Tag Archive: Children


It was the first week back after half term so the usual ‘stepping back on the treadmill’ stuff was happening. Planning, prepping, panicking, etc.

Then on Thursday, I was sent on a course at the last minute. It meant driving through picturesque Wales to Llanrwst, taking part in a drama workshop and, the clincher, a free lunch so, of course, I was on board immediately.

The focus of the course was Dorothy Heathcote’s Mantle of the Expert strategy. Having spent a lot of time researching this particular area of Heathcote’s work as part of my PGCE dissertation, I was really excited to see how a school in Brecon had put the strategy and pedagogy into practice. Mantle of the Expert is all about engaging pupils in a task by adding a sense of theatre. Obviously, this was my jam. After some hands-on examples of how this can be implemented, I certainly left Llanrwst feeling motivated and re-energised. It was a much-welcome boost.

The teachers leading the training were inspirational and it was refreshing to hear their realistic opinions and experiences. These were everyday teachers who experienced the same ups and downs as the rest of us, but were enjoying lots of success after taking a risk with their teaching. ‘Mantle’ involves putting the pupil in charge, whilst the teacher takes more of a directorial role. The pupil is given the freedom to explore and lead their own learning, whist in a role as an ‘expert’. For example, their role could be a leader of an expedition to the Titanic wreckage, or a recruitment agent for a Superhero agency. The trainers shared countless examples of how they have used Mantle in the classroom and I was pleased to see some of the techniques were already being touched on in my class. This term I’ve already asked year one to be wedding planners and party organisers, so I felt like a lot of the ideas shared would fit in with my teaching.

So, on Friday I bounced into class with a new idea. I needed to teach ‘Light and Dark’ to the children and I had an idea of how to introduce it. Using a pop up tent, some leaves and plenty of fabric, I built a cave in the corner of my classroom and set up the laptop to play soft snoring sounds into the class. When the children came in I greeted them with lots of ssssh-ing and gesturing to the cave. Straight away they were in total awe and began questioning what could be inside the cave, all through careful whispers so as not to wake our visitor up. I of course feigned ignorance and conjured up a story of how I’d found this cave when I arrived at school and wanted to wait for the children before I went inside as I wasn’t quite brave enough to risk it alone.

I left them hanging for a bit whilst we carried out our usual morning rituals, then got them all riled up by asking them if they’d like to see what was inside. The answer was, of course, ‘YES!’. So, in my most Olivier-worthy performance, I crept over into the tent and performed my side of a conversation. When I emerged, the children were rapt with interest. I explained that inside the cave was a very friendly bear and the reason he was sleeping was because he had such a terrible night’s rest due to his fear of the dark. The children were very sympathetic and before I could explain further they were suggesting ways we could help. Which is exactly what I wanted them to do. So, following ‘their’ suggestions, we researched light sources on the internet and watched a video clip, dismissing sources which we couldn’t use, such as as the sun or car headlights, and made a list of possibilities. We tested a candle in the classroom, but the children were quick to point out that might not be a safe option for the bear. I then gave the children time to, in groups, test out some objects we’d found in the classroom (some handily placed) by taking them into the cave. If the objects helped them see the bear then they were light sources, but if they didn’t then they were not.

I can’t tell you how excited they were. Most notably, the children who are usually less focused and engaged were fizzing with energy and excitement. One boy was so animated, it was lovely to see him dashing around the classroom and testing things out in the cave, keen to find a solution for the bear. He was also using complex, topic-appropriate language within his investigation. It was fab!

The course trainers had shared how Mantle had not only improved standards of work and behaviour in their school but it had also given the children a sense of value. They knew they were being trusted with their learning so they made sure they didn’t abuse that trust. Differing to our usual Topic-based work, which change termly, Mantles can run for any length of time. In this particular school they stressed the importance of allowing a Mantle to run its course and not feel pressured to squeeze as many in as possible. Some Mantles can last for weeks whilst some can run their natural course in just a few days. It all depends on the children’s responses and the ideas they want to explore.

From my initial experiences with Mantle of the Expert I can already see that it is a powerful tool to enhance learning and self-confidence. After last week’s brief session, I’m going to try to develop the ‘bear cave’ idea to incorporate natural and man-made light, shadows and transparent and opaque materials. It was a huge hit in blwyddyn un and from the responses of the children it is definitely something I’ll be implementing more often in the future.

Advertisements

It’s that time of the term again. Just a few days left and we’re all slogging away with the last of our energy, dragging ourselves towards Friday (and I include the children in this. We’re all exhausted.). With the end of term being typically hectic, it’s been hard to pin down any kind of thoughts to blog about. However, there is one thing I’ve been thinking about over the last week or so.

Beliefs. What we believe in is important to us. For a lot of people it gets them through their day. Some have more beliefs than others. Some think it causes a lot of problems. Regardless, what we believe in is an important human trait.

In education, we’re expected to be a whitewashed, stripped down version of ourselves. We’re not allowed to appear to have any kind of life outside the classroom at risk of appearing ‘unprofessional’. In most other aspects, this makes me cross, as I think sharing our true selves is part of being a role model of diversity and reality for young children. However, when it comes to religion, I think there’s a thin line we need to tread.

It’s important for us to get the balance right. It’s OK for us to talk about religion, after all it has been around for a very long time and will continue to be around long after any of us have shuffled off, but to impose a view on others is definite no-no. We wouldn’t do it to an adult, so to push a religious view point on a child is to take advantage of their impressionable position.

My Grandad always says ‘Never talk about religion or politics’ and as I’ve grown up I’ve realised this is excellent advice (unfortunately, a couple of times, I’ve learned this the hard way). It’s a road that can easily lead to trouble. Whether we’re the teacher or the parent, we should be opening doors for children, not closing them. Our role is to present the world with an open mind and allow the child to make their choice. We must only educate. There should come a time when each child should be allowed to explore their own thoughts.

Religion can be a fantastic gateway into exploring other cultures and whether you’re Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Agnostic…whatever, it’s a subject that should be respected and used to educate.  I know lots of people who are agnostic but wouldn’t dream of pushing those opinions on the children. I know some people with strong religious beliefs who wouldn’t do so either. I know some people who are less likely to follow that road. There are even more people whose religion I don’t even know because….I don’t need to! It’s a personal choice that doesn’t necessarily need to be worn on a sleeve.

This might seem like a strange stream of consciousness but the position we’re in, as adults, and the way it can effect children, for better and worse, has crossed my mind a lot this week. It’s a powerful position and one that should never be abused.

Somehow the BBC documentary No More Boys and Girls managed to evade me but after a couple of prompts from people who know my interests, I managed to catch it this morning. And I’m so glad I did.

Using a focus group of year 3 pupils in Lanesend Primary School, Dr Javed Abdelmoneim uses a series of strategies to investigate how gender boundaries affect children.

Most disturbing is the opinions girls have of their own gender. The children saw men as strong and powerful whilst women were weak and emotional. According to the children, men could have ‘harder jobs’ – such as authority roles, like policemen or captain – whilst all women seemed destined to be hairdressers. One of the most memorable parts of the programme saw the children draw their own ideas of a mechanic, magician, make up artist and dancer. All of the children associated male characters to the first two professions and female characters to the second two. Of course, their preconceptions were changed when Dr Javed introduced a real mechanic, magician, make-up artist and dancer with opposite genders to the children’s ideas. The girls were in awe of the female mechanic whilst the boys enjoyed a tutorial from a male make-up artist specialising in SFX make-up. It was amazing to see the children understand that ‘anyone can have a chance to do what they like’.

The amount of times the children referred to males as ‘strong and successful’ was shocking, especially as they saw females as the total opposite. It’s sad to think young girls are starting their lives thinking so little of themselves. To show the children that biologically they were all as strong as each other, Dr Javed set up a fairground style strength tester. It was powerful to see one girl cry with ‘happy tears’ after she exceeded her expectations and one boy have a meltdown because he didn’t reach the highest score. It’s important to remember these children weren’t born with these ideas. As adults, we have programmed them to think that boys are stronger than girls. On supply, I’ve visited schools where boys were chosen to move the PE equipment because the teacher needed someone with ‘big muscles’ to help. I’ve seen girls left out of using gym equipment in high school, banished to the dark corners of the sports hall to do some aerobics instead. Is it any wonder the children breakdown when they realise these stereotypes aren’t true?

I’ve talked about my own experiences in school a lot, but it’s still shocking to think that happened just over ten years ago. Split PE sessions with ‘gender appropriate’ activities seems like such an old-fashioned idea but it was happening ten years ago! Although I may have been the victim of a bad careers advisor (and unenthused parents), I remember being told to choose another career path other than one in the theatre. It was heavily hinted at that the theatre was a world for women and, although I would have been happy to be involved in any way (actor, stage-hand, technician…anything!), I was persuaded to keep that dirty secret part of my social life, not my career. What struck me was just how excited the boys were to meet male role models from creative industries, from areas that are usually perceived as ‘female’, and vice versa for the girls. Why should they be denied the chance of following that route just because of the restrictions adults have put on gender? As teachers it’s our job to encourage and nurture each child. Breaking down ridiculous stereotypes and opening those doors to career paths should be part of that.

(As a little side note, I was at a course a few months ago where we were discussing curriculum topics. We were advised to think carefully to ensure the topic we choose inspired all learners and not to ‘choose fairy tales because the boys won’t be interested, or dinosaurs, because we need to keep the girls on board too.’ Well, in my opinion it shouldn’t be a case of choosing the right topic, it should be a matter of delivering the topic in a way that inspires all children. In January our class topic will be dinosaurs and I can already think of many girls who that will appeal to. I had lots of boys last year who loved learning about Little Red Riding Hood. The topic title shouldn’t matter, it’s the activities that draw them in.)

Having a quick scout on Twitter I can see that No More Boys and Girls has come under fire from a lot disgruntled people calling for an end to ‘gender neutral nonsense’. The Piers Morgans of the world are mistaking the programme for encouraging children to choose their gender, when that is not the case. The whole point of No More Boys and Girls is to break down stereotypes that are damaging our children’s view on the World and of themselves. Anyone who is happy for girls to believe they are the weaker sex and live a life feeling second-best, and for boys to live under the impression they must be strong and successful, then break down when they inevitably ‘fail’, needs to seriously consider their beliefs. It’s about raising a generation of confident individuals who aren’t afraid to embrace failures, and who can aspire to be whoever they want to.

Breaking down these boundaries is about nurturing confidence and self-belief, and it starts in the classroom and at home.

So, it was Sunday and I was in the cemetery. Not how I spend every Sunday but I ended up talking to a lovely lady. During conversation, she asked where I worked and when I told her she replied with ‘A teacher? Oh I couldn’t do your job. You all work so hard, hats off to you.’

It’s at that point that I realised this was the first time a stranger had reacted like this to my career choice. I usually get some sarcastic quip about holidays (honestly, come on, give me something original) or ‘your lot are always complaining, aren’t you?’. It felt lovely to be complimented. Then, as I was recovering from the shock of the incident, the same thing happened again tonight at the gym. This time it was another lovely lady who ‘couldn’t do [my] job. It must be very tough.’ (And…she was a nurse, so I reciprocated the sentiment!). So, twice in one week I’d had very rare positive comments about my career. I had to write about it.

Truth is, us teachers have a bad rep. Even my own mother thinks my job is easy. On passing my PGCE she said ‘And now you’re a part-timer. Finish at 3pm and for most of the year you’re on holiday.’ Great. Thanks, mum. I’ve got other family members who refuse to believe that I don’t walk into work at 9am and put my feet up at home by 3.15pm. I’ve joined a profession that is rapidly losing its respect. (Disclaimer: Thankfully I do have family members who know exactly what my job entails. I’m one of three teachers in my family.)

But why? We’re working harder than ever to provide an education for the next generation but for some reason what we do is seen as easy. A job anyone can do. Not only are we putting every effort into educating and caring for children (which is why we all went into the job in the first place) but we’re having to deal with deadlines, paperwork, red-tape and ever-changing schemes and systems. So, forgive me if I’m a bit insulted when people insinuate I don’t deserve my holidays.

Whilst I was training, the main point the trainees brought back to the lecture hall was how firm a grip parents have over classroom management. The craziest of actions are carried out all through fear of offending a parent. I’ve heard plenty of complaints of well-experienced teachers being forced to apologise to a parent for moves that were only undertaken with the pupils’ best interests in mind. I’ve heard many a rant about parents swearing and threatening teachers for ridiculous reasons. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced any of that this year and my bunch of parents have been very kind and supportive, but I know I wouldn’t have heard horror stories like these if I’d have entered the profession twenty years ago.

Then you’ve got the children. I thank the teaching Gods every day that I don’t really have to tackle this problem at Primary level as our behaviour strategies are always very effective, but hearing from colleagues in secondary schools is enough to keep me tucked safely in the foundation phase. It can be very hard for teachers to gain respect from their teenage pupils.

The fact is people just don’t regard teachers with the same respect they used to do. So what is it? What is causing people to think a teachers life is an easy one? I don’t have the answer, but as a profession we need support, from everyone, to ensure our work is the best it can be, because nothing is more important than educating the future generation.

And next time you meet a teacher, please don’t mention the holidays.

 

It’s been a testing week at school with several big events culminating in the space of just a few days. Yes, it’s been exhausting and everybody is feeling the stretch, but I’ve started a new week armed with some interesting new knowledge.

For example, last week I learned that I am coping better with pressure. My diary was full and I jumped from job to job, day to day, with ease. In the past, the Monday morning of an action-packed week would have seen me flapping round the staff room scrutinising the briefing. But this week, I tackled each challenge calmly. So, I’m definitely getting there.

I also learned that I can speak Welsh. Surprise!  Hoorah! After an oral assessment which seemed to come completely out of the blue and with minimal preparation time, I managed to babble my way through each part of the test and, smugly, was pretty proud of my results.

Thirdly, I learned that the next few weeks are going to be tough on the heartstrings. I’m a sensitive sod and the reality that I only have 14 school days left with my class is starting to sink in. I know I’m going to struggle in the last week but I’m starting to realise that this is the nature of the job. I’m sure it gets easier. Seeing the excitement on their faces as they spent the afternoon with their new teacher stirred mixed emotions. I was excited for them, whilst faced thoughts of just how much I’ll miss them. But I also began to understand what other teachers have said – it’s a vicious cycle. At the moment you might be ‘the best teacher ever’ to them, but next year their new teacher will steal your crown and you’ve got another bunch to win round *sniff*.

Lesson four – you can get through anything with good work mates who know how to laugh.

And finally, over the weekend, I learned to take more notice of one of my favourite quotes:

‘People will forget what you said, and forget what you’ve done, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’ Maya Angelou

I’m not trying to be enigmatic and mysterious! Nothing dreadful has happened, but after a few unrelated conversations I realised just how true this is. It’s bloody hard to forget cruelty and we must always remember kindness.

Image result for Walt disney gif

There are two inspirations for this week’s post. The first is a festive memory, so let me take you back to Christmas Day 2016. Picture the scene:

Christmas dinner has been eaten. We’re all crashed out in the living room, Grandad flicking through the channels with the remote control. He stops at a cartoon meerkat and warthog. It’s Disney’s The Lion King. We’re all enjoying watching Timon and Pumba through the fuzzy full-of-food-ness when my Nanna pipes up. ‘What on earth have we got this on for? Load of rubbish…’. Me and my brother are obviously horrified. It’s The Lion King! Although our efforts are in vain, we try to convert her. We explain that it’s a classic that we watched as children and she sighs ‘Well, you’re not children now. I prefer things for adults. So should you.’ (My Grandad took a lot less convincing and he was soon gripped by Simba’s saga.)

Alright, she might have a miniscule point but my argument is – children’s films can be enjoyed by anyone. Some of the classics might seem fluffy and sickly on the outside but they are actually works of art. Someone’s livelihood has gone into creating this piece of film. The superficial piece of fluff my Nanna saw is actually the end product of many people’s hard work, so to class it as unworthy of adult attention isn’t very fair.

Many children’s films carry very grown up themes and dark moments, especially those that have taken inspiration from traditional tales. Look at Hercules, for example, Meg sacrifices her soul to the underworld. In Robin Hood, the villagers are being taxed into poverty. In Pinocchio the orphan boys are promised paradise and turneImage result for pinocchio gif donkeyd into donkeys! Some of these tales can be pretty grim (Pun fully intended. I make no apologies). And anybody who doesn’t cry during the first ten minutes of Up is simply inhuman. In The Princess and the Frog, the Ray the firefly dies! That’s right, Disney heartlessly kill off a character and audience members have to just get over it, whatever age they are. I was twenty when I was forced to watch the characters of Toy Story 3 accept their death in the incinerator and the tears still dripped from under my 3D glasses. Of course, before that, we had The Lion King, where Simba is led to believe he has killed his own father and lives with that guilt for years before learning the truth. Dark stuff for children to handle but they do so all the same. It might give us a few nightmares when we’re younger but it armours us for real life. The world isn’t sweets and bubblegum.

It’s a fact that as adults we get bogged down by all the life-stuff like careers and relationships and paying bills, we forget to let our imaginations stretch. Sometimes, opening your mind to a fantasy film is the perfect form of escapism. Sometimes after a day of work, when I’m flicking through my on-demand movies, I don’t want a gritty thriller that’s going to make me think. I want something that’s going to be visually appealing, some catchy tunes and perhaps a bit of magic on the side. That’s when I’ll unashamedly head for the family movies section.

Anyway, now that I’ve shared my Nanna’s disgraceful lack of movie taste, the second inspiration for this post comes from my favourite Disney film *drumroll* Beauty & the Beast. As I child I was desperate to be Lumiere. I love everything about the cartoon from the characters to the music so I was so excited to see the live action version this week (my review – perfect. My favourite character was the wardrobe. I’m only disappointed the wardrobes in my bedroom aren’t as fabulous.) Watching the new version transported me back to my childhood but I could also appreciate it from another point of view. I noticed the new variations on the score, beautiful visuals, easter eggs and subplots – stuff I might not have spotted as a child. Incidentally, this new version included Disney’s first ever ‘gay moment’ and first ever interracial kiss. So, in the world of film, it’s groundbreaking. Not bad for just a kids’ movie.

Related image

Alright some of the old Disney stuff can hardly be seen as feminist (Cinderella and Ariel both changing in order to get a man? oi vey!) but a lot of these films can give good lessons to both children and adults. If you look at some of the more recent films, realistic relationships and moral dilemmas are being explored more and more. Big Hero 6 has the main character dealing with death twice. Up explores moving on after the death of a loved on. Frozen has Anna and Elsa realise they don’t need to marry princes, and instead the focus is on their sibling-love for each other. Things still aren’t perfect but the movie world is making small steps towards sending healthier messages to our children.

So I suppose I’m saying don’t judge a book by its cover….OR a film by its poster. Films for children were made by adults and it’s important we acknowledge the end product because some of them are works of art. Don’t be put off by their label. Release your inner-child, let your imagine run wild and be free!

Oh, and never diss The Lion King in front of me.

Image result for Simba roar gif

 

 

Whenever I tell people I’m an NQT they always say ‘Wow that must be so rewarding’.

Of course, they’re right, it’s wonderful to see children learning and growing, but it’s also rewarding for another reason:  It can be a right good laugh.

I think it’s important to laugh in any workplace. You have to be able to see the light in any situation otherwise you’ll just go stark raving bonkers. Whether it’s in a grubby old petrol station populated by the rudest of the rude or in a classroom of energetic five year olds with firecracker imaginations, you have to be able to have a giggle. Thankfully, in all of my previous jobs and training I’ve ended up with some hilarious people. And some absolute nutters.

Both of my teaching placements were home to some real characters, in the classroom and the staffroom, and I heard stories that I could never ever repeat. This is where I learned that having fun is paramount in our job. It’s high pressure but as long as you are having fun along the way and able to relax around your peers then you can get anything done. I don’t just mean the adults – we know that children learn best when they’re enjoying themselves and the children benefit from a positive learning atmosphere where their teachers all get on. One of my placements was a great example of that. The teachers, whilst always professional, openly joked and played tricks on each other in front of the children who loved it! The teachers were modelling an honest, fun friendship and I think it was great for the children to see that.

I was equally lucky with my supply schools. I don’t think I went to one school where there was a frosty staffroom atmosphere. Although the level of jokes and banter was different, it was always there. I learned a lot from one school in particular, where I was the only male teacher, most of which I just could not repeat in a blog. But it was lots of fun and I always looked forward to another weekly visit full of laughter (and abuse).

In my current school, all of the staff get on. We go on staff outings and are constantly laughing with each other. It’s the best place to work and, even during the toughest times, we can always find a moment to cheer each other up and have a cheeky chuckle.

The funniest comments, though, come from the children. They are bonkers. Sometimes they can come out with the perfect observation to send you into a hysterical meltdown, or mispronounce just the right word to get you chuckling. We’re only five weeks in and one of my children says to me regularly ‘Mr H….you love to laugh!’. He’s right and I do count myself very lucky that there is so much scope for fun in my job. (Though it can be detrimental, especially when you get a fit of giggles mid-way through reading a story and have to abruptly finish it with ‘and that’s the end’ as your eyes start leaking and your voice turns suddenly soprano. Never done that.)

So, if you’re suffering from the Monday Miseries, I challenge you to go back to work tomorrow and find the fun. Look for it. Laugh at everything. Belly-laugh with your boss, be silly with your secretary, cackle with your colleagues and bring on the LOLs. Who says you can’t dress up as a Dalek or have after-school computer chair races across the hall? (Disclaimer: I have never participated in such unprofessional behaviour. Honest.)

To perk up your Monday, here are a few classic moments that, over the years, provoked sudden fits of giggles. (If you don’t find them funny then….maybe you had to be there!)

1) The moment you realise you make the sounds of the rainforest to get the children’s attention when they’re being too chatty. ‘Eeeerrrmm’, ‘OH!’, ‘tut-HUH!’ *long gasp*

2) ‘Mr *****, I drew this picture for you to take home to your grandkids.’ (I’m 26).

3) Explaining an activity and realising a child is staring intently at my teeth. ‘Are you a vampire?’.

‘No…’.

‘Then….why do you have fangs?’

4) ‘Sir, are you a lifeguard?’

‘No. I’m a teacher.’

‘Oh, OK. You look like a lifeguard.’

6) ‘Who can tell me what pirates like to eat?’

‘I know. Tagliatelle.’

7) Being unable to teach odds and evens because there is a child called Ethan in your class and you keep getting utterly confused. ‘Is it an odd or an Ethan?’ ‘What do you think, Even?’

8) That one poor child in the class who says ‘shhh’ instead of ‘sss’. I challenge anyone not to laugh when he tells you he sat on father christmas’ knee.

Note: I’ve vetted these seven and deemed them suitable to disclose. As for the rest, well, my lips are sealed.

Fair is Unfair

Picture it – the summer holidays (year and school undisclosed). I’d envisioned a blissful two weeks of games, songs, sunshine and fun. What I got was two weeks of moody children all playing by the same motto – ‘It’s not fair’.

OK, perhaps I’m not being fair there. Let’s just back track a bit. I realise that not all children are like this and I was just very unlucky to have ended up with two or three moaning myrtles in my summer club group (on the whole, they were a very pleasant bunch) but this lot were so sensitive to things to being ‘unfair’ they had me grasping at my hair in frustration. See, we appear to be obsessed with making things ‘fair’ and the children are picking up on it.

Every game, and this is no exaggeration, we played at summer club was scrutinised and torn apart if there was any hint that it might not be fair. When I was little, it didn’t matter whether the rules of the game were water tight or whether we all had a turn at winning because just taking part in the game was part of the fun. That seems to be something that’s fizzled out.

Case Study One – On one particular day, there were 11 children. We were playing a game that involved splitting the group into two teams. It doesn’t take a maths wiz to work out that, apart from asking a child not to participate (which I wasn’t going to do), we had to have one team of 5 children and one team of six. Cue ‘But that’s not fair!’, ‘They have more than us!’, ‘You can’t do that!’. Swallowing any sarcastic remarks about splitting children in half and plastering a pleasant, if slightly forced, grin on my face I gently reminded the children that it was just a game, lives were not at stake and that it didn’t really matter. Then came the bartering – ‘What if we get a 10 second head start?’, suggested one child from the team with the least members. ‘No, that’s not fair’, cried the opposing team. ‘We should have an adult on our team to make it fair!’ screeched another child. ‘No! Not an adult! That’s not fair!’ came the responding cry of horror. ‘Oh, I’m not playing! This is rubbish!’ cried the frustrated 26 year old club leader (I’m joking – it was one of the children, honest.)

My point is, do we now live in a world where the obsession with fair chances has led to our children expecting it? Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about equal opportunities and differentiated work etc. as that is obviously very important but surely it’s healthy for children to experience some levels of unfairness? E.g. during play. The fact is, we don’t live in a fair world. It would be lovely if we did, but we don’t. These children couldn’t handle the fact that we were one player down – something that nobody could help – and it ended up spoiling their game (which ended disastrously when children from both teams began unashamedly cheating).

Case Study Two – On the hottest day of the year, we had organised a water fight. Children wore old clothes and were invited to bring water pistols. Only one child brought a super soaker. The other children were given miniature pistols which I had bought for them. Cue ‘That’s not fair! His water pistol is bigger than ours!’ ‘We should all take a turn using his water pistol’. ‘I’m not playing if I have to use this stupid water pistol because it’s not fair!’

Resisting the urge to soak every single one of them, I admitted defeat. The water fight lasted less than five minutes and was called to a halt when the two children who had fired the most shots began to cry because they didn’t like being squirted back.

How boring would that have been if we would have had to ensure each player had a turn with the water pistol, fairly timing each user and monitoring their number of squirts? That is what was expected on this day. I left disheartened, miserable at the fun the children had denied themselves and with wet socks after a child chose to pour all the water meant for refilling the water pistols over my feet.

I know this was a rare experience but it was also a learning curve for me. I feel that pandering to this obsession with fairness in play encourages an unsporting attitude and, let’s face it, spoils the fun. In some games, there has to be unfairness. Sometimes, that’s what spurs you on and encourages you to win. You might be the smallest basketball player but that doesn’t mean you can’t slam the most dunks (copyright- RebelliousG. Someone make it into a badge.) It’s worrying that this cotton-wool attitude can knock a child’s determination and ambition on the head. These children weren’t willing to throw themselves into the game and push themselves to win because they wanted it handed to them. If I had a pound for every time a child said ‘It’s not fair’ in summer club then I’d be on a beach with a mojito by now. I’m not saying we should make games deliberately unfair, but children need to be encouraged to embrace the factors we can’t do anything about. To make the best out of a bad situation. To acknowledge that, sometimes, life isn’t fair but we can’t let it spoil our fun. Because if they can’t handle uneven teams in a game of hide & seek, then the sad fact is, they’re going to have a huge shock as they get older.

Image result for fancy dress crayola children

‘And don’t be one of these teachers who lets boys dress as girls!’

Advice given to me a few months ago after I discovered I’d be taking on Year One. It might not surprise you to hear that this comment had come from a person of a certain generation. A generation where boys were expected be the epitome of strength and masculinity and certainly did not wear dresses.

From very early on I’d decided I wanted a performance area in my classroom. Drama is very important to me and I wanted to encourage performance and self-expression within my classroom. I started to collect bits of costumes and masks and puppets that the children could use, and it was whilst sorting through a pile of materials one day, that I was given this worldly piece of advice. I didn’t challenge this person, mainly because I care a lot about them, but also because I wasn’t in the mood for flying into a full on rant about diversity – I was floating happily on the news of my new job and I wasn’t going to let a stupid comment burst my bubble. That said, it took a lot to ignore it.

Well, I didn’t ignored it.  Instead, I let it fester for a bit and then I decided to turn it into something positive.

Now, I’m not saying we should encourage every boy to wear a dress, but neither should we make them think wearing ‘female clothes’ is wrong, if that’s what they choose to do. Clothes are clothes. Pink is just a colour. People are people. What bugs me is that this person would have happily told a dress-wearing-boy that what he was doing was wrong. He would have made him feel abnormal and ridiculed when really that boy isn’t doing anything wrong at all. He’s not hurting anyone. He’s not being offensive. He’s just wearing material. Material that could also be cut into a t-shirt and trousers. He’s still a boy, a person, with feelings and aspirations and insecurities, just like the rest of us. We’re all material, just cut differently.

In this person’s youth, girls wore skirts and boys wore trousers. I understand that this person was raised in a different time and it must be hard to acknowledge the change, I’m sure when I’m into my eighties they’ll be things I’ll struggle to understand, but, in my opinion, I’d rather live in an era where people can wear, and do, what they like. Nowadays, it’s perfectly normal for girls to wear trousers but if a boy wore a skirt he’d be laughed at. What is it about femininity that we just can’t handle? Regardless, if a little boy sees a pink cardigan or a flowery skirt, he’s not seeing something that ‘only a girl should wear’. He’s just seeing another costume from the fancy dress box.

It’s the same with toys. Boys don’t think that dolls are for girls until we enforce that opinion on them. Until we intervene, they just see another toy they could play with and take care of. I’ve witnessed genuine concern for a male three year old who was playing with dolls. He was happy whilst he played and cared for the baby but there was mixed horror and concern that this child shouldn’t be playing with “girls’ toys”. Why? It’s not going to damage him. In fact, having his toy snatched from him and seeing mad, panicking adults is probably more damaging.

Incidentally, I won’t be stopping a boy reading a book targeted at girls either. Or vice versa. I’m an avid reader, and I’m passionate about instilling a love for reading in children. I was in a school once were the library was split in two. You guessed it, ‘Books for Girls’ and ‘Books for Boys’. It made me feel pretty queasy. When I was younger, I probably would have wanted to read the pink book with the picture of a witch on the cover, but I would have been too shy to because it was clearly marketed at girls. Reading it wouldn’t have changed me in anyway, but the children and teachers in my school would have thought otherwise. (In reality, I would have read a few pages, realised it was a load of cheap crap and put it down. If only I’d have had the confidence to be seen reading a girl’s book.) In my classroom, I try and aim for gender neutral books but, if I girl wants to read a book about football or a boy wants to read about princesses, I won’t be stopping them. Just seeing them reach for a book is enough to make me happy.

Anyway, after thinking a lot about this comment over time, it only made me more determined give these children a place to be who they want to be. I want children to know that it’s OK to be whoever they want. I won’t enforce any kind of behaviour or opinions on them, but neither will I discourage their own interests or ideas. If they want to dress up in the mermaid outfit, that’s fine. If they want to play with the dolls, that’s fine. If they want to play football, that’s fine. If they want to play princesses or astronauts or builders or ballerinas then that is absolutely fine with me. Because they’re children. They have no preconceptions about what’s ‘right’ for a boy and what a girl ‘should’ do – that is all rubbish that we bombard them with as they grow up. (In my first week in this class, I had to assure a girl that boys could like butterflies too after she laughed at a boy in the class for saying how much he liked the decorative butterflies in our reading garden. She was totally confused. So, your insect preference now defines your gender. Do you like butterflies? You must be girl. Who has told her this rubbish? And why?!) For now, I want them to be able to explore their own identities, and, more importantly, play, learn and have fun in a safe, relaxed environment where they won’t be judged.

I won’t be a teacher who lets boys dress as girls. I’ll be a teacher who lets boys, and girls, dress however they want.

Image result for TeachingIt only seems like ten minutes since I wrote my last blog, on the eve of my first day as Year One teacher. I’ve been asked loads of times this week how my first week has been and I’ve answered firstly with ‘Amazing! I love it!’ and secondly with ‘It’s been so busy!’. And it’s true. I’ve been kept occupied for every second of the day and before I knew it I was being forced to stop thinking about school and have a glass of wine on Friday night. (That’s right. Forced.)

Anyway, rather than babble on about how wonderful this week has been (I really have been unbearable, I think), here’s 5 lessons I have learned in my first week in year one.

Number One – Never underestimate the power of the sticker box.

I have a very special sticker box which is decorated with comic strip style letters (‘boom!’, ‘wham!’, ‘pow!’). It was one of the first things the children spotted on Monday morning and I only have to reach for it during a moment of chattery madness and suddenly on the carpet before me are 30 silent statues, all sitting straight backed, arms crossed, fingers on lips (Isn’t it funny how they pick that up? It’s not something I’ve taught them…) Anyway, I’m hopeful I can harness the sticker box’s power and use it against adults.

Number Two – Toy Story is real.

It’s not unusual for me to be totes emosh but this week I had an influx of teary-eye-wobbly-voice-hormones, brought on at one stage by the sight of a group of children playing with my childhood toys. Toys and stuffed animals that have been locked up in boxes in my dad’s garage and mum’s loft for sixteen years. Seeing them get a new lease of life and actually get played with was magical. *sniff*

Number Three – Children will find magic anywhere.

It’s incredible how their imaginations work. One child has been in awe of an old plastic tortoise that I’d found at my mum’s house. His eyes lit up when I showed it to him after he told me his favourite animal was a tortoise. He’s named it (Taddy the Tortoise) and has enjoyed playing with the tortoise throughout the week. We’ve also been getting letters from The Jolly Postman (*ahem* *waves*) who has been setting post-office-related challenges for Year One. They’ve been getting so excited each time a new letter is pulled from our letter box, it’s hard not to smile.

Number Four – Being constantly animated can be exhausting.

I have not stopped doing, what I have labelled, Infants Voice. It’s a cross between Disney-hero and Morning-TV-presenter. I’ve noticed other teachers in the infants do it too, so I’m not alone in the madness (until I do it amongst family. Then it’s embarrassing.) It finally got to me on Friday when I realised myself and Super-TA were being totally over-dramatic about something very small (I can’t remember what – someone had left a lid off a pen or something) and the giggles began (hidden from children behind a Winnie the Pooh book, which didn’t help matters).

Number Five – You cannot, CANNOT do everything in one week. But that’s OK.

I had so many plans and, ridiculously, envisioned that by the first Friday my classroom would be all ready and everything would be sorted. WRONG. Although it’s looking pretty fine, there’s still a long list of things to get done and, those with years of experience behind them have told me to take my time. It seems I’ve spent a lot of time making lists, that have got longer and longer and then lost (and repeat). I think, really, that the fact everything will never be perfect and finished is a good thing. There will always be something to do, something to fix, something to tick off the to-do list – so my job will never get stagnant. I don’t cope well with stagnant so all this just confirms I’m in the right place.

Smaller lessons –

  • Don’t let the children collect their fruit and then put their coats on. Flying fruity cloakroom chaos will occur.
  • When looking for a speaker’s toy to pass around during circle time, don’t choose one that plays the Pokémon theme tune every time it’s touched.
  • If you’re hanging material over a surface with just one strip of cellotape, you’re a fool.
  • It is imperative that any cake in the staffroom is consumed immediately. (Not really a lesson, more of a Golden Rule. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded of this one. Very serious.)
  • Children remember everything. EVERYTHING.