`Little did I know they were painting my coat'

24th July 2015 at 01:00
In the first of a four-part series, an early years teacher looks back on her personal highs, lows and lessons of this academic year

This year, I moved from key stage 2 to teach Reception. I remember walking around the room on those first few days wondering what on earth I had got myself into. I was worried that I had made a huge mistake.

Little did I know what an impact these little four-year-olds were going to have on me. They have changed the way I think about teaching and learning for ever.

I know it sounds corny but I'm going to say it anyway: I now truly believe that I have the best job in the world. I work with the best clients, even if at times they are a little too honest. For example: "Mrs Parry, you do have a big bottom when you bend over", or "You look like my granny in those glasses". (The portrait drawn by one of my class, pictured left, is another example of how I'm viewed.)

I have been called mummy, daddy and - my favourite this year - granddad, by a little boy who was sitting with me talking about the First World War. I took this as a kind of compliment, as he clearly felt comfortable and secure in my company. At least, I hope it was that and not that I've developed even more grey hairs and wrinkles.

Teaching has changed a great deal since I joined the profession 14 years ago in Liverpool - the main difference being the role of the teaching assistant. I remember having a lovely TA in my NQT year who was shared by the whole school. I loved Wednesday mornings because that was my allocated slot to have support.

Thinking back, I don't know how I managed. The role of the TA has developed so much in recent years: they are now an integral part of school life. I don't know what I would do without the team I have today. Not only do they support and facilitate learning, they are also great at bouncing ideas back and forth about what will work and what won't.

TAs know each child's individual needs. They know how to support their development - and the key questions that will help move that child on in their learning journey. My TAs also know me inside out: I am sure there are days when I drive them dotty with my quirky ways, but on the whole we love working together.

The other big development has, of course, been technology. They say the technology that our children will use as adults hasn't even been dreamed of yet. This makes me feel very old. All the same, I would not be without my trusty iPad to record video observations of my children's learning.

Gone are the days of downloading and sticking photos into their learning journals. Now I can actually be with my children and move their learning forwards, rather than spending hours writing up what has been said. We can plan in the moment and inspire those inquisitive little minds.

What surprised me this year?

I have learned to expect the unexpected. The students' ideas are far superior to mine - it's about stepping back and allowing them to take hold of the reins.

My highlight of the year

One memory that I'm sure will stay with me for ever is the afternoon I found my coat covered in little purple handprints.

During the course of the day, a number of children had been busily creating at the making table. The independent learning had been fabulous, and there had been lots of talk about mixing colours and how if you added different items to the paint the results were "epic" (their word, not mine).

One little person came to me and - shoving their hands under my nose - said: "Look, I've made purple!" I dutifully took a photo, recorded this observation on my iPad and asked them to pop to the toilets to wash their hands. Little did I know that, while I was feeling smug in the knowledge that my continuous provision was allowing my children to independently develop their learning, this little pickle was painting my coat a beautiful shade of purple.

By the time I realised what had happened, my children had gone home. I had a good idea who'd created this work of art, but posed the question the next morning. "It was me. I'm sorry, Mrs Parry, I didn't realise it was your coat," came the reply.

I took comfort from the knowledge that my pupil felt able to tell the truth and that they could own up without being too scared of the consequences. I pulled a disappointed face but gave myself a mental telling off: I mean, what Reception teacher in their right mind would buy a white coat?

What I wish I had known 12 months ago

Never wear a white coat to work, always wear black.

What made me laugh this year

It was the day my TA was unable to fix a banana. The children were sitting in a circle, ready to pick out a piece of fruit from the bowl. One of my little ones, who can really struggle in some situations, picked the last banana and began to open it. As they peeled back the last part of the skin, the banana snapped in half. I could see by the look on the child's face that this was probably not going to end well.

My TA and I exchanged glances, both aware that we had to act pretty quickly to defuse what could be a difficult situation. She immediately jumped up and rushed over, grabbing the falling banana and ramming it back into the skin.

"It's broken!" came the cry. "You need to fix it."

She tried with all her might but she could not fix the broken banana. What she did do, though, was expertly convince the child to have a different piece of fruit and that it was OK that the banana had broken. Calm was restored. We often joke about the broken banana and are still seeking a training course on this topic.

What I will take from this year

Every day in the classroom is different. My children are good fun and they make me roar with laughter on a regular basis. They are bright, inquisitive, articulate and know their own minds. I love the fact that they are like little sponges that soak up information.

As the year comes to a close, I feel honoured to have been these children's first experience of education, I feel proud to have been a part of their lives as learners and I feel happy to say that I have done my best.

Pennie Parry teaches in a two-form entry primary school in West Sussex. Her portrait, far left, was created by Sam, aged 5 and a quarter

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