At the beginning of this month, we walked to school as normal to drop off the eldest boy and were greeted by sparkly Christmas lights at the main entrance, which continued inside all the way down the main corridor. My boys gasped with delight. A simple thing, but one that requires a bit of thought and a bit of planning. When, as we know, teachers have quite a lot to think about and to plan as it is.
My eldest boy, who is in Year 1, has always loved school – I don’t think that’s unusual for 5 year olds. They are naturally curious little creatures: learning is a big adventure, not the chore that it may well become in a few years. School is fun and exciting and, at this age, often full of pleasant surprises – like the Christmas lights. Most of us have happy memories of our early school days; but this special environment must take quite some effort to create.
Personally, I cannot imagine spending my day surrounded by 30 small children – answering non-stop questions, creating any sort of sense out of the day, actually managing to get anything done; all of this seems incredible to me. Surely a day spent in charge of 30 children would leave you feeling totally drained; but instead of going home to put their feet up, teachers go home to plan and mark and prepare and write reports. Many of them have young families of their own, so they then need to have some energy in reserve to look after their own offspring. I know how I feel at the end of a long day – I have the energy for little more than eating and sitting on my sofa. I would be a rubbish teacher.
We all know about the pressures that teachers are currently under; reports tell us they are leaving the profession in droves. Everything they do has to be justified with learning objectives; any significant skill demonstrated by a child has to be written down. As pleased as I am to see my boy’s comprehensive Learning Journey, I do wonder how it can be possible to produce one of these for every child in the class and still manage to teach.
Education now is all about targets and testing and results and league tables; because apparently we’d like to be like China. Even in Year 1 – at 5 and 6 years old – children have their Phonics test to look forward to. And if, like me, you live in an area where the 11+ is still in existence, you can also look forward to your child having to sit a test just to determine which secondary school they’ll go to.
With all of this going on, I am amazed that teachers have the time or the energy to think about how to make school a happy place for children to be. However, not only do they think about it but, judging from my boy and his friends, they succeed. If I didn’t read a newspaper, I wouldn’t have any idea about the strains these teachers are under. The children certainly have no clue. To hide all of those extra challenges, to be full of enthusiasm every day whilst still thinking about meeting all of your targets and setting learning objectives must be an enormous challenge.
Of course to keep a high level of motivation amongst the staff, you need an inspirational Headteacher. And those are difficult to find because, unsurprisingly, very few people want to be Headteachers these days – why would you, when so many people are ready to jump on you and tell you that you could be doing better? The Headteacher at my son’s school is ever smiling and, seemingly, ever present. She is on the school trips, she is in the playground, she is chatting to parents. She seems to love her job, she certainly loves the children. After last week’s Christmas play, she told them, in all seriousness, that theirs was the best Christmas play that had ever been seen. Anywhere.
She had probably already sat through at least 27 run-throughs, and yet she still managed to convince them that theirs was her favourite ever festive offering. Their little faces beamed.
So thank you teachers – your efforts do not go unnoticed. And now that we’ve finally reached the end of term, I hope you’re pouring a large gin and ready to enjoy a couple of weeks with no learning objectives to declare.
Hooray to that.