Friday, 4 February 2011

Origin of the Species.

And the week had started so positively. I hadn’t expected it to. Being sent by Uni, back into the depths of Cornwall, this time to a primary school, I couldn’t see the point. Hubby was most unimpressed.
“I hope that they are going to reimburse you the petrol costs”.
“They are not”, I answered emphatically.
He was cross, “Well then, why can’t you go and observe at the girls’ school? It’s only up the road”. I had wondered that too. It did seem a little mad to have to travel over 70 odd miles, when surely, I could have found the same information locally, but, as I have learnt from experience, there is little point arguing. It gets you nowhere in education: they just see you as a belligerent trouble maker; instead I accepted the gig, packed my bag and drove.
It was wonderful! Truly wonderful! The school and children made me feel so welcome, but apart from that, it utterly revised my opinion on how children should be taught in their first two years at secondary school. How can a child be expected to go from a nurturing, positive environment where they have a close and warm relationship with one teacher and where, every forty minutes or so they change the topic of learning into, an alien school where, all of sudden, they are at the bottom of the heap, lost, out of their comfort zones and in some cases, expected to sit through 100 minute lessons? It’s barbaric. That could be the reason it dawned on me, that the attainment levels at Key Stage 3 drop so dramatically. These little darlings still desperately need the same secure, environment that they have known for the last six years in which they can flourish and garner confidence, before nasty teachers like me, start to ‘assess them’ and make them work solidly for an hour and forty minutes on a topic that, should they find challenging, makes their self-esteem plummet. If we lose them then, their interest and enthusiasm for learning is a dead loss.
Michael Gove would hate me but I’d relish the opportunity of a chat. And now, before I become disillusioned and beat. When I still have the energy to give him what for. When I can explain to him that in Year Two, there are six year olds in pith helmets, exploring a school, pretending for all their worth that they are on HMS Beagle and accompanying Darwin as he discovers the world around him. That they wander around the corridors pretending to be seasick, unearthing (carefully planted by their teacher) octopuses and coral and ants and heaven knows what and that the children are enthralled and fascinated by the whole experience. I want to say that on our return to the classroom the teacher told them that Darwin had been ‘exhilarated by his first observations’. The teacher then asked the little sweeties, what they thought exhilarated may mean. Now, not forgetting that only weeks before I’d been picked up for using the word ‘naïve’ with students four years older than them, I was astonished. On several counts. That a) this delving into vocabulary was encouraged and b) that so many kids gave it a go. “Extremely happy”, said one; “So excited”, said another. Darwin wasn’t the only one exhilarated. I was euphoric.
There it was. Proof, that at a very tender age, if children are encouraged to have a go and they in turn don’t feel intimidated or ‘thick’ or overwhelmed or switched off or whatever it is that happens to them when they go to big school that they learn without thinking about it. Surely it begs the question therefore that we should do as they do in America and in some counties of the UK – and provide a middle school education?
The literacy and numeracy levels of the 10-11 year olds that I met was impressive. Nothing had put them off. They were just encouraged every day to be fabulous. Why, when they move school should their rewards be stopped? A sticker in a planner cannot compete with the whole class giving them a rocket. A rocket was when the teacher and classmates made ‘blast off’ rocket noises and punched the air in triumph to recognise excellent work. I for one, would relish receiving a rocket at the end of the day. It would raise my self esteem inestimably.
And so it was that I waved goodbye to Year Six and returned to Uni. Within hours I was thoroughly depressed again. We spent the day trawling from one workshop to another being lectured by experts whose expertise was special educational needs. We were told again and again that it was our RESPONSIBILITY to ensure that our classrooms were inclusive; to ensure that we value diversity and are prepared to teach in increasingly diverse classrooms, thus ensuring that our SEN students are engaged and happy and will ultimately achieve economic wellbeing. I don’t need to be told that. I’m going to be a teacher. These are my hopes and aspirations for all my students. I do however need to be advised on how to achieve the impossible. How can one ordinary woman and oft harassed mother of four who can only work for so many hours a day, ensure that from the Gifted and Talented, to those on the autism spectrum; visually or hearing impaired; dyslexic, dyspraxic, discalculic; EAL or ADHD let alone all those in the middle get a properly inclusive, differentiated lesson?
So I asked. Someone had to. Apparently the ‘government underpins a move to inclusive education’. Thought as much. Like I said, I want a chat with Mr Gove. Now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tut tut, speaking your mind is not Politically correct