Despite what Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw believes, teaching can be an incredibly stressful job. Happily, it is almost impossible to work alongside young people without them doing or saying something so utterly ridiculous that the only appropriate response is to burst into laughter. Over my teaching career, I’ve had some amazing conversations with pupils and I thought I’d share my favourites with you.
Several of my top comments from students revolve, for some reason, around food. “Magpies?,” I remember one genuinely bemused Year 9 girl asking, when we were researching superstitions as a precursor to studying Macbeth, “Isn’t that a type of food?”
Another girl was almost apoplectic when we were studying Schindler’s List. “That’s proper disgusting, Miss…,” she raged. “Hitler made Jews live in a ghetto? It’s just stupid!” Encouraged by her passion I explored the issue further, until I realised she’d got ghetto confused with gateaux and thought the deranged Nazi leader had constructed some sort of elaborate housing complex made of cake…
And continuing the food theme, I was once asked in all seriousness “Is being a vegetarian something you’re born with? Is it a disability?” This is the same girl, by the way, who was astounded to learn there was such a thing as a meat-free burger, describing it, wide-eyed, as “A burger full of lies”.
It was a Year 10 boy, notorious for his bad behaviour, who came up to the desk uncharacteristically meekly to tell me he had a question. “Miss, you know them monkeys you get in films? Chimps and that? How do they know what to do? Do they get scripts?” I knew I’d encounter a lot of difficult questions working in a High School, but I never imaged that’d be one of them.
And one of my other wannabe bad boys made me smile, with his strenuous objection to my choice of music as background to our lesson. “Ah come on Miss!” he complained, with just a hint of a smile. “I could get shot if people knew I listened to this!”
My absolute all-time favourite though, was when a Year 11 girl came storming into my room. “They’re taking the mick out of me Miss,” she hissed. I asked her to calm down and explain the problem. “They,” she spat, gesturing towards the door where her classmates were steadily filtering in, “are doing my head in. They keep trying to tell me that owls are real.” I have to admit that it wasn’t my finest moment in education, as I struggled to keep a straight face. “But owls are real,” I insisted. “They’re just birds. You get them in this country.” Her face froze. Her eyes narrowed. You could tell she was weighing me up, trying to see if I was teasing her or being genuine. “You serious?” she questioned. “I promise,” I answered. “OH MY DAYS!,” she yelled, looking absolutely thunderstruck. “I thought they were just out of Harry Potter…”
Jane Bradley is an Oxford Open Learning English home study tutor.
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