Gareth Rubin meets an NQT who has done a deal with her pupils over what they can expect of her and she of them

It's 9am, and Cheryl walks into the class. She's a tall girl, slim and pretty, although her huge earrings make it quite difficult to see her face. She crosses in front of the computer screen that shows a happy pink suitcase bouncing about the screen. The screen is spelling out the aims of today's geography lesson.

It's 9am, and Cheryl walks into the class. She's a tall girl, slim and pretty, although her huge earrings make it quite difficult to see her face. She crosses in front of the computer screen that shows a happy pink suitcase bouncing about the screen. The screen is spelling out the aims of today's geography lesson.

In front of the class is a 22-year-old newly qualified teacher (NQT), Lisa Mills, who confidently and methodically goes through what the Year 11 class at Woodlands School in Basildon will cover in this GCSE revision lesson. For many of them, it is one of the last lessons they will attend.

Before I get the chance to speak to Lisa, I ask Cheryl what her teacher is like. "She's lovely," I'm told. I wonder if I would ever have described one of my teachers as "lovely". It's unlikely.

Lisa is testing what her class knows about the effects of tourism. The group of 10 - Lisa says she has been really lucky to have such a small group - comes up with a series of ways in which tourism can harm the environment.

The size of the class means that Lisa is able to walk around and give them individual attention as they try to match up a series of words and definitions. One boy objects to getting a pink pencil with which to do the task. Another isn't sure he can get it right. "You can do it. Have some faith in yourself; you are quite capable," Lisa says. Through the day, Lisa will repeat this sentiment at least 10 times, convinced of the power of reassurance. As the class work silently through their double period, the first bars of the Star Wars theme filter through the wall. One or two students hum along.

At the end of the class, I ask Lisa how the lesson felt for her. "It went well. They can be a bit chatty first thing on a Monday, but they worked quite hard. They're a very mixed group; some will get starred As, some Ds and Es."

It's now 11am, and Year 9 students are filtering into the classroom. Lisa hands me two piles of pupils' projects on volcanoes. "It's interesting to see the difference," she says. One is from Lisa's top set, the other from a group of pupils who have literacy and behavioural problems. While the top set has presented their projects in brightly illustrated folders, there isn't a single folder in the other pile. It is entirely made up of loose sheets. "I even gave them folders," Lisa sighs. "They just didn't use them." Some of the work is obviously copied from the internet, "which they're not supposed to do," says Lisa. If a paragraph begins: "Empirical observations of the effect of volcanoes, however..." then already you know it has been downloaded. The top set's work has plenty of images alongside the text - but to illustrate the points they're making, rather than to fill up space.

It's 12.15pm: time for Year 7. Lisa throws an inflatable globe to a few students, asking each catcher to give a reason for crime. Everyone in the class wants to answer, and intelligent suggestions covering population concentration, unemployment and the complex social link between poverty, drinking and acts of petty crime are offered. Having worked off a little energy, the class is soon working quietly in their exercise books. The front of each book contains a written contract between the student and Lisa. It sets out what they can expect from each other. These are entirely Lisa's idea, and she believes they have helped her to work with the kids, especially those who are less motivated to work hard.

"I think that was particularly liked by some of those children because they felt they had a bit of a say in what they expected from their lesson; and it's something I can always refer them back to if I need to. The most important thing is to know the children and know what they can do. Positive reinforcement is very important: sometimes the negatives - "Don't do that, stop that!" - can get too much. But if they feel their opinion counts, that their ideas are valued, they put more effort in." But it is still tiring. "Last year, when I was on my training year, I was exhausted. Friday nights were a wipe-out: by eight in the evening I was just exhausted. But it's got a lot easier. When you get better at time management you're not taking work home and it's a lot easier. You do wake up some mornings with a list of things you've still got to do, but I'm getting better at it, and the school's been brilliant in its support."

In answer to the inevitable question, Lisa replies: "Was I a model pupil at school? I suppose so. I'm very organised and I like things done properly."

After lunch we return to the classroom. We pass two pupils kissing in reception. Lisa catches my eye and giggles.

The final period of the school day is over at last and Lisa visibly relaxes. So how does Lisa feel when 3.35pm rolls round each day? "Well, now the sun's out I feel very happy. Most days I just tidy up my desk, leave to go home and forget about it. If I've had a more difficult day I do feel more stressed and more tired, and it plays on my mind, but most days I'm very happy."

education@independent.co.uk

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