Despite being a trained secondary school teacher, through working with Protocol, I am grateful to have been able to expand my career horizons through placements in primary schools. I remember clearly the first day I got a call saying that there was work available in a primary school nearby if I was interested, and feeling extremely fearful and vulnerable with my lack of knowledge and experience in that area. I remember nervously making my lunch and hopping on the bus, ready to enter an unknown territory, a bit like it was my first day in front of a class again. I remember seeing all of these miniature humans staring up at me, waiting for me to speak as I anxiously looked through the lesson plans left by the teachers.
I hadn’t done long division without a calculator since I was in Year 6. I wasn’t even sure what a simile was, which I was expected to teach in literacy later that day. I’m not at all what you would call an active person, my only exercise being getting up to change the TV channel, so the thoughts of teaching P.E. made my stomach turn. But over the last few weeks, my perceptions have completely changed and the fear I once had has turned into pure excitement, the kind that comes with unexpected encounters and new endeavours. Indeed, over the last few weeks, I have grown to love teaching in a primary school so much that I sometimes regret not having experienced it sooner. For those of you who haven’t yet, here are some tips I’ve learnt along the way:
It’s quite a funny thing coming from a secondary school background to entering a primary school classroom. For one, the chairs and tables are much smaller, as are the students! So my first recommendation would be to NOT sit in one of the students’ chairs unless you’re willing to embarrass yourself trying to get back up.
Another difference I noticed was how the children respond to disciplinary tactics. I found that the best way to get their attention is to do a short clapping rhythm, which they then need to copy. This, I’m sure, is quite a no-brainer to most teachers in the primary sector, but I was so flabbergasted at how it actually works! I’ve never tried this at second level, but I can only imagine the dumbfounded reaction I would get if I did! Different schools have different rules for disciplining and rewarding the children, so make sure you check with your school beforehand as what applies to them. If you start introducing some amazing disciplinary approach you’ve learnt from a previous school that the kids have never heard of, not only will it be completely futile, but you will also be bombarded with questions and comments about ‘what teacher does’. So, avoid this if you can!
One thing I learned is that children, especially younger classes, love routine. If you do something that is even slightly at odds with what their teacher usually does, the kids will be so upset and confused, as if you have done some major injustice towards them! And in a way, they are not totally wrong. Try and find out exactly what the children do when they come into class in the morning, after break and after lunch, what the protocol is for home-time, where everyone sits for the various topics taught throughout the day, what work the most-abled and less-abled children should be doing for each topic, how the behaviour system works in terms of discipline and rewards, who gets to help you hand out the books, what the rules are for toilet breaks etc. Phew! And of course, just know that most of this you will learn throughout the day, either through your TA or through one of the teachers’ little helpers. They will have no qualms about telling you what you’re doing wrong, so just politely explain to them that things will go back to normal once their teacher comes back!
Your TAs are a wealth of information and are more than happy to help – so make good use of them. I was quite nervous about having an admittedly older individual in the class who knew more about what to do than me. Instead of worrying what they think, try to get as much information as possible from them about the students and their daily schedule, without being too annoying, of course!
Most of all – don’t panic! You are an expert after all, even if you are used to using your smartphone to make calculations. And just remember, you have most likely dealt with more frightening and less grateful students in your past! Prepare for lots of hugs and drawings to take home at the end of the day!