Although I originally questioned my career path I was probably always destined to be a teacher.
I left university with my teaching degree and like most newly qualified teachers stood at the front of 28 children wondering what on earth I was doing. As most NQTs find out you hit the ground running and just keep going, hurdle after hurdle, until you reach your first half term and get struck by a dreaded cold!
My whole teaching career has been like this and continues to be so even now, but I think my hurdles get bigger. It’s these hurdles and challenges that I love about teaching whether it’s a child who has a particular barrier to learning or a new reform that the government has decided to introduce.
I started teaching in Key Stage 2 where I had a lovely, compliant Year 3 class and support from my mentor. As I continued teaching I taught other year groups and after a period of teaching Year 5 and 6 I went to the other side… yes, I moved to Reception Class. They were fondly known as the Ankle Biters! Honestly, I can say it was a shock to my system. It was a whole different world but a world I began to enjoy whole heartedly.
My little Ankle Biters openly told me when they didn’t want to learn or it wasn’t interesting to them, after all some of them had just turned four years old. For the first time in my career I began to understand how children learn. I immediately started to question why I taught the way I had for the last few years when children have much more enthusiasm to learn in a way that uniquely suits them. As a result I began to look at how I could use the children’s interests to allow them to learn the skills they needed to know. We regularly began to discuss our learning pathways and the skills we needed to learn.
It was tiring and I was exhausted from the constant demands, being continually patted, the unpleasant aroma after lunchtime and the endless runny noses, but I was enjoying every single minute of teaching.
I had children who were making huge amounts of progress and they had such a thirst for learning that I couldn’t believe I had never taught like this before. A symbiotic relationship where children and adults were listened to and their opinions, thoughts and interests were heard. It was my missing piece in my teaching career and it allowed me to focus on child initiated learning and play. Teaching was fun and learning was fun.
After returning to work from my maternity leave I went back to teaching in key stage 2. That’s when it hit me like a brick wall. Children never lose the thirst to learn we just squash it as they get older and move through primary school. As teachers we have so much pressure to achieve children’s targets, our performance management targets, Ofsted’s targets, parents targets, government expectations etc. However, I now had my own personal targets as a mum. I was so busy ticking boxes, planning, marking, assessing and report writing that I was in a high-speed teaching mode. I was dropping my baby off at nursery at 7:30am and picking him up at 6:00pm. Once we were home I would rush to get him into bed as I had sixty books to mark for the following day.
That’s when I had the realisation that I was not teaching anymore. I was not meeting the needs of the children to the best of my ability. I had forgotten how children learn. So, I flipped things around and I began discussing with my Year 5 class how they wanted to learn the skills they needed. They certainly weren’t used to this approach and it took us all a while to develop the skills we needed to benefit from child initiated learning. After a while things changed and I noticed the children began to have a thirst for learning. We had gone from reluctant learners to independent, active learners who were continuing learning at home!
It lead me to question the way children are taught and how we are so caught up in performance, progress and data that we can miss the bigger picture. What is the point in teaching a child new skills in a context that they cannot relate to? Why as a society are we so adamant to write children off who may not be natural writers or mathematicians? What is so wrong with being a fantastic artist or athlete? When did it become natural for children to sit in one place at one desk for a whole day and if they are lucky they get to move around the classroom to change groups? Have we forgotten how it feels to be a child, how we want to be accepted? Who in this world would want to be put in red group, or triangle group or even be known as elephant group?
My Teaching Mission
Why is it perfectly acceptable in our teaching profession for early years children to ‘learn through play’, but as the children progressively move towards Year 6 ‘play’ becomes unacceptable, unless it is playtime?
What if there was a way of engaging children and making learning fun but we could still achieve targets? This was now going to be my mission!