'Let pupils be my judges'

21st July 2000 at 01:00
Thousands of teachers have applied to go over the threshold and receive an extra pound;2,000. Sue Coley explains why she isn't one of them

Am I a fool, as some people say, for not even trying to cross the threshold and get the extra pound;2,000 waiting for me? I am one of your so-called "experienced" teachers. When I go home my family ask me, 'Did you have a good day?' Usually I say, 'It was OK'."

However, during SATs week and the week after, I have been coming home and saying: "Yes, I have had a good day." In SATs week? Actually it was the afternoons of SATs week I was referring to. I decided my Year 6 pupils needed to do something a bit different from NC, NNS and NLS!

One day we went to a brook for our geography work. We identified a meander and saw some erosion and deposition but more importantly we had a lovely walk. We marvelled at fish and leeches, and identified butterflies and wild flowers. The best things had not been written down as planning aims, they happened in response to what the children did. (Didn't this used to be called teaching?) On another day we went to a park to have a picnic and carry out a survey of its facilities in response to a request from the council. When we arrived we found a reception committee, including the park manager who asked us to be the first to give an opinion on the new play equipment that had been installed the day before. The children were well impressed! The week after SATs we were able to follow up this outing. Kevin, the park manager, was asked to come in when we had sorted out our survey's results, so we wrote them up and put them on display with digital photos taken by the pupils.

As the local paper had printed quite a few letters criticising the park, we wrote our own letters to the paper saying how good the park now was. We expected these to be printed with the letters to the editor. One of their journalists said, however, they would like to write a feature on our involvement, so in came a photographer, leaving behind a proud bunch of children who felt their opinions were valued.

When we were at the park we were asked to pass on an invitation to the families of youger pupils at our school to tell them about the official opening of the new infant play equipment. We set about designing some flyers, which went out to the infant classes.

I had written about the visit to the park and survey in this term's geography planning, but far more came out of it than I had planned. Should I have thought ahead and included the letter writing in my literacy planning? Should I have made notes as the councillor and park manager spoke to the children and they listened attentively and responded? Did I miss a chance to record their skills? Should I have mentioned the word "citizenship" in my planning? And so the questions and feelings of guilt, that I have somehow not quite done my job properly, go on!

One of the children in the class applied, and was sponsored by the District Council, to attend the Millennium Children's Conference for the Environment in Eastbourne. The day she came back we abandoned the literacy hour to listen to her and to ask questions. Deep discussion ensued on how each of us could help solve the environmental problems facing our world. But how will anyone, other than the children, know we have done this when I have not recorded it anywhere?

Another project we have recently been involved in is the Staffordshire Ambulance Service's first-aid course. As a result of the course, each child could now do more to help save a life than many adults. The Ambulance Service, in their notes, made links between the work being covered and relevant curriculum strands. I can't remember if I made mention of the course in my science planning!

I hope I have made my point. The quality of my teaching comes from my experience, not from my paperwork. I do not want to be judged by my ability to fill in forms, put ticks on a list or juggle figures. I do not mind anyone judging my teaching and seeing my planning and record-keeping, as was the case in the previous system of appraisal. But, above all, I want to be judged by the children I teach and what they remember from their time in my class.

Sue Coley is a Year 6 teacher at Christ Church CE primary school, Lichfield, Staffordshire

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