I haven’t taught a class of children in a while as I now work mainly with teachers. But as part of the government’s Covid response plan, I was called upon to teach in a primary school for a couple of days. I was both nervous and excited, just like I used to be when summer holidays were coming to an end.
I arrived at a beautiful small country school where the principal greeted me warmly and accompanied me to my class. ‘The class teacher is at home in isolation. This class has had a series of teachers all week and we couldn’t find any casuals at all for today and tomorrow,’ she explained. This is never great for young children and even worse when there is a child with special needs in the class. The principal was especially concerned about a child who didn’t deal well with change and really needed structure and consistency. It was at that point, that I decided to follow the teacher’s routine as closely as I could and not deviate too far from her plan. It was more important to keep the class settled than to trial some ideas I have been working on in my role as a literacy specialist.
A young boy greeted us at the door. ‘Are you going to be our teacher?’ he asked. He couldn’t see my smile under my mask, so I answered, ‘Yes, and I’m going to be here tomorrow too!’ Together, we entered the classroom. He asked enthusiastically whether he could put up a visual timetable for me and proceeded to go through the hundreds of little cards until he found the right ones for the day. I could see that if I played my cards right, he would become my ally and helper. Within a few minutes we became firm friends, and he was as good as gold for the two days that I had him.
The rest of the class arrived, all eager, wondering who this new person was. It is a hard gig being a casual teacher and it isn’t one I thought I would like. The kids, however, were very well-mannered and keen to show me how their class worked. Of course, it didn’t take long for some of the children to see how far they could push a ‘newbie’ but all I needed to do was to look sternly in their direction or make a stop sign with my hand for the message to get through. My behaviour management bag of tricks came flooding back – stand in silence and wait for the class to settle, count backwards from five, use clapping rhythms and stand in close proximity to a child. It all worked like a charm.
On Friday, I was asked to choose two children for assembly awards. It was a difficult choice to make. This was to be their first assembly together as a group since some of the Covid restrictions had been lifted. The excitement was palpable as they stood for the national anthem and said one of the most heartfelt Acknowledgements of Country I have ever heard. A teacher had clearly worked very hard to come up with a meaningful Acknowledgement in child friendly language. I stood straight and tall, proud to be part of this community, even if only for two days. It confirmed, once again, my staunch support of public education.
I even enjoyed going out on playground duty again. Within a couple of minutes, I tied a shoelace, something I haven’t done for quite some time. There is so much to learn about the culture of a school out in the playground. At this school, there were painted markers on the trees to indicate how far students could safely climb. They were even allowed to build ‘bases’ out of fallen branches and twigs. What a refreshing idea! I remembered working at a Sydney school where the large playground lacked even the barest vegetation and climbing anything was strictly prohibited. There was no playground equipment (too dangerous), no shade (a branch may fall from a tree) and out of sheer boredom kids found their way into all sorts of mischief.
I admit I was dreading the sport session on Friday. It really isn’t my strong suit. As it turned out, the children were good humoured about an activity I had chosen and then suggested a game they called ‘castles’ which was clearly much more fun. They taught me the rules and off they went, organising themselves. I did have to intervene occasionally as the game became too intense, but mostly they had it all under control.
Friday afternoon came quickly. I waved the kids goodbye as they ran into their parent’s arms or waited for the bus to arrive. I recalled what it was like when I had to leave my class in the hands of a casual. The good ones cleaned up, marked their work, and left me a nice note. The others left the room in a mess with a stack of marking for me to complete. I wanted this teacher to have a positive experience when she came back. So, I returned to the class, marked the books and homework, and wrote a friendly note.
I love my job as a Literacy Specialist but sadly, in the past two years, I haven’t spent nearly enough time in schools. It is always a great privilege to observe how different classrooms operate and see firsthand the pressures that teachers face daily. In my position, I encourage teachers to question what they do and promote a change in pedagogy, if required. I may suggest trialling new ways of working based on the latest evidence. Yet there is often little support to allow this to happen in a busy workplace with no additional staffing resources. Spending a couple of days in the classroom brought home some of those pressures. I have nothing but respect for teachers who work hard each day and often late into the night not to mention weekends. I honour their commitment to the children they teach, often at the expense of their own families. For this and many other reasons, I was glad to be able to help a school, and by extension a teacher, in need.
7 thoughts on “Back in class”
I so enjoyed reading your thoughtful piece, both as a fewllow writer and as a parent. My respect for teachers is immense and this gave me a glimpse into teaching life.
So glad you enjoyed your two days – the children sound so lovely! Xxx
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I wish we had you for a few days! What a lucky school! I can totally relate as I too am at home with Covid…..
I’m so sorry to hear it, Michelle. Get well quickly. Unfortunately, your beautiful school is a little too far from me…
Your writing evokes such fond memories that I find myself smiling!
I love that you are a literacy consultant so that you can share your expertise with a wider audience. Although, I have to say, to be able to walk into a classroom and manage the situation after being out of practice is pretty good.
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This week was a different kettle of fish. I was thrown in at the deep end at a large school where there has been no continuity of teaching due to Covid. 10 teachers were away on one day and at least 3 children from every class. The children were quite disgruntled and unable to settle. They had a different teacher each day for ten days. I can understand why they found it really difficult to cope.
sounds like a very well organised classroom..love that the children were able to let you in on how the class worked and that you followed their lead..
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