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My Way

Julia Mayfield tells Reva Klein how she teaches

Name: Julia Mayfield Age: 48 School: Junior Department, Redland High School, Bristol

Post: Year 6 class teacher, curriculum co-ordinator for history and geography and junior school librarian

Having taught for nearly a quarter of a century, with time out to have two children early on, Julia Mayfield's driving force has always been to bring the world into the classroom and, circumstances permitting, to take the class out into the world.

The apotheosis of the former came in 1988, when she returned from a trip to Australia to have the customs officer at Heathrow pull out and inspect each of the 24 toy koala bears she had brought back for her pupils. It was the year of Australia's bicentennial and she had been doing a project on the country. For that project, she recalls, she had her husband Nick rooting around skips all over Bristol for carpet tubes with which to make didgeridoos.

To commemorate the bicentennial of the French Revolution the following year, Julia joined forces with Nick, who is a music teacher with a great flair for drama, to write a play called Chunnel Vision for both their schools to perform. It tied in with the construction of the Channel Tunnel, which was getting a lot of media attention at the time.

It also enjoyed an impromptu French premi re when, later that year, Julia took a group of 40 children to France. In the midsts of larking about the ramparts of St Malo, the spirited bunch suddenly burst into song and a can-can from the show. And they won warm applause from French onlookers.

Her insistence on breaking out of the confines of the classroom, metaphorically and otherwise, continues to inform her approach to teaching, even though educational reforms have made it more of a challenge.

"In the old days, you could draw on your own interests in choosing what to cover. My passion for different parts of the world and environmental issues were very much woven into classroom activities. But despite the national curriculum reducing the scope for spontaneity, I still try to link topics that have to be covered with real events and places in the outside world - environmental, historical or cultural."

She outdid herself last year when she took her class across to France on June 5, D Day. As well as seeing the Queen's flotilla, she and the children talked to some visiting veterans from the United States, of which there was no shortage. This year, for a project on World War Two for key stage 2 history, the school commissioned a play on Bristol during the war from a former parent and writer. And to give the children a different perspective of those times, she is taking them to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.

"I try to make visits cross-curricular, so they're very much study tours cramming in as many activities as we can. For every visit, I write a workbook featuring historical, geographical and cultural angles. The visits are great fun and they're also exercises in getting the children to look and experience what's around them."

They're also exercises in near military-style efficiency, researching venues, arranging transport, planning itinerary and all the other things that go into taking children off on visits. Does she ever roll her eyes heavenward and declare that it's more trouble than it's worth? Not a bit of it. "It's worth every moment if it extends their experience and teaches them social skills acquired by being away from home and living together for six days."

Part and parcel of widening horizons is instilling in her pupils the concept of thinking for themselves. "If a child comes in and says 'where shall I put this folder or book?' I say 'in the bottom left-hand drawer'. It means 'use your own initiative, think for yourself.' It's become a well-known saying over the years. I had one parent who even wrote an Ode to the Bottom Left-Hand Drawer."

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