Tales From The Chalkface: My Best Lesson

How do you know? In whose opinion? What’s the measure? Here’s an account (very one sided) of the best lesson I did last Monday (I only did the one).

It was great to have a completely uninterrupted day to get all the admin that piles up out of the way. After six hours of methodical assessments and meaningful application of criteria, I was glad to shut the door on school work and had just settled down at home with a couple of headache pills and Facebook when, to my surprise, there was a ring on the domofon and the cheery voice of one of my private students, clearly expecting to be let in. A glance on my appointments calendar told me it was time for a 90-minute lesson I’d completely forgotten about.

Fortunately, living on the second floor gives me just enough time to organise my books and minimise Facebook so it looks as if I’m a model of preparation. Now all I have to do is bluff my way through the first five minutes until I’m tuned in to what we intended to do. A good teacher, or at least an experienced one, can always ask questions. This student has a really important exam coming up within weeks, so she’s extremely well motivated and has done the homework assignments. By the time we’ve been through that, I’m up to speed on what I’d planned to do. It’s at this point the student asks a question of her own.

“So what exactly is meant by ‘style in literature?’” What a question! All lesson planning forgotten, we explored the exam texts with that question in mind. It was brilliant! I hope my student enjoyed the dialogue as much as I did. She certainly seemed absorbed and was writing down so many notes at such a speed it made me dizzy. The next time I looked at the clock, I found we’d over run our time by ten minutes and everything I’d planned was completely untouched.

By any observable measure, this was not my best lesson. Had I timed it properly? No. Had I achieved a clear aim? No. Had I paced the lesson and varied the activities? Hardly. Yet if any of the excitement for the subject was passed to the student, then I can’t help thinking that, in my own muddled way, I did okay. Perhaps the proof will be when the student sits down to that exam and succeeds, as I’m sure she will. Better still, if one day she sits down with one of those novels, enjoys it and has an insight that she might not otherwise have had, even though our conversation is long forgotten, that lesson can be considered a good one. And no one will know.

I’m keeping faith with the future and the promise that it holds. Meanwhile, I’ll check the calendar to avoid more cock-ups.

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