Teach your Children Well

Years ago, when I was a proper working person and not a layabout pensioner, I was a teacher. I worked in primary schools, beginning with the oldest children, in a tenement style school in Stockwell, London and finishing with the tiny tots in the reception class in a seaside village.

During the first, pre-career break time there was room for some experimentation in the classroom. There was the freedom to implement such ideas as ‘bay-working’, where the room was split into areas or ‘bays’, each bay being set up for some independent work in a specific curriculum subject.

When I returned to reaching after a ten year career break [having my own children] there was still a culture of freedom and the school where I taught implemented a system called ‘integrated day’, the idea being that a topic was chosen and the learning arose from delving into curriculum areas around that topic.

During the years I worked in the integrated day system I can never remember any of us, children included, feeling stressed, bored or exhausted [although, to be fair I was still relatively young]. The children, no matter what age, were responsible for their own day’s achievements and became independent from not being ‘spoon-fed’ every skill and piece of knowledge. We considered ourselves providers or facilitators and all of us attended school each day with a buzzy feeling of enthusiasm for what the day would bring.

Within the system we used ‘real’ books for reading. We’d quietly withdraw a specific ability group to teach a skill in Maths or English or hear individuals read then filter them back in to practise what they’d learned. Art, science, story writing, technology or play would all be going on simultaneously.

There were many opportunities for children to help each other and enjoy roles and responsibilities. Everyone could say what they were doing and why. The behaviour was mature and sensible, even though sixty or seventy children would be sharing a [large] area.

Within three or four years of this halcyon period the ‘national curriculum’ was introduced. Nine curriculum subjects were identified and separated. There was no more linking up areas into topics. The concept of targets crept in. Appraisal and the beginning of scrutiny began. Some bright, government ambition-seeker invented OFSTED. Fear became a feature of every day teaching life.

There was no more opportunity for integrated day, for children to feel empowered by their independence. The parents no longer trusted us. Testing, in the form of SATS was thought up, a system the parents fixated on and became obsessed with, their children’s ‘level’ being the only thing that mattered-more than motivation, achievement, self-esteem or happiness.

I believe that parents, teachers and anyone who is involved with children’s development should aim to foster a spirit of independence in thought and action, maintain the natural desire to learn and encourage kindness, respect and support of each other, just as we used to. That way we may have a hope of growing and nurturing a kind, caring and intelligent society and not the grasping, selfish and ignorant culture we are stuck with today.

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School is nearly out

“Michael Gove axes six-week summer holidays for schools

The education secretary is warned a ‘free for all’ could emerge after headteachers get the freedom to set their own term dates”

 

                Little Govey, I suspect is one of the ‘teachers’ have too easy a life’ brigade. Once upon a time, when I was a key stage one school teacher I was, along with everyone else I knew in teaching, subjected to those old chestnut phrases long beloved of non teachers:

  • Nine to three job
  • Lovely! All those long holidays
  • What, another holiday?
  • Easy life!

                In time I learned a retort which was to silence the barbed, jealous swipes people made about my job. I’d simply say-“Why aren’t you doing it, then?”

                There are still numerous myths surrounding teaching as a job. Firstly, the ‘long, six week, summer holiday’ no longer exists [in the state sector]. It just about struggles to five weeks, for children. Take another two weeks off for the teachers. That’s the minimum time it takes to clear up from one class and prepare for the next. A primary phase teacher will have to organise a [probably new to her] classroom, label everything, cover display boards [like wallpapering an enormous room], put up initial displays covering aspects of reward systems etc, organise the students into different ability groups for at least two curriculum areas and prepare curriculum long term, medium term and lesson plans for each of those groups in each curriculum area, besides preparing the accompanying resources and making individual provision for anyone with individual needs. After the first year of teaching there will also be at least one curriculum area to manage, including an ‘action plan’ and the ordering and organisation of resources.

                How, I wonder does the education secretary imagine that all this is to be done if holidays are taken at random?

                For children nowadays it is more important than ever not to miss out parts of the term. The curriculum is carefully constructed in steps, with each next step built on the progress made in the last. To miss two weeks would be like watching the first part of a TV thriller followed by the last. You would be unlikely to understand what was going on without the middle section.

                Once the term begins, a teacher will be in place long before the bell rings for registration, getting out all the resources, loading up the computer with all the pre-planned teaching aids and preparing the classroom for the morning onslaught-then the same frantic activity at ‘lunchtime’ ready for the afternoon. Once the pupils have left there is sorting out, marking, assessment, adjustment of plans, meetings, training sessions, report writing, etc-on top of a demanding day with small children. More often than not, there will be more work to take home for the evening.

                There will also be stressful observations [both internal and with the dreaded ‘OFSTED’] to undergo. Manifestations of disruptive behaviour or low ability during observations are deemed to be the fault of the teacher, always.

                So, little Mr Gove, understand that such holidays as there are exist as a lifeline for beleaguered teachers.

                Oh…and parents…your children don’t go to school to be babysat…a school holiday is an opportunity for you to share experiences and fun as a family, not a time to be carped about as a nuisance. OK?

                Here endeth the lecture!