The Bright Lights of Tomorrow Were Not On

By Nina, a supply teacher from Plymouth

Watch out!  They are pretty quiet you know.  There’s only nineteen of them.  Perfect for marking however…” the teacher tailed off as he bolted out the door to make his day of back- to- back appointments.

As the pupils bustled in, I thought he must have got it wrong. “Hey Miss, what is your name, are you teaching us today?” called out a crazy- haired girl called Lizzie.  Yet as soon as they were sat down in their places, they fell silent and one serene looking boy got out his book to read as another studied his tables square.  A pin could be heard dropping, well almost, as I called the register and noted the seating plan. “Right!  Today we will learn about materials and states of matter.  We will find out what on Earth is found as a solid, liquid and a gas!  Can anyone give me an example of a solid?

No reaction.  

I gave an indeterminably long ‘thinking time’ but I was starting to feel pretty edgy until I finally saw a hand rise.  With relief I invited their response “Metal, miss.” I gave lots of praise hoping that they could be more forthcoming with further ideas but no amount of wax-lyrical could make them offer more.  I glance down at my sheet of names and I feel every set of eyes watching my every move.

Amy, any ideas?

There was no reaction. A different tack now was urgently required.  Perhaps I had gone in too easy for them?  Bloom’s taxonomy and all that.

This should do the trick:

What makes shampoo a liquid?”

Not a thing.  Nothing.  Shtum, in fact was that tumbleweed passing by just then?

I would never claim large schools are an advantage but today, with this small a class, things were just not feeling easy.  Maybe I had come across as a little strict or imposing – were they anxious?  I tried to lighten the atmosphere without giving away that the fact that by now I am wishing the floor to open up and swallow me whole.

Come on all of you, it’s great when people simply have a go.  Perhaps you are worn out?! You had a busy day yesterday, didn’t you, doing your cycling proficiency!” “That was last Wednesday I am afraid,” the teaching assistant intervened somewhat listlessly. “Oh…

Damn it.  Move on.

Here, let’s watch a video to get us in the science mood.

Were they awake?  I could not be sure.  The DVD provided an interval for pupils to call out answers to questions.  Silence.  Nada.  The TA and I whispered as the programme advanced and she explained they were always like this: quiet as mice.

Had September hit them this hard? I craved now for the kind of chatter and bustle where you cannot hear yourself think.  For when the teaching input goes off on a tangent due to plentiful questions, answers and discussions.  Even- dare I say it- for the noisy classrooms where you can barely get silence and you go home with a banging headache.  Most of all, I missed children trying their best, nattering to their classmates and daring to risk they might not get it right first time. The work planned was in groups to sort cards in teams before finally recording their individual ideas in words or in pictures in their books.  OK, not the most ground breaking of activities but they could at least work with their mates.  While they did this the classroom resembled a library rather than a seat of learning for young active minds and our bright lights of tomorrow.

Next time what magic wand would you approach the class with in order to drum up at least a little excited chatter?

What do you think?  …. Is anyone out there?!

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