"Can I help you wipe the board please, Miss?" I was impressed by the kindness and the politeness of this girl, in her early teens. It was one of my first days as a teacher in the UK, where I had taken on the challenge of teaching French to a great mix of 30 or so English pupils, at a Community College. It hadn't been easy to find a teaching job and as a Swede, I was lucky to having been accepted for this post. The fact that I had been happily working as a teacher for 13 years in Sweden (see picture) didn't mean much to potential employers, as they valued the knowledge of the national curriculum more than they did previous experiences. Hearing that previous English, experienced teachers had ended up with nervous breakdowns after having taught this particular class didn't do much for my self esteem either. But hey ho - I could do it better!
"Why, of course you can help me. How kind!" It wasn't until the following day I realised that this generous gesture of support was nothing but an attempt to get golden stars in her book.
In fact, in the coming weeks, fights would be fought at the end of each lesson as to who would be the lucky, chosen one. "She did it last week, Miss!","Oh Miss - that's not fair!"
I ended up doing it myself. Stop "Missing" me around! I told the class that if they weren't helping me because they really wanted to, I might as well wipe that board myself - as I had been doing for 13 years back in Sweden. There, I'd said it. I'm not sure this was in line with the national curriculum or the staff policy, but my gut feeling told me that morally, this was the right thing to do.
I would like to be able to say I loved being a teacher in England. But the truth is - I pretty much hated it. Back in Sweden, I truly enjoyed the good contact I had with my pupils. Yes, there were discipline problems at times there too, but at least they respected me for who I was - not because they were afraid of me. Here, I became a policewoman. I had to stand in the corridor to hand out infringements for pupils who hadn't tucked in their shirts properly. SO not me. I felt I was being false to myself.
Also, I hadn't quite thought this through: English pupils speak English. Most people around the world understand English. There is no 'real' need for them to learn French and yet it's compulsory! In Sweden, pupils are more motivated to learn a foreign language as people are unlikely to understand Swedish. Big difference. As the severely dyslexic little boy at the front row asked: "Miss, why do I have to learn French?" I honestly didn't know what to say. Yes, why did he have to sit there, in a big class of unruly pupils from all sorts of socially deprived backgrounds with learning difficulties and drug problems?
My feeling of not being supportive enough for the individuals in this class was overwhelming.
It made me lie awake at night, wondering what I did wrong. While I was dealing with the most disruptive pupils, the ambitious ones were slowly losing their initial interest. They were getting bored waiting for me to do what I was there for - to teach French. I rarely got around to doing that, sadly.
Thankfully, I had 'easier' classes, as well. It was not all bad and I must admit I learnt a lot from this episode of my life. But - I would not go back again.