I'm sitting watching my year 11 class attempting the last past paper we've got to throw at them. They've done all the rest, and if they haven't got it by now, there's not much else I can do.
It's hot in my classroom. It's an old building, and the heating and ventilation seem to conspire against a useful working atmosphere at any time of year. It's never right. Today, it's especially not right. Last lesson of the afternoon is a bad time to do anything with year 11.
They are tired, grumpy, and looking forward to escaping from the shackles of enforced boredom and good behaviour. They know we've only got six more lessons to endure before study leave will set them free to fall or fly. They can't wait, and I can't blame them, because nor can I.
On their side
It's not that I don't like them, although I suspect some of them used to think that. It's taken 18 months for some of them to realise I'm on their side. There are some interesting characters in this class, all of them individuals, whilst at the same time representing 16-year-olds anywhere in the world. It's like The Breakfast Club.
There's the runaway; the scared rabbit; the wannabe class clown who isn't actually funny; the boy and girl who are so far ahead of the rest academically that they say virtually nothing, for fear of being misunderstood or bullied by the others in that merciless way teenagers have.
It won't happen in front of me. The class know that isn't tolerated. But I don't feel quite so sure about what happens once they have left the classroom. I used to hope that those two would get together, become a team, provide mutual support for each other, but there's no chemistry between them, however hard I try to engineer situations to help them get to know each other better.
And then there's the boy I'll just call A.
A is angry. I don't know what about, but he is a tightly coiled spring, all the time. In a selective school, which this is, most students are clever and most expect to achieve highly. Most will. Some, however, peak earlier than others, reaching their ultimate level in the years before the exams actually take place. That's what happened with A.
He's reached the best he can be and he reached it last year. Ever since, he's been treading water, trying to maintain his position when there are so many other calls on his time and interest. He's begun to slide backwards, and this makes him angrier still. Others have reached his level, even overtaken him. He doesn't like this and it's part of what makes him angry, and the way to maintain his position is to stop others from joining him on his platform.
A doesn't want others to practise the techniques he can do already, therefore he will disrupt, subvert, undermine and destroy other people's efforts. It's all about attention and power with A.
I wish I could say A was one of my successes, but I don't think he is, even if he achieves the A* he should. He more or less did this on his own. My success comes from preventing him from ruining things for the others, and this I do. A is a massively complex character and I can't hope to scratch the surface of his problems.
Like quite a few others in the class, his parents are no longer together. He spends his weeks split between them, and from my meetings with them, it looks like he is the only point of contact they have. I have little hope of putting sticking plaster on the wounds which come from two parents who are so incapable of acting like adults for one night, for the benefit of their child, that they insist on two separate parents' evening appointments at either end of the evening for fear that they should meet, because they can't be civil to each other and avoid violence.
Teachers seem to be responsible for everything a child does, says and thinks, these days. It's an impossible job. For a boy as troubled as A, there is no teacher who can take away the source of the pain which makes him so difficult to deal with. The best you can do is to prevent him from hurting others.
That's why even though I know the class is hating doing this paper and that I am going to hate marking the damn thing even more than that, it's a success because A is doing what he's been asked to do, and allowing the others to do it, too. I shan't miss this when he goes, this policing and jollying along and nudging him in the right direction, because it's a hot afternoon and I would rather be doing just about anything else, but that is not to say I shan't miss the class.
We've learned a lot from each other, and much of it is not about English. They've learned that a teacher is a human being, who is able to treat them like adults if they act like them and I have learned that small victories can be satisfying, even victories as small as A sitting silently and concentrating for just one hour, so that the others can have their chance at getting it right, too.
Mrs Kinetta is a secondary school English teacher who writes for The Student Room under a pseudonym.