Day in the life of new recruits

13th April 2001 at 01:00
Not only is Zahida Din new to teaching, but her pupils are new to school and a third are new to Britain. Douglas Blane reports on how they are settling in There is a lot to learn in any infant class but at Albert Primary School, Glasgow the learning experience has been more intense than usual this session. Not only is school new to the children, but this is teacher Zahida Din's first post since graduating last year and, as if that weren't a challenging enough combination, almost a third of the class of 27 are asylum-seekers' children with a variety of first languages but, initially at least, not a word of English.

How is any sort of teaching possible in these circumstances? It is really not as difficult as it sounds, says Mrs Din. For one thing, since October there has been another teacher in the class, Emma Hanlon who also qualified last year. Then there is the fact that infants, whether they speak Punjabi, Farsi, Kurdish or English, soak up knowledge like little sponges.

"With the ones who didn't speak English I used gestures at first and it was amazing how quickly they picked up what was expected of them. They soon got the hang of the morning routine of changing their shoes, emptying their bags into trays and settling down to work."

The day begins in earnest for Mrs Din at 8.30am when she gets to school after a 40-minute drive from the other side of the city. She has half an hour to prepare for the arrival of the children. Today the whole school is having photographs taken, which means Primary 1 miss their usual structured play session - with its choice of sand, house, jigsaws, painting, library, construction or computer - as well as part of the maths lesson that usually follows.

After playtime the class gather together next to the big blue house in the corner for "together time" with the teacher, ably assisted today by Incey Wincey Spider. This is followed by a language lesson on the letter "b".

The children are alert and interested but incapable of sitting completely still. Three in succession need to go to the toilet. Sadaf begins playing with her spectacles and tries them on Iqbal. "Put your glasses back on please." She does so, upside-down.

The teachers watch for signs of friction, trying to anticipate problems without being repressive.

"Jennifer, I think you'd better sit over here."

"Ainsley, back on your bottom please."

The teachers pass out worksheets and send the children back to their groups, then they move around helping and encouraging.

"Jennifer, let Stacey rub out her own mistakes."

Neither teacher shouts or shows impatience. Most comments are positive and encouraging. The command "Stop, look, listen!" is given a number of times during the day and invariably the whoe class does.

At 11.50am it is time to tidy up, wash hands and visit the toilet. Then, accompanied by the teachers, a chain of infants makes its way to the dining room along one wall of the corridor beneath colourful paintings by older pupils in the style of van Gogh. From 12.15pm until one o'clock, while the children are supervised by others, the teachers eat their lunch in the staffroom.

"Children develop really fast at this age," says Mrs Din. "At first the asylum-seeker kids had to learn by watching me and their classmates, but now they understand a lot of what's said and some of them are already quite fluent in English."

After lunchtime the children get out their "sharing books". They take home these brightly-covered jotters each evening which allows their parents and teachers to keep in touch. There are messages such as: "Ainsley is going to Morocco on holiday, so can she have some work to take with her please?" and "Thank you very much for the cakes."

Regular homework begins almost as soon as the children come to school and their parents are encouraged to get involved.

Today all the infant classes have a sponsored keep-fit session in the gym and, once they have spread themselves, the instructor checks that they understand "forward" and "back" and decides to use "wall" and "door" instead of "right" and "left".

As she leads them through a succession of aerobic exercises to the accompaniment of loud disco music, order slowly emerges from the initial chaos of unco-ordinated arm and leg movements as the children enthusiastically get into the rhythm.

Back in class they cool off with a carton of milk and a story read by Mrs Din. It's a post-modern version of Cinderella with a hero who is "small, spotty, grumpy and skinny" but it seems to appeal to the children.

For the final lesson of the day the children make coloured stars to hang above their tables to help identify the class's different groups.

"Thank you very much," says Jay, taking paper and scissors from the teacher.

"Well done," says Mrs Din. "That was very polite."

The little exchange is repeated with every child that follows.

Using scissors proves tricky for many of them, so the teachers move around, guiding unsure fingers and helping them to squeeze.

At 2.50pm it is time to pack up. When all the children have been collected, Mrs Din and Miss Hanlon discuss the day and prepare for tomorrow.

"They're keen to work, as you can see," says Mrs Din, "but you can't take your eyes off them for a moment. Some teachers I know catch up with paperwork when their class is working, but there's no way you can do that with infants. You're talking to them or they are talking to you every single minute of the day."

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