Teaching in the sunshine

Australian attitudes to running a classroom come as a refreshing eye-opener after the experience of working in Scotland, says Lynn Nisbet

O many things are the same here. They drive on the same side of the road, they speak English, they have dreadful daytime television - but the principles of education in Victoria, Australia, seem to vary hugely from those in Scotland.

Since beginning a year long contract in a state school in Melbourne teaching grade 1 (equivalent of primary 2), I have had my eyes opened and many of my beliefs questioned.

During my initial day whole-staff activities included grouping ourselves according to what films we had seen over the break, what holidays we had had and whether we had read any good books. The aim of this just seemed to be to allow time to share experiences and catch up. I was, naturally, deeply suspicious and wondered how this could possibly link to curricular development or whole-school policies.

As the day went on I was advised to spend the coming weeks "getting to know" the children in my class, not to attempt to get programmes running but to focus on spending time talking to them and finding out as much as I could about their personalities and interests. I found myself quite lost with such an open-ended directive and had the probationer panic about how I could possibly fill the days until it was acceptable to get work programmes established and get the children working on paper.

Where was the paper? And what about pencils? And general resources? My Second World War relic of a portable classroom seemed to be very lacking in any kind of resources - especially for an infant classroom. Scissors? Crayons? Jotters? Games?

I had picked up from senior staff that free play for six-year-old children was not only "allowed" but actively encouraged and valued. Great, but what exactly were they going to "free play" with? It seemed like a big tease.

It transpired that, with the increase in the school roll, my class was the newly added one and consequently was lacking in resources of any description. Several boxes of supplies ordered on my behalf did much to rectify the lack of basic equipment but there was still no sign of any free play type resources. Over the next weeks, I found myself trying very hard not to sound like a spoilt brat asking for the moon and the sky and a few number games.

As the weeks unfolded I had to deal with another culture shock - parents. They were everywhere, all the time. From about 8.30am onwards parents appeared in the classroom with their children just to see how it was all coming along.

They seemed to be genuinely interested in what their children were doing and enthused convincingly at what they had drawn, written or read. The children took a great deal of pride in showing off their work and were well rewarded by the praise and encouragement they received. At times I was the one who felt like the intruder.

I was astonished at how many parents asked me if I had had a good day as they collected their children at 3.30pm and chatted to them about their time in school. To my embarrassment, I still bristle slightly when they stroll into the classroom with a cheery: "Morning Lynn, how was your weekend?"

But I am getting over it - and beginning to enjoy it.

Lynn Nisbet recently moved to Australia after working as an assistant head in Aberdeen.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you