It’s not a time for chastising; it’s time for inspiration

For two years, I have been waiting for a “miracle”. It looks like that such an improbable prospect may just have pirouetted into reality!

Two boys have been causing me sleepless nights since last year when I took this GCSE group in year 10. Both were well known miscreants since lower down the school; both had a reputation for being work-shy – in classroom speak, unacceptable effort. It was not unusual for them to complete a day without ever doing very much. The teachers tried everything to motivate them; invariably, all strategies ended in thickened frustration. Now, I had to work out a seating plan to keep them apart in a hope to minimise mutual disruption.

I have to admit – despite my prior encounter with one of them back in year 8, and I clearly remember how I used to reprimand him for constant disruption – that’s as much as I could muster. Now, reunited with him in year 10, plus another new recruit, I considered it a good lesson when they did not engage with each other in any shape or form. Trust me, any teacher will testify how the youngsters have a natural talent for evading classroom sousveillance – passing notes, iMessaging (by means of iPads), and even telepath (by means of exchanging glances).

After two years of constant badgering from me, repeated resistance from them, and a mutual loathing for each other’s persistence, we got nowhere. The chance of these two boys to get a C for English was looking increasingly more like a battle already lost. When they were removed from their last mock exam for talking to each other two weeks ago, I was ready to throw the towel in.

Arriving in one lesson afterwards, I decided to I take an gamble to remonstrate the culprits, once again, keeping the identities of my targets as vague as possible: “Nobody has ever got any grade lower than C on my watch in my years of teaching. I don’t want to see anyone to be the first.” How was that going to motivate the two particular boys was anybody’s guess.

On Wednesday this week, we had another lesson; another battle ensued. One of them requested to sit next to his friend on the front row so that he could see the board better. He promised to work; I gave him a try; both did nothing – at least for much of the lesson. I moved him back to the back of the classroom – in the diagonal corner from his mate in the font row. He sat and brewed. One of my shadowing trainee teachers even came to me for help. She had a hard time trying to engage with him with some kind of sensible conversation, to motivate him to answer his long writing task. I gave him another try, coaxing, encouraging, with a tone increasingly darkened with frustration and despair. I needed some space.

I trudged over to check the progress of the other boy. To my surprise, he had included both a heading and a few sub-headings in his writing. The heavy cloud hitherto had darkened my mind began to part slightly.

All of a sudden, this boy called me back. He wanted me to check his work….

Then, out of the blue, two email messages arrived in my inbox that evening. Both boys had typed up their answers and sent them to me for advice to improve. I was the happiest man on earth!

When I saw them yesterday, I went to them, one after the other, in front of the whole class. “I am so proud of you,” I showered them with jubilant praise that nobody in that group had ever received. I carved on the board:

“It’s hard when you have to; it’s easy when you WANT TO.”


About W. S. Lien

Tweed Wearer - Country Lover - Teacher Researching Professionalism and Identity@Clare College, Cambridge - Keen Amateur Photographer - Devotee to Poppy my Labrador
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