Thursday 28 October 2021

What I've learned from working in different schools and at different levels

Girl at school

I started teaching in Higher Education when our first son was about a year old.  I was a marketing professional that went back to the agency i worked at part-time - two days a week.  There was a recession at the time and the client base was shrinking so I started to look at other work and came across a college looking for a marketing professional turned teacher.   

Through some miracle, I got that first job.  Mostly I thought it a good use of my knowledge and a great way to fit around future school etc.  Turned out I loved it and yes it fitted in with the kids as we had more and they grew.

Teaching in Higher Education meant I taught students who paid to be educated, who have qualified for the course I taught and who are largely independent in their learning and lives.  Most of my work was on short term or zero hours contracts as it depended on student numbers so in the off terms I also did some Further Education and have also for the past years been doing some work in Primary schools too.  It's a lot of different settings, levels and kids.   Here is a few ways it's opened my eyes. 

The days are different

Every single day in the school is different.  Even though there are many routines to help kids adapt, the routine is constantly changing and broken up with school trips, activities, celebrations, sports days, and sometimes something unexpected.  Even in Higher and Further Education the scheduled classes can change and we rarely cover the same thing twice.  

This means the staff and pupils are having to adapt to change all the times on top of all the normal transitions that happen throughout the day.  So I've recognised how difficult this must be for kids like mine with ASD or ADHD. 

Kids often have a fresh outlook

There aren’t many places where you are able to rely on the people surrounding you to be enthusiastic, energetic, and speak their mind. Some people might think sitting and stacking blocks and finger paint activities with 4-year-olds is dull but children often have a level of imagination and creativity that hasn't been restricted by their experiences yet. 

Some of the most interesting ideas I've heard on literature has come from kids in a year 5 class - and I did English Literature at A Level. 

Staff work hard

The idea of the days stopping at 3.30 or having long holidays doesn't seem to reflect my experience in schools at all. There is a lot involved in educating so many young people and trying to teach them so much. Preparing lessons for college took as much time as to deliver them initially and it's only reduced slightly now I've been doing it for years.  

With some of my college students the differentiation required is naturally built into the activities and sessions.  However, the ability to teach so many children, especially in pre16 schooling when they aee  operating at such vastly different levels requires a lot of planning and tracking along with it's actual delivery. 

Every child is different

And it's these different levels that really took me by surprise.  I knew all kids were different - I have some that are very different - but I never knew how much.  A child that doesn't need an Education Health and Care Plan but could still be receiving some extra support can be operating at an ability level that is so far from a child that is performing well in the same subject.  I suddenly understood why there were sets in my secondary school.  

And I've seen some children with true talents for subjects such as science or art that look like FE work not that from school aged kids.  It highlighted to me that yes, my kids with additional needs are different, but they all are way more different than I thought.  

It's not just about Maths and English

Kids and young adults learn so much more at school and college than the lessons and the academic subjects they are taught directly by their teacher.  They learn about how to cope with change, with their feelings, with each other, with themselves. They learn to bargain, predict and negotiate. They learn life skills that are so essential we take them for granted... unless it's something we've not learned ourselves.  This is the time they often form opinions and the influences they have can significantly impact the attitudes and life decisions they make. 

When I started working in schools I thought I'd maybe have a new career and later I thought I'd learn about supportive strategies for my kids and be able to use the ones I knew to help others.  It's true I've done this but I've also gained an appreciation, not just for the staff that work in schools but for all the individuals I've met there, each one special and unique in their own way.   Just like my own kids.  

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