'The students were as miserable as I was'

How does it feel to be thrown in at the deep end with a rowdy class of pupils whose names and histories you don't know? Monica Troughton describes a lesson in the life of a supply teacher
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The Independent Online

"If you don't give me some gum I'll break your fucking legs!" I clock where the voice is coming from. I am new. I am temporary and the class know it. This is a bottom English GCSE set. I am one of a stream of teachers this class has had since the beginning of term.

"If you don't give me some gum I'll break your fucking legs!" I clock where the voice is coming from. I am new. I am temporary and the class know it. This is a bottom English GCSE set. I am one of a stream of teachers this class has had since the beginning of term.

"You our new teacher? The last one was crap!" "Our normal teacher is a queer!"

I introduce myself and as always I wish for a name like Smith. "Troughton" always creates a ripple of merriment and mirth. At least one person has to look at me and point while saying, "Ahhh Haaa... Miss Trout."

I write my name on the board. Someone passes wind. "Miss... Miss... he's just farted, I ain't sitting next to him!" A scraping of chairs as everyone holds their noses and makes gasping noises.

I ignore the racket and tell all those who are hanging out of the window to sit down. One half or more of the class don't have a pen with them, others have nothing to write in or on. I hunt around drawers for bits of paper. I always carry at least ten spare pens. I hand these out while the others make do with bits of pencils. No one says thank you.

As the class begin the task they have been set by their teacher, I quietly approach two boys at the back and ask them to remove their puffa jackets.

They shake their heads and say "NO!" They are cold. "It ain't illegal to be cold is it, Miss?"

The whole class look round now. I ask everyone to stop working. I explain that I want us to start again. I would like to get on with the group and assist them with their studies. I am two sentences into my offering when the door bursts open and a boy who has been lurking around the corridor shouts, "Here Sam... get here!" Sam stands to leave the room. I tell him to stay where he is.

The boy slams the door. He spends the next few moments making faces through the window to the classroom.

The teacher from next door comes in to apologise. She tells me that three of my students are on their "last chance" reports and would I like these boys identified? If there is any trouble, I am to press a panic button... except this classroom doesn't have one.

I am not at all comforted or cheered by news of panic buttons. I feel waves of irritation sweep over me. I explain to the group that I want to get on with my job and will teach those who want to be taught.

"You're paid to teach ALL of us!" shouts someone.

I notice that the lad who made the threats as I entered the room is chewing. I need to know how he acquired his gum. The smaller boy near him tells me he doesn't mind sharing his gum. I tell him not to share during the lesson and would they get rid of it. The big kid blows a bubble until it pops. I ask what his name is. He covers his bit of paper with his hand so I can't see it.

I go outside to tell the boy out there to leave us alone as he is now banging loudly on the door. The teacher next door is shouting loudly at someone in her group. She comes to the corridor and I ask what the name is of the boy who is chewing gum in my class. She says he is to go straight to the Head of Year. He says that it's not fair and that I have picked on him from the start of the lesson.

We return to our next task. Macbeth. The witches scene. I ask if anyone would like to read it or take any of the parts. No response. As I am unsure how well they can read aloud I leave it for now and take all the parts myself. I read with as much expression as I can muster. I try to whizz through the longer speeches.

Some of the kids have their heads on their desks, others are doodling or gazing out of the window. It is fairly quiet now, though. Then someone yells, "Miss, are you a witch?"

I return to the script. I wished I hadn't looked up. The moment has been lost and a restlessness creeps in. I ask them whether or not they enjoyed being read to when they were younger because they seemed to be concentrating, or at least they were calmer and more relaxed.

"We ain't poofs, Miss!"

"Jamie is!"

The class break out into shouts and screams about who is and who isn't a "poof". Then someone shouts about seeing Al's "tits". I ask for quiet and say I find it offensive. "No need to be embarrassed, Miss... all women have got them, and Al's nothing but a big woman!"

Big guffaws again. I find that this is probably potentially the most intelligent thing I have heard all morning. Had time and atmosphere allowed, I could have followed his line of thought through and opened a debate about bodies and image and so on. But the bell goes. The class race out...

It seems easy to see why their teacher was off with long-term illness. I am moved to anger that as teachers we can be so bullied by some of the kids we teach.

That first lesson was one long, horrible hour. I hated every second of it. It was followed by a second miserable hour and a third. The day seemed relentless. The students were as miserable as I was.

Teaching seemed to have little to do with what I was doing. I was breathing a sigh of relief every time someone did anything vaguely resembling a classroom activity. The Head of Faculty told me I had done a good job and asked me to stay all term. I replied that Donald Duck might have done a better job!

I thought about whether it was time that I needed in order to build better relationships with the pupils. But time isn't on any teacher's agenda. I left after a week.