Wednesday, 13 July 2011
Performing the Primary Teacher
I am in my third week of teacher training and this week I met my children for the first time. Sure, I've met lots of children before but this little crop have the unique power to inspire genuine fear in me, despite the fact that they are - from what I have seen and what I've been told - a genuinely nice and well-behaved group of kids. What they have is the power to unwind me; they represent my first foray out of my comfort zone and into a world of responsibility and risk. Ultimately, my success as a teacher rests on how I am with them.
I returned early from lunch, got lost in the school and had to find a child to tell me where my classroom was. The girl guided me up the stairs and went back to play, and I pottered around the class, looking at how disarmingly vast it now seemed. All the kids were out playing cricket in the playground and their shouts were drifting up through my open windows. So strange. It is quite hard to explain the feeling - I may have been OTT when I said fear, as I wasn't actually scared. I was struck more than anything by a sense of surreality. I was so excited, but was trying not to show it.
I peeped out of the window once I had unloaded my bag and got my little moleskine planner out. I saw a line of kids winding back from the my class number, which had been painted onto the floor. I felt like Mr Bean on the top of the diving board.
This is when the drama started. Be a primary school teacher, I thought. I sat down on the chair in this dormantly quiet classroom. No. Too false looking and not authoritative. In a haze, I etched my name onto the whiteboard, loathing that I had relied on stereotype before they had even climbed the stairs. I tidied up the tucked-in shirt and moved towards the door. Lean on the door-frame? What am I thinking! OK, here they are.
I struggle to take myself seriously and I think my relaxed nature is my most valuable trait, but it is hard to shake off the vast choir of advice givers who collectively extolled the 'don't smile til christmas mantra'. They filed up to the door and looked up at me. They looked really excited and got loud and giddy. Somehow they knew my name already and were asking me 'Are you Mr Walker?', 'Mr Walker!' and I heard a hubbub of words like 'tall' 'man' and 'big'.
Internally, I had fallen into that unthinking autopilot that low-level excited panic can bring onto you. I smiled back at them, regretted it and then regretted that I had regretted it. Move on! OK. They all had crowded around me asking if I was going to be their teacher. I made the mistake of saying yes, thus inviting an impromptu question session about the precise details of my height and age. I sent them to their chairs. Teachers send their children to chairs. I slowly and amateurishly went through the register, mispronouncing the lion's share of their names and forgetting all of them instantly.
They had been quiet as I apologised for mispronouncing names and bumbled through the register but they still looked very 'coiled spring' and excited. One boy got up out of his seat and in a shot was stood beside me. Low-level rule breaker! Make an example.
"Sorry, why are you standing beside me?"
Before he could answer, the hubbub of the 29 of them explained that he takes the register. Ah.
Much to learn. Much to learn but I am going to enjoy doing it.