When I was teacher training, I ran out of ideas in winning over a particularly challenging class. So I asked for volunteers to be the ‘teacher’ for the lesson and picked one of the main ring leaders. They had my register, my lesson plan and powerpoint and were given the authority to give out rewards and sanctions. To say I was nervous was an understatement. If it didn’t work, I had a lot to lose.

I took the place of an unruly student- not the student I’d swapped with, that would be unfair. Just a generic, disruptive pupil. I played on my mobile phone, chatted to other pupils, kicked the pupil in front of me’s chair, used an app on my phone to make noises and blame someone else, shouted about how unfair it was when I was given sanctions etc. At the end of the lesson, we talked about what we had learnt as a class.

The task was designed to demonstrate empathy. I didn’t hate the class, in fact, every single student in there liked me and vice versa. Collectively, they were hard to teach. The pupil acting as teacher reported back that they felt disheartened and ignored and even when they tried to be positive, it fell on deaf ears. They said they felt stressed keeping up with the behaviour, because if they got it wrong, someone would (rightly) complain. The purpose of the lesson was a success.

But it turned out to have a bigger purpose. I was surprised by what I learnt, and I explained this to the class. In my role as the pupil, I felt pressure to keep being silly- I’d noticed other pupils were looking at me waiting to see what my next move was. If I didn’t keep it up, I’d be laughed at for ‘bad’ reasons. My reputation would vanish. Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but for a teenager, it really is. Even when I was praised for doing something well, I felt the need to be silly about it to keep in line with the character I was playing. But as the ‘pupil’, I wanted praise just as much as everyone else. It was really quite hard!

From watching the pupil as teacher imitating me (I allowed them to do this), I also noticed the bits about my teaching the class must have disliked, such as phrases that I used too many times or mannerisms that they found distracting. Sitting with the other pupils, I could sense their frustration when they’d just got into an activity and we had to stop to feedback. And I also realised how hard it was to come up with something creative in 3 minutes. Pace is important, but not if they don’t manage to achieve anything in that time!

We all empathised with each other better, and lessons improved massively from there on in- we all made changes. I won’t say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, because we all do without realising. But we *shouldn’t* judge someone by what they appear to be on the outside. If we’ve not read the story from cover to cover and got an understanding of all of the chapters, who are we to make a decision about someone and why they behave in the way they do? And even then, their story could change as their life continues. As a trainee, it taught me to go into every lesson with an open mind and not carry the previous lesson (and its issues) into the next. As an individual, I try to catch myself when making snap judgements about someone based on what I see, and instead try to figure out their story.

Published by Ok Then, What's Next?