My day starts with a tricky decision: do the noble thing and cycle, or take the easy option and drive to work? Today I head out on my bike, dodging commuters and a menagerie of roadkill as I make my way along countryside lanes to my school five miles out of Oxford.
Cycling through the school gates, I see a hilltop view of rural Oxfordshire open up before me. Our school sits in converted farm buildings on 20 acres of land. The reception is within the old farmhouse kitchen, and our lab and sports hall occupy the shells of the barns.
I'm a science teacher for Oxford Montessori Schools, a progressive institution with just shy of 80 pupils aged 2-16 at the site where I work. As I arrive, the woodchip heaters in the lab are automatically filling with pellets - a constant reminder in the heart of the school that our warmth in winter does not come for free or without ecological consequences. It's not long before I hear frustrated noises from the staffroom next door: no doubt the photocopier is involved. In a school this small, there is no tech support.
My first lesson is a GCSE session with a group of four Year 10 students, but because of a bug that's sweeping through the school only two boys turn up. I have to think on my feet to adapt the lesson plan. Two absences turn a tiny class into a tutorial, which is quite a different proposition, but it does provide the opportunity for even more focused support.
I'm also the head of senior school, so during the middle of the day I lead mentoring sessions, meetings with other teachers and organisation of the wider curriculum. We're firm believers in the power of outdoor learning and finding ways to make this happen has been a hot topic of conversation lately. It would be easier if the weather were equally as hot.
My next lesson is with my mixed-age key stage 3 class, and is part of the "science in the school" topic that they chose earlier in the year. The idea is to take proper science and put it in the context of children's everyday experience. Today, I've set them the challenge of designing an investigation to find out which of the many trees at the school would be best suited to burning in our heaters. We start with a walk around the grounds, taking note of the types of tree and features that could make them better or worse sources of fuel.
Once back in the classroom, everyone takes a computer and completes a structured set of tasks that allows them to work at their own pace and prepare an individualised investigation. Small, idea-sharing groups naturally form while I circulate and give suggestions. The school ethos emphasises non-authoritarian relationships with the students and the atmosphere in the class is relaxed and informal.
After I play football with the kids at lunch, we hold our school parliament in the afternoon. We have not limited the powers or remit of the parliament but it is still in its infancy, and at the moment it tends to concern itself with relatively trivial (for us teachers) issues such as trips and access to computers. In time, we hope the children will learn to take more responsibility.
The seniors head home at 3.30pm, leaving me a few hours to work on other things. Students here for after-school clubs buzz around while I send emails, plan lessons and neck a fourth cup of tea - I need to get warm for the ride home.
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