Tales of a Trainee Teacher: First Day at School
Day one at the school was a huge learning experience. I really didn’t know how I would feel, how I would react to the children, or how they would react to me. The children were quite intrigued by a new person in the classroom. Before the lessons began the children did a short ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ exercise video with actions and singing, which I thought was both brilliant and adorable. The teacher encouraged them to participate enthusiastically and explained the reasons why light exercise in the morning is beneficial for learning. This also helped to wake them up and ease them into a morning of maths.
Lesson number 1:Teaching is not just about helping children to learn to read and work out sums, but is also about developing their life and social skills, and their understanding of the world around them.
The first lesson was maths. Now I was never bad at maths in school but to this day, just hearing the word makes me feel a bit queasy. The teacher directed a classroom activity focussing on fractions and quarters and I was placed at a table to help one group. I felt like a spare part at first. How far could I get involved in this type of teacher-led activity? What did the children already know? What didn’t they know? Which children needed help the most and which children were at a higher level? I didn’t realise how many factors I would have to consider before starting.
I was surprised that the children’s ability was a lot higher than I expected and the ability level in the class was extremely varied. When the majority of the children had completed their maths task, they were then asked to sit on the carpet in front of the interactive whiteboard, leaving a handful of children sat at the tables to finish off their activity. Although in this case there was a teaching assistant in the classroom to help, the teacher alone would face the challenge of managing both groups of children doing two separate tasks – leading the group task whilst ensuring that the other children weren’t being distracted by this.
Lesson number 2:The challenges of teaching go beyond the obvious lesson planning, marking work and report writing. Teachers must plan according to the various ability levels of the children in the classroom, and anticipate the different responses the children may have towards activities.
The final activity of the morning involved silent reading and book review writing, in which I helped a girl to write her review. She followed a set list of questions to answer of the book, one of which asked her to choose two topic words and write down their meanings. “What’s a topic word Miss?” she asked. Oh, no. What IS a topic word? I have a first class degree in English and TEFL and I don’t know what a topic word is. I racked my brain. “What do YOU think it could be?” I challenged (and stalled!). She chose the word ‘recycle’ and gave a perfect explanation – “it’s when you use things, but them in a box and then somebody makes something new with them for other people to use”. I was amazed at how children can talk about things so clearly.
I was also clueless about the standard of writing that was expected of the children, or to what extent they should usually complete tasks. I tried to observe the behaviour of the teacher and the other assistant in the classroom to note how they responded to the children and the techniques that they use to support the children.
Lesson number 3:The language of a school environment is quite distinctive – children follow a set process of learning and move through these stages in a logical order. As a visitor to the school, what they know, the terminology that they use and how learning works is alien to me. This is inevitably something that will be learnt during teacher training, but it poses difficulty when trying to help the children as a short term, first time helper.
How to arrange your own school placement
If you’re considering a career in teaching then I recommend that you get some classroom experience before committing to anything. One thing I’ve learned from my experience so far is that you will never truly know how you feel about something or what it is really like until you experience it, and I think this goes for almost everything.
Visit the Volunteering and Employability department in the SU at the beginning of the academic year and they can help you to arrange a school placement. You can also take the Volunteering in Schools Add+vantage module which involves a work experience placement in a school. Please bear in mind, however, that this module is extremely popular and spaces for this module in the next academic term have now been filled. Nevertheless, it’s a thought for the following academic year for your second or third year.
It may also be useful to contact a local school and request to complete a short voluntary placement which you may be able to arrange around your studies throughout the year, or just for a week or two at the start of end of the year.
There will also be a range of teaching events and workshops being held in the next academic year 2013/14 which will be run by the Careers and Add+vantage department. For more information please email firstname.lastname@example.org from September 2013.
For more information on how to get into teacher, stay tuned for the next Tales of a Trainee Teacher blog post.
Please note that the opinions expressed on this blog are based on personal experience only and do not represent fact or shared knowledge.