child with no sight and impressed with the speed with which he grasped his task. All the while I could see him keeping an eye on B. I had no other child who was on the same level as B so I had to work with him myself. From past experience I knew that his attention would only last so long and it was beginning to wear out. I had anticipated this and had drawn up a huge Carroll diagram for his next task. To his credit he asked if he could stop doing the venn diagram. Before I could answer he began to wander away and started to play with one of the figures being used by one of the other groups. Of course he was now stopping that group from working and was in danger of ruining the entire lesson. The inspector began to saunter over to see how I would deal with this. I of course couldn’t deal with the inspector, the boy was my priority. I had to keep him on task, not for the inspector, but for himself. I whispered in his ear that we would do a deal. He would try my new game for 5 minutes. If he didn’t like it he could go on the PC. Now because I had spent so much time over the months building our relationship he trusted me to keep my promise. I set a timer going for 5 minutes and we began. By now the inspector was by my side and was assessing my behaviour management skills. I wandered if I would be pulled to pieces for how I handled it but I had to wait and see. The game began and B was very enthusiastic! He thoroughly enjoyed it. He particularly liked it when the inspector got down on his hands and knees and joined him on the floor. Together they strategically moved things around the Carroll diagram. There were happy noises coming from both of them as they played together. The timer ran out and I offered to stop the game. Not a chance said B. He was loving it and he had a new friend. That inspector had truly got the measure of my class and certainly he understood my boy. Every credit to him for his understanding. Not easy in a snapshot of a lesson.

So there you have it. My #teachinghighlight was a bit of a tear jerker for me. Also, please note that two of my 3 teaching highlights involve Ofsted! How many teachers can say that I wonder.

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