The lesson that almost broke me...…...

Most people have some anxiety about going back to work on a Sunday night. Many years ago whilst I was working as lecturer at a large Mainstream College my anxiety used to kick in on Monday afternoon. Every Tuesday afternoon I had to steel myself, take a deep breath and enter a classroom of 16 year old boys who were all autistic, ADHD or both. My task was to teach this class “Life Skills, Literacy and Numeracy” for 2 hours. These young men were disillusioned, fed up with education and trying to find their place in the world. They sensed my weakness and found the chinks in my armour. My lowest point as a young lecturer was when this class returned (late!) from their break armed with plastic knives from the canteen and decided to have a battle in my classroom. Eventually I had to call my line manager to come and sort the situation out and left that day feeling like a complete and utter failure. But, I loved my job and I decided that I could not let this situation beat me. I decided that as these young men were bothering to turn up to my lesson each week there must have been some part of them that wanted to learn. They were playing their part, so I had to look at my role, consider what I was doing wrong and change what I was doing, not the other way around. These were streetwise young men who were interested in street culture including drugs, graffiti and rap music. I decided I had to adapt the curriculum and use their interests to engage and excite them. The week after the awful plastic cutlery war I arrived with the lyrics to "Day and Night" by Kid Cudi and my battered old portable stereo and we analysed those lyrics about drug taking, depression and anxiety. I slowly began to get their interest and with that I also began to earn their respect. We did research exercises on the evolution of graffiti and Banksy’s work, the evolution of rap and house music, fashion etc. I began to pick my battles, let them listen to music if they wanted to, ignored a lot of the low level behaviour and praised, praised, PRAISED the behaviour that I liked! We agreed to set up a swear jar for certain words and donated the money to their chosen charity. The card game UNO became my best friend and if everyone completed their work we played epic games of Uno at the end of the lesson. Some of my students who had previously challenged me the most started to correct their peers if they were messing about because they were worried they would ruin the opportunity to play Uno! I am not going to lie, it was extremely hard work both in and out of the classroom, but all those young men passed their qualifications that year – although I think I learned far more from them than they did from me than me!

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