Gambling on Dunkirk


All teachers take risks, but when you're an NQT they can be that little bit scarier, as Tomas Duckling discovered...

I have never been much of a gambler. I put on the odd football accumulator, I buy a lottery ticket every now and then, and I once went to Royal Ascot – but apart from that I have always erred on the side of caution and refrained from taking reckless chances.

That said, in teaching I have learnt that every now then you need to back a hunch. This year has been an enormous and exasperating challenge and the end is closing in and that means one thing for teachers and students alike: exam season.

Season is the operative word actually because it does quite resemble a sport. You take a rag-tag bunch of random children of wildly different abilities and different backgrounds, prepare and coach them as best you can for the event that lurks in the distance, adopt a course of psychological warfare in a bid to elicit the best possible responses – whether it be a carefully worded reprimand, an arm around the shoulders or a rallying cry. 

You provide them structures for success, encourage individual flair but demand rigour and training. Maybe I am more like Roy Hodgson than I think. Let’s just hope I can get my motley crew further than I suspect he will get his (at the time of writing we are warming up to face Ukraine...).

This week my year 10 class sat their first ever GCSE exam, and unbeknown to them, my first ever one too. My year 10s have been a real struggle, I fear that if they were a football team they would have been on the brink of relegation when I picked them up. Not through any lack of talent you understand; their problem lies more with apathy and disinterest. 

They have been rewarding and frustrating in equal measure and I have gone to every conceivable length to try and create even a glimmer of interest. We have had fun lessons, fast lessons, slow lessons, group lessons – you name it I have tried it. 

After numerous failed quizzes and overly thought-through activities I found out what really got them interested. Success. They didn’t care about how the history was taught to them, they just wanted a good result. 

Since that moment we have focused solely on the exam and I have gone through previous mark schemes and formats with a fine toothcomb so as to lead them to success. I have marked until my pen broke and my eyelids shut.

More than anything they wanted an answer to the most important of all exam questions. What is coming up? And this is where the gambling comes in. 

Now obviously you would be an irresponsible teacher if you didn’t teach the whole course and inform the kids that any question or topic is possible, but you always have your inklings. 

This year my department worked on the assumption that Dunkirk would be the topic for the year 10 history exam. We spent extra time on the topic, made our mock on that famous event, and focused our revision around it. Gambling is a risk – sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

So what came up? Dunkirk of course – I am off to get some scratchcards.

  • Tomas Duckling is a history NQT at Queens’ School in Hertfordshire.


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