Snap happy

24th October 1997 at 01:00
Rebecca Taylor wanted to create a project that would mark her first year with something really memorable.

What better than a collection of photographs taken by her six-year-olds with their very own school cameras

Near the end of my second year as a primary school teacher the memory of starting out is still vivid. The staff meetings, meetings with mentor, planning meetings; the newly qualified teacher courses; parents' evenings; putting up displays; writing reports - and an Office for Standards in Education inspection to round it all off. There was never enough time to do everything.

I had decided to head for London for my NQT course. Although at first this proved to be exciting it was an added pressure and it was hard work travelling on the Underground and facing the crowds on Oxford Street on a Saturday morning. Where you choose to spend your NQT year is an important consideration. Teaching takes up a large part of your life to begin with but as you become more settled it's good to live in a place where you have friends and can follow your hobbies.

The first three weeks in my first job at Altmore Infants' School in the London Borough of Newham at were the hardest but after that every event seemed a real milestone and before I knew it October half-term came round.

I decided I wanted to something special in my first year that would make it memorable for me. I wanted it to be something the children would remember and that would make a difference to the school. It would be something special for my future portfolio, which I could show to prospective employers.

When you are trying to find your special "mission", I discovered, you need to look at what the school is lacking. It could be plants in the school garden, or PE equipment, musical instruments or something the school would like to buy but has no money for.

Find something that will be permanent and that the whole school will benefit from, not just your class.

Choose a project you will enjoy, as you may have to spend quite a bit of your free time on it.

Once you have your idea don't be afraid to raise those funds. Estimate how much money you need carefully. It's amazing how quickly it's spent and you don't want to run out of money half way through the project. First you could organise fund-raising events: a bring and buy sale, sponsored aerobics or selling unusual food. This may attract local sponsorship for your cause.

My idea was that my school could benefit from still cameras for children to practise photography. Many of the pupils had refugee status and had never even seen a camera before.

I contacted local supermarkets for help but they had already designated charity money for that year, so next I approached Channel 1, a local television company and put in a plea for sponsorship money for cameras, films, development and exhibition costs. To my excitement they said "yes" and my photography project was born. I learned from this that many companies are more than willing to help local schools and often have budgets for charity contributions.

I did a lot of work with the children before they took real photographs, trying out the cameras without film. We looked at photographs in the press and discussed how, in the pictures we liked best, people were not looking directly at the camera or posing. When the children started to take photographs themselves we put up a display in my classroom. It included positive criticism: don't put fingers over the lens, keep at least three feet away from the subject, especially when using the flash. Every child got the chance to take a photograph of school life, which was our chosen topic, with great results.

Part of the sponsorship deal was to attract lots of publicity and this took time liaising with newspapers and taking organising press releases. The children really enjoyed this, especially when they saw their names and pictures of themselves in the paper. It was also excellent publicity for the school.

Finding the time to do the project was difficult but I tried to set aside 15 minutes a day to sort out photographs, and arrange enlargements. Also I needed to keep our sponsors happy and keep detailed records of purchases I had made. It became easier as the project progressed because the children's and parents' enthusiasm spurred me on. It was all the children would talk about.

It's important with a project to celebrate the results with the school and local people. We were lucky enough to have the television company which sponsored us come in and film the project. I decided to celebrate the project in an exhibition in the local library so that the rest of the community could enjoy the children's work.

Many people were quite amazed by the standard and could not believe that the photographs were taken by six-year-olds.

Now I feel the project was the most important part of my NQT year. When I left Altmore Infants' it was a pleasure to see the photographs still gracing the walls and it became quite a talking point at interviews I attended.

So I recommend that you find some thing special which you would like to work on. It will make all the difference for you and the children.

Rebecca Taylor now teaches at Court Hill First School in Poole

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