My Way

9th June 1995 at 01:00
Jenny Bourke Tells How She Teaches. Teacher: Jenny Brook. Age: 42. School: Hazlewood Junior School, London Borough of Enfield. Post: class teacher and language co-ordinator.

Jenny Bourke's classroom hums with purposeful activity. Her Year 3 group of seven and eight-year-olds at Hazelwood Junior School, north London, are a group of mixed abilities and ethnic backgrounds united in a common feeling of interest and fun. "Out of play springs invention," says Jenny. "Whether it is with new materials or new ideas, they need time to explore and create." She likes primary teaching - she originally trained for secondary schools and worked in comprehensives before the birth of her two children - because of the wide range of subjects. "There is always somewhere interesting to visit or something new to learn for me too."

As well as focusing on class visits, Jenny will include anything newsworthy - the war in Bosnia, football - or anywhere she or others have been - to Bayeux to see the tapestry, to Monet's garden - in the plan for the day.

"My class always know what they are doing," she says. At the beginning of the year she explains their weekly timetable: when they have PE, library, assembly, handwriting, book review and so on.

At the beginning of each session they gather on the carpet for registration, to discuss the morning or afternoon's activities as written up on the blackboard, and for reading.

"Reading is key," says Jenny, who also uses a lot of poetry and drama. "They adore the Ahlbergs, Colin McNaughton and Michael Rosen. As they love it so much they are desperate to read it, then they read to each other and develop expression." Reading is often done in groups, with less able children gaining interest as the more able gain in expressivity.

Drama is usually done in the whole class. "I often use it to start a topic off. When the children's empathy is roused they learn much faster." Even at this early age (7 or 8) the children are introduced to the work of Shakespeare through the work of Chris Geelan and the English Theatre Company. Storytellers and the Arc Theatre are also regular visitors. "I try to bring literature alive." The classroom is lined with books, fiction and non-fiction, to be read in class and taken home.

Jenny has many more enthusiasms. She likes keeping fit herself: boys and girls of 3B race eagerly off to physical education.

Maths and science are explored both in small groups and in the whole class: in a maths lesson, for instance, she will start off by explaining a general rule - the four operations, tables and so on - but will then set the children going at their own speed.

Both ends of the ability spectrum thrive under her mixture of patient nurturing and sparky investigation. "It is important," she stresses, "to remember that children who need differentiation in one area of the curriculum may not need it in others. It may be only maths, or art, or craft, design and technology. We are all individuals after all."

She does teach - and always has, pace Chris Woodhead - whole class lessons. But for about 60 per cent of the time the class is split up into small groups or pairs; recently, for instance, they were hard at work building a giant's castle with burglar alarms. This leaves Jenny free to extend the more able and support the less able. At the end of the session or project, children present their work to the class, which then extends everyone.

Describing herself as "an interactionist" along the lines advocated by Tina Bruce of Early Childhood Education fame, Jenny sees the role of the adult as crucial. "Plan, lead, observe, explain and demonstrate." A group of children, for example, may make a simple circuit by themselves. The teacher then intervenes to build a simple switch with foil or paper clips. Children may then go on to integrate the switch into, say, the burglar alarm in the giant's castle. Then Jenny will take photographs and mount them in an album which celebrates the work.

There is never any problem with discipline. Because of her secondary background, where she often worked with children from disturbed backgrounds, she is a firm believer in boundaries. "If a teacher treats children inconsistently, they will respond erratically. If they come from a chaotic background, all the more reason to make the classroom orderly and safe. A teacher needs to be heard and the children need to be able to listen and respond. Within the whole school, there has to be an ethos of respect." This respect extends to parents, who are involved as much as possible, in the classroom and at home.

In the end, though, it is Jenny herself, bristling with enthusiasm and alive with energy, who is the centre of a merry community of children. As she says: "You need a philosophy to survive as a teacher. Most things are negotiable, but what you stand for isn't."

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