A little bit of afters

23rd September 2005 at 01:00
As a new teacher, getting to grips with behaviour management, the demands of the curriculum and a heavy workload may leave you feeling as if getting to know your students is a tall order. Running an extra-curricular club or activity can be a great way to build positive relationships with students, but remember, it's not all about coaching your budding David Beckhams or Kate Winslets to stardom. Helping students with less obvious talents develop their confidence is another crucial function of extra-curricular clubs and activities.

Peter Bleakley teachers art and is special needs co-ordinator at Gravesend grammar school - an 11-18 boys school in Kent. A self confessed "nerd", he runs a recorder group, Warhammer club, an art club and holds weekly Christian Union meetings. He believes extra-curricular groups can be particularly beneficial for students who don't fit into the mainstream.

"I come across many students with social difficulties. It may be just that they don't feel that they fit in because they're not good at sport or not one of the cool kids. It may be more complex," he says. "Whatever their situation, these kids relish the opportunity to make friends and build some kind of social group. They can hang out with like-minded people and improve their social skills. We usually find that this makes them less of a target for bullying. I like to think of my clubs as 'nurturing the nerds'."

"For some kids, it might be the only opportunity they get to have certain experiences," says Gill Clayton, head of English at Great Torrington community school in north Devon. "When I worked in an inner-city school in Hull, we took a group of Year 7 kids camping every year. One boy, who was an absolute tearaway around school, wanted to see a cow. I had to hold his hand as he walked up to the fence as he was so afraid. He'd only ever seen cows in books and had no idea how big they were in real life.

"Another time, I took a group to the theatre to see Stomp, and one boy with moderate learning difficulties from a very disadvantaged background was so blown away, he talked about it non-stop for days afterwards - be barely spoke normally - and two years later he was still reminding me about the trip. That's why it's so important for teachers to organise such activities."

Anna Wise runs a lunchtime science club and hopes to raise the profile of science in her school. "It's been really popular and over-subscribed," says the Year 6 teacher who works in a Lancashire primary school. "We try to do activities the children wouldn't necessarily do in class and initially we limited the numbers, so all the children could get a crack at things, but that's given the club some kudos!

"The children want to come and see what we're doing, but they say to each other 'You can't, you're not in science club.' We stick photos and pictures of what we've being doing on a noticeboard, which has done a great job of raising interest in the subject. We try to do lots of practical, hands-on work, so health and safety can be an issue. So far, the only casualty has been when we were mixing bicarbonate of soda, vinegar and soapy water in bottles, then shaking them up so the mixture shot out. Despite my warnings, one little boy got a faceful, but luckily with a vigorous rinse he was fine."

Her experience highlights the importance of understanding health and safety issues when running an extra curricular club or activity - even if you will be holding it on the school site. It is vital to discuss your club and any planned activities with the member of staff who deals with health and safety. If you are taking children off-site, there will be paperwork to complete, so it is a good idea to seek advice from more experienced staff and ask one or two to accompany you on your trip. Many schools now have a designated person who can advise you.

Running an after school club can be time consuming, but working with students in a more relaxed, informal context can be rewarding. Getting to know your students as individuals with their own personalities will help you understand what makes them tick - which should make for an easier time in class. Investing time in this way can also demonstrate your commitment and understanding of your students to leadership staff - so don't forget to mention your club or activity when you're going after that promotion.

But Patrick Nash, chief executive of the Teacher Support Network cautions:

"Running extra-curricular activities can be a great way to get to know students better and develop your teaching skills. It can also demonstrate your commitment to the school and its students. However, new teachers can feel under pressure to take on additional extra-curricular responsibilities in order to 'prove' themselves to colleagues and senior staff.

"With the introduction of extended schools, remember that you don't have to work outside normal teaching hours. As a new teacher, your first few years of teaching might be better spent developing your skills in the classroom.

If you want to run an extra-curricular club - and feel you have the time - great. But don't feel obliged or pressurised to do so."

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