I’m now a helper, one day a week, at a local Primary school. After a bit of a delay I had an interview last week and started work yesterday. I was looking forward to it and it turned out to be very successful. From my point of view, I get to see how the experts organise, manage and teach their children and, hopefully, that will improve my skills for when I go off volunteering again next year.
I love working with kids but I’ve left it too late in life to have a career move – a year studying a PGCE would make a huge dent in my savings and I’m probably too thick and slow to do well anyway. So, for the next six months I aim to pick up tips while trying to be helpful in the classroom.
It was very noticeable that I was the only male in the staffroom at lunch time. It’s a small school and there are only twelve or so staff but it felt a bit awkward. The head is a guy, in his early thirties I’d say, and quite dynamic. The few staff I’ve chatted with have nothing but praise for him. But he doesn’t take classes, as far as I can tell, so I guess I’m a bit of a token male role model. That might be useful as quite a few of these kids come from one-parent families in a tough neighbourhood. It’s quite intentional that I find myself here – some of these children are going to be a challenge behaviourally, and I relish challenges!
I get to act as a kind of benevolent grandfather in the classes. I can lean over shoulders and offer encouraging words or advice. I can go and chat with anyone sulking in the corner or read with, or do maths with, anyone who is struggling a bit. I’m helping with Years 4, 5 and 6, which are my favourite years – the kids are all sparky and have crazy ideas – it’s great chatting with them!
I know it’s not really realistic. I have neither the responsibilities nor the planning nor paperwork that regular teachers have. And if I was to ask about those things I’d just be adding to the teachers’ already-heavy burdens but perhaps I can learn by observing. There’ll be opportunities when I can add some value to classes; even yesterday I was able to sit and be an “expert” on India. Having spent 18 months in Kerala I was able to field questions on what happens to baby elephants if they lose their Mummy and Daddy, what’s it like travelling in trams and rickshaws, is the rain warm, how heavy is the rain, do they have winter, was it hot, do they grow poppies, did I wear a bindi, could I buy ready-made clothes… and many others! In the science lesson I was able to explain how the seasons work and why the seasons are opposite in the northern and southern hemispheres. We were talking about the Sun and I was able to tell them that I work somewhere where we are trying to create a small sun inside a big hollow doughnut (I think I lost them a bit and they now think I’m a mad scientist!)
All in all it was very successful, great fun, and I’m looking forward to next Thursday!