Student talk

10th April 2009 at 01:00

An empty primary classroom is a deceptively reassuring place. As a student teacher, it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security as you sit on a cute little chair behind a knee-hugging desk.

On my first day of placement, before the school bell sounded, I sat quietly in my open-plan classroom and perused what would be my theatre of operations. I felt a bit like Snow White on her first day housekeeping for the seven dwarfs. I had a warm sort of glow.

I tried to get my bearings. Over there was the teacher's desk and here were children's trays labelled with unfamiliar names. "Who'll be the smart one, and who'll be the toe-rag?" I wondered.

Then they burst in, dinner money and plastic superheroes flying everywhere. After registration, I stood awkwardly at the front and was briefly introduced to the class. The children looked me up and down, unimpressed but faintly curious, before we launched at full pelt into the day.

It was bewildering, mainly because this school uses an active learning approach. I have been reading about it for the past year but, on the first morning, I was adrift in a sea of children who moved purposefully in groups around up to four activity stations each lesson: they knew what they were doing, but I didn't.

Then, five children wanted the toilet and "Mrs X always lets us go". One complained that another had taken her pencil. "This is not Disney," I thought. "This is TV soap opera and I am the only one here without a script!"

My disorientation was complete during my "getting to know you" lesson that afternoon, as I struggled to be heard above "The Birdie Song" blasting over from the classroom opposite.

It was an inauspicious start. I doubted I would ever navigate the stations system. A few weeks in, I realise that appearances are deceptive and it takes a lot of planning to look this chaotic.

For now, saving the rainforest will have to wait, and late nights, poring over endless paperwork, stretch ahead. But I look forward to the next episode each morning, so something must be right.

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