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‘Sir’ is a state school English teacher in a big city in the UK. Prior to this he worked with children with a variety of Special Educational Needs, particularly those with behavioural and social problems. His teaching has been rated as ´Outstanding´ by Ofsted which means he once did a great job for 50 minutes. Save for a light dusting of fiction in order to protect the innocent (and indeed the guilty) anything recounted here is absolutely true. Otherwise, there will be some exciting political debate where everything Sir thinks is also absolutely true. Twitter: @seekingsir

17 June 2010


Before I became a ‘proper’ teacher I had done some TEFL work. If you’re wondering what TEFL is, it’s Teaching English as a Foreign Language - in other words teaching non-native speakers how to speak the Queen’s tongue.  Moments of classroom comedy were commonplace; indeed, a student's innocent deviation from our 'target language' led to the complete abandonment of a lesson on idiomatic expressions as I was simply overcome with the most severe fit of the giggles that I can remember since childhood.  I had taught the phrase ‘to fly off the handle’ and one of my pupils decided to get a little creative with what, in her innocence, she assumed was a synonym. Proudly, she offered forth the sentence: ‘Oh, my boyfriend is really annoying – he is always making me fly off the knob’. It took all my restraint not to suggest that she should probably wear a crash helmet or that they perhaps try leaving out the olive oil for health and safety reasons.

Often, foreign speakers struggle with the long vowel sounds.   My mirth will explain itself when I tell you of a 70-year-old Spanish bureaucrat who, when practising restaurant-speak, ordered ‘two large Cokes’ (if that’s lost on you, make the long ‘O’ in Cokes into a short ‘O’ and you have a word that rhymes with ‘rocks’).

Such moments of rascalish innuendo are pleasantly inevitable when working with foreign speakers, particularly adults with whom you openly share the joke whilst generally maintaining some semblance of professionalism. They are less expected when teaching our great nation´s youth such things as Shakespeare, To Kill A Mockingbird and ‘how to write an argument’ but, happily, they still occur with surprising regularity. One of my favourites occurred before I had reached the Holy Grail of ‘QTS’ (Qualified Teacher Status).

I was teaching the superb ‘Brave New World’ to a year 8 top set. It was, undoubtedly,  a lesson of genius. We opened with a discussion of John Stuart Mill’s differentiation between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ liberty – the freedom ‘from’ oppression and the freedom ‘to’ do what you choose - and how this relates to the Brave New World and, in turn, to our own society. We were in Set 1 high-brow mode , seamlessly weaving political philosophy, social commentary and literature together into the rich tapestry of English education.

Discussion completed, we moved to the reading part of the lesson.

The class are reading aloud, changing reader at each full stop (a cunning trick to ensure that everybody remains ‘on task’ and to allow everybody to read an equal amount). All is going swimmingly. There is genuinely not a murmur as the class aim for a record of three consecutive reading laps without anybody hesitating or losing their place; excitement is at fever pitch as the text details a vicious fight scene.  And so it comes to Harry’s turn to read. And read he does. Lamentably however, he reads the following sentence: ‘He stiffened to receive the blow’ (here if you doubt my literary integrity).

The instant chaos that ensues swiftly puts paid to my plans for a plenary on the interactive whiteboard for the last ten minutes of the lesson. I console myself with the knowledge that I am in the right job as I am laughing as much as they are.

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