Do a job swap and rediscover the big picture

Peter Greaves

This year I did a role swap. I have been working with Year 3 for the past 4 years and my colleague had been working in Year 6 for about the same length of time. Once the swap was agreed, we both ended the summer term with some trepidation for the year ahead. But as the holiday went on, this turned into a refreshing sense of excitement at the idea of tackling something new.

So now I'm a few weeks into Year 6 - that scary land of doom that sucks the lifeblood out of children's imagination and the will to live out of all who dare to teach there. How am I finding it? Well, to be honest, I'm having a blast.

It's so interesting. The level of conversation, the intellectual stimulation that comes with a higher level of questioning, the way the pupils challenge your every statement or instruction - these and many other features add such pep to my day. I mark a literacy book and there may still be too much punctuation missing, but at least that unpunctuated paragraph is gripping enough to make me want to get to the end.

So how is my colleague getting on? Her speech is peppered with the word, "Bless!" as she talks about what happened in her Year 3 numeracy lesson using number lines or a "show and tell" session, and it makes me realise what this move has done for both of us: we have rediscovered patience. The reason we are finding fresh energy in our swapped roles is that this resource, which teachers burn up so fast, has been replenished. Only patience makes working with young people possible and a pleasure.

This is the heart of teaching, particularly primary teaching, where our relationships with the young people in our care are at the same time the reason we love our job and the reason it is so hard. As we get to know a particular age group, we can become detached from the bigger picture of where this particular bunch fit in. Just like the size of our classroom furniture, we can scale down our big picture, forgetting that these young people are still so young.

A parent tells me how their 10-year-old loves to play on the floor with his wrestling figures, yet I become frustrated when he doesn't seem to grasp algebraic formulae. It's not beyond him, any more than it is beyond Year 1 pupils to learn how to walk down the corridor rather than dance. But the perspective the parents' words give me replaces frustration with an understanding that will enable me to teach in the manner I believe to be the most effective and which I find the most satisfying.

If you are already getting that feeling of "same old, same old" as you introduce the Vikings for the seventh time, look around your staff group. Is there someone teaching in a different part of school who you could swap with for a lesson here or there?

When you experience the struggles of older pupils, it gives you patience with the younger ones. When you see how needy the younger pupils are, it gives you an appreciation of how far the older pupils have come. And both these experiences help you to identify a more accurate picture of where your own class fits in. This is what then gives you the patience to work towards the next step.

When my colleague tells me what she is not missing about Year 6, her list is almost identical to the reasons I'm glad to be there. The same is true in reverse. Perhaps, in this sense at least, a change really is as good as a rest.

Do you fancy yourself as one of our classroom columnists? Contribute to this slot (maximum 600 words).

Peter Greaves, Deputy head of a Midlands primary school.

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Peter Greaves

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