Bop, bop, bop till you drop

12th November 2004 at 00:00
Stephen Jones swaps FE for primary school and gets to grips with colouring-in, snot and gratuitously violent rabbits

I know nothing. Sad, but true. My mind is empty. A disc wiped clean of data. Despite - at the last count - 25 years of teaching, here I am in a room full of pupils with not the faintest idea of how to proceed.

No, I haven't been suddenly struck down with terminal amnesia. It's just that I have left the cosy familiarity of my FE classroom for a day to find out what it's like to cope with the demands of a lively bunch of infants.

The day begins with "Miss" running over a few of the do's and don'ts of teaching four and five year-olds. And at the top of the list of don'ts? DON'T get them over-excited!

With this mantra in mind, I commence my education. The children come in, followed by shifty-looking adults who turn out to be their parents. They, I discover, are an essential part of the morning's first activity in which each child chooses a book for mum or dad to read to them.

Omar has no parent available that day, so I am set to watch over him. Or possibly he is to watch over me. Omar selects what turns out to be the world's most boring picture book and slams it onto the table in front of me. Get some excitement out of this, you old git, his look says.

The book is about ducks and drakes. For the first 30 pages mummy duck sits on her eggs. Then the chicks are born. By the time we get to this point, Omar has sunk into a catatonic trance - and I'm not far behind.

Suddenly Miss leaps to her feet and begins vigorously shaking a little cat collar thing with bells attached. The kids all know exactly what to do next. The big lummox from FE has no idea.

After a few moments, I gather that the required behaviour is to stop what you are doing, raise both hands in the air and waggle your fingers vigorously from side to side. Feeling only slightly ridiculous, I stop, I raise, I waggle. I make a mental note to give this a go next time the craft level caterers start swinging from the light fittings in my key skills class.

What happens next, however, is familiar enough. Miss calls the register.

Before she starts, the Child of the Day is chosen. Little Alex brims with pride at being selected for this honour. He gets to wear a paper medal round his neck and to sit on a little chair, while everyone else has to squat on the carpet. He looks angelic as he grins across at his less-privileged classmates. The halo slips somewhat later on, however, when - Child of the Day or no - Alex bites a lump out of his best friend in the playground.

For my next task, I am given something commensurate with my abilities: tracing and colouring in. This time I have a whole group of children to look after. They gather round, keen to see if I can rise to the challenge.

Once again, I am confronted by my own ignorance. How much help and advice should I give? When Samara says she will finish the cat she is so carefully colouring purple "later", do I let her, or insist that she complete the job now? I watch as two thick candles of snot slither from Gill's nostrils and down towards her top lip.

To wipe, or not to wipe? No touching has always been my classroom rule, but then the snot question doesn't come up very often in FE. Luckily Gill resolves the matter herself, by showing us exactly what the back of her hand is for.

We go out to play. We come in from play. We go in to assembly. We come out from assembly. There is a lot of lining up and being quiet. In achieving this, the cat's collar is indispensable. At last I face my big challenge: the whole class, together, for a story that I will tell.

I have done my homework on this. Taken advice. And I have chosen wisely - a story of sadistic violence and retribution called Little Rabbit Foo Foo.

For those who don't know their Michael Rosen, Rabbit Foo Foo is a bit of a bad 'un. Riding through the forest on his carrot-powered quad bike, he hands out gratuitous violence to other animals, bop, bop, bopping them all on the head. In the end, the good fairy has no choice but to turn him into a goonie, which in case you're wondering is a curious little green creature - sort of half hobbit and half Ofsted inspector!

The big question is, should I or shouldn't I use the prop I've brought in - a rolling pin - to demonstrate the process of bopping. In the end Miss agrees that I should, on condition I keep it well away from Alex. Having tasted blood already, there's no knowing what he might do with it.

I give it my all: growling engines, voices, bopping heads - the lot. They seem to like it. I read it again, this time with audience participation.

They seem to like it a second time. What's a goonie, one asks? What's an Ofsted inspector, I counter?

All right. Perhaps in the end I did get them a little over-excited. But I think I got away with it!

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