A teacher with chalk by a blackboard. A class of 14-year-olds in inner city London. An English lesson with mixed-ability pupils.
They’re working on a topic of The Underground. They’ve been doing this since September. There’s a low hum of industry – discussion, laughter, learning. The teacher, not balding or burned out, is not stuck in a syllabus set in stone. The topic is open-ended and will hopefully nourish various modes of talking and writing. The pupils have been working with other subjects, like science, history and art.
The excellent head, Dr Rushworth, sees education as “a seamless web of knowledge” and has introduced the Faculty System. The teacher zips cheerfully about and stops at a group, who consider some of the following. How many stations has the London Underground? Who was Harry Beck? Which line is the deepest? Why can’t you smile on the Tube? Who cleans the suicides off the buffers? Who does all that phantom graffiti?
“I do!” brags Little Kevin. When?
“Four in the morning! Westbourne Grove!”
Should the teacher shop him?
Parents visit. John Doonan’s dad works in tunnels and tells us about huge fat rats and howling ghosts and the odd decomposing corpse – and Aisha nearly faints. Sally’s father is a driver and tells us about the Dead Man’s Handle.
Pupils tell their own stories and fab fibs. Leo tells of getting his dreads caught in the closing doors on the Central Line.
Crumlin tells of getting locked in all night and seeing a “monster like Alien!” in the lift at Shepherd’s Bush. Anna tells how she bunked and stayed on the Circle all day, drinking Merrydown cider – and I tell her off. Max tells a wonderful story of rush hour robots on escalators, which feed them into a pit of crocodiles.
The more rarefied venture into the mythic and reflect on the likes of Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Infernos and the Subconscious.
They listen keenly to each other. They help each other and do not compete and will not be measured. They produce all kinds of splendid writing and painting over the half-term – factual, research personal, stories, and poems. It is literate, original and seriously inventive. It is all over the walls and in a terrific magazine.
Which is before me now. I’ve just dug it out of the dusty archives – my teaching hits of yesteryear. I was that teacher. That was my class. 3-7! A merry crew! Room West 206! 1987. Just before the National Curriculum – a time, which modern gurus are pleased to lament as having “the intentioned idealism” of the bad old days.
Well, you could have fooled me...