I thought that she was in the outdoor area working with Miss Sugarsprinkles. Miss Sugarsprinkles thought she was in the classroom, working with me. So, we instituted a search. Not in the toilets. Not in the Welfare Room. Not in the Office.
At last I found her; huddled in the corner of the small resources room: headphones in ears, gum in mouth, mobile in hand.
She shrugged. “Those f*cking kids are doing me ‘ead in.”
“Then perhaps,” I suggested, “a career in education is not for you. I’ll ring your tutor.”
I was not vastly surprised to hear that working in a school had not been Stacey’s first choice. As a low achieving student, any real job was going to be a challenge. Perhaps she could work with young children; that’s easy. Simples.
When I were a nipper, it was common practice for Primary Heads to teach Class 4A. That’s the top set of what is now Year Six. Until I started teaching myself, I innocently imagined that this was so that the best teacher in the school – the Head, of course – had the most difficult class. Wrong, on all counts.
I now realise that it would be an exceptional cove who chose for themselves the most challenging job going. That of taking thirty children barely out of nappies and with the attention span of caffeinated fleas. Then, not only teaching them how to read and write and count and verbalise and listen; but also how to be in a school. How to share a space and how to share stuff with twenty nine others. How to stand in a line, how to sit on the carpet, how to walk to assembly. How to paint and cut and use glue. How to throw, catch, kick a ball; hula a hoop and race in a track. How to use an instrument, sing a song, move to music. Alright, Sidney, you shall be a cauliflower – but be it gently. How to co-operate and socialise. How to deal with conflict and disappointment. How to stay safe. How to wait.
And all while making it fun.
Yet the myth remains that working with young children is – well, child’s play.
I remember ActorLaddie telling his brother that I was moving to teach the Reception Class. Older brother frowned. “But I thought you said she’d been promoted?” When, years later, I came out of Reception to take a class of Junior children, various relations then congratulated me on what was clearly a step up.
I guess people outside education can be forgiven for not realising exactly what the job entails. But those with the responsibility for guiding youngsters into a career should be made to sit on the Time Out chair until playtime when they encourage said young people to work with children because they’re not up to working with adults.
We take a number of students on placement. Some are still at school themselves, on work-experience. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend this: it’s a jolly mature teenager who can be one of the pupils on a Friday and then one of the teachers on a Monday.
I do have a mate, an amazing teacher, who was nearly put off the career for life when she did work-experience in a school after her O-levels. On her first day, the teacher she’d been assigned to told her that he was off to have a hair-cut and walked out, leaving her to it. She was left wondering whether she’d made the wrong choice of career as the class wouldn’t listen to her.
That aside, we also take Nursery Nurse students – GNVQ in new money – on placement from local colleges. Energetic young ladies – and the occasional chap – keen to learn the job and happy to muck in with the many physical aspects of running an Infant Classroom. The time before the children arrive is always particularly manic and it’s brilliant to have another pair of hands to help set up: straws in milk bottles (yes, they still have bottles of milk, thanks to Mr Blair), fruit washed (thanks again, Mr Blair), modelling area, paints, sticking, sand, water, blocks, book corner, writing area, small world, puzzles, home corner. All hands to the pump and don’t panic Mr Mainwaring. Photocopying a worksheet does not compare.
When these young people are good, they are very, very good and everyone benefits.
And then one comes along who sits like a pudden’, taking no interest in the children. Ignoring spilt milk – not even crying over it. Rolling her eyes when asked to do something. Disappearing out of the classroom to keep the staffroom biscuit barrel company.
“Do you know how to play dominoes?” asks Miss Sugarsprinkles.
“Perhaps you could play dominoes with a group of children then. Here’s the box.”
Ten minutes later… Pudden’ sitting alone on a table with a box of dominoes and no children.
“No-one wants to play,” says Pudden. “The instructions aren’t in English.”
“I thought you said you knew how to play?”
“But the children can’t read the instructions. They’re not in English.”
“I’m not expecting the children to read the instructions by themselves. They are only four. You need to tell them how to play.”
Pudden’ rolls her eyes.
It’s funny and it’s not funny. A good anecdote is always worth having.
But the underlying premise is that working with young children is a job for those that can’t do adults. And what that says about the value we put on Early Years education and on those who work in it is not funny. Not in the least.
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