I have always respected primary school teachers. My sister is trained in early childhood and special education, and several friends teach different levels of primary school. To each of them I have always said the same thing: “I don’t think I could ever do what you do.”
There was a reason nine years ago that I opted to train in secondary teaching. In fact there were several, and I was certainly quite adamant that I could not teach primary – and I mean that in the sense that I did not have the skills and patience and therefore would fail miserably.
So imagine even my surprise at myself when a month ago a call was put out for someone to help with the Primary New Arrivals Program at two (now three) of the primary schools in Sydney’s inner west and northern region. They needed someone for a couple of days a week – and I had a couple of days free – to work with students ranging from Kindergarten to Year 5. I found myself jumping at the opportunity and a week and a half later, I was walking into a primary school full of excitable and inquisitive little people. The children are warm and welcoming, and love to have a regular visitor. But of course, they also come with challenges, just different ones from the secondary students.
Some things I’ve learnt so far that I would say to any secondary teacher who finds themselves unexpectedly in a primary classroom:
1. Firstly, preparation is the key. There is no “ten-step lesson plan” when you are spending all day with the same 20-30 five to ten year olds.
2.The colour printer and laminator become your best friends. Invest in them and use them well. My Wednesday and Thursday nights currently involve me sitting in front of the television printing resources, then cutting, laminating and cutting them again. At one particularly dark moment when the laminator was eating my work, I asked a primary teacher friend if there was any reprieve from it…she laughed and just said “sometimes.”
2. That ever-patient and happy early childhood voice does not come naturally. It is a skill of which Kindergarten teachers are the gurus.
3. Get ready to sing and dance and look like a fool. I had to get over this phobia very quickly…and you know what, five year olds don’t care, anyway!
4. There will be bodily fluids involved at some point. Whether it’s being sneezed on, having drool left all over your stationery, or anything else…brace yourself.
5. They don’t care if what they have to say is completely irrelevant to what you’re doing…they will give you a full account anyway. Or maybe it seems relevant to them… who knows?
5. They are HARD work and they can be crazily needy. Yet it is also FUN and incredibly rewarding to see them achieve even the smallest of things – which for them are huge steps.
So yes, I have always respected primary school teachers, but that’s been deepened now with some insight and experience with the younger students.