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Shiny, happy people

Last week I did something brave: I spent a morning teaching a Reception class. To be honest, I think "teach" is a strong word for glorified childminding, but I escaped with my soul intact and renewed respect for those who spend their days educating four- and five-year-olds.

A good Reception teacher is a rare species, born not made. They take 30 small children - from the articulate and toilet-trained to those who leave little puddles in the book corner and can't get through the day without a nap - and somehow turn them into a team who can hold pencils and sit in assembly without bursting into tears.

It's like travelling to another planet. Activities that would technically be classed as "running amok" higher up the school are positively encouraged here.

After being asked to cover a last-minute absence, I found myself in front of the children in an alarmingly short time. I tend to start lessons with the instruction "Write the date and title, put your pen down and look at me", so guiding a class into position by pretending to be a butterfly didn't come easily. Neither did all the singing - no instruction is spoken if it can be sung.

Luckily, the teaching assistant came to my aid with a tambourine and some strange Masonic clapping. Once the children were all sitting down and looking the right way, I introduced myself: "Good morning, children. I'm Mrs Brighouse and I'm teaching you this morning while Miss Smith is away. Some of you might have seen me around the school. I teach the bigger children. I might even teach your brothers or sisters."

A small boy at the front piped up: "You teach my brother."

"And my brother," added another.

"You teach my brother, too," said a little girl, eagerly.

"No, Emily," the teaching assistant said, gently. "You haven't got a brother, have you? You've got a baby sister." Emily nodded, happily.

I moved on. "Today we're going to look at the letter B," I said, glancing desperately at the unfamiliar planning format. "Who can spot something beginning with B?"

"Ball," said one child.

"Bell," added another.

"Dog!" shouted an excitable boy.

"My uncle's dog had puppies!" came the response, prompting a mass discussion of dogs, uncles and puppies.

As the morning wore on, I almost began to enjoy myself. The children were fabulous. They got on with activities with minimal intervention and eagerly joined reading and writing groups. Being able to wander around and talk to them individually without panicking about keeping the rest of the class on task was a new and exhilarating experience for me. I finished the morning by reading them a story - to which they actually listened.

The next day, as I ushered my usual class into assembly, one of the Reception pupils gave me a little wave. Suddenly, 30 small children were all waving eagerly in my direction. I can now see the attraction of Reception teaching.

Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands

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