I’ve been teaching in Year 1. It’s a morning a week – just enough to make me ensure that the kitchen cupboard always contains gin.
“It’ll be fun,” one teacher friend said. “They’re really fascinating at that age and watching them learn is magical.”
“It’ll be hell,” said another. “They’re always wetting themselves and telling on each other, and they can’t do the simplest thing without help.”
They were both right. Year 1 are a world away from my familiar upper key stage 2 cohorts. They crowd round you on the carpet; they show you their work by holding it a centimetre from your face; when they want your attention they pat your leg while saying your name on repeat.
They’re also hilariously honest and brimming with enthusiasm. Their permanent state is one of suspended disbelief, which makes it easy to convince them the classroom has become a space shuttle.
And while there are still occasions when I want to order them to come back in a few years’ time when we can get on with some real teaching, watching them learn is exciting. If you ever wanted evidence that schooling has an impact, look at what children can do in Year 1 and compare it with four or five years down the line.
But for a long-serving key stage 2 teacher, adopting the key stage 1 mindset takes time and effort so, in an bid to get to know the children better, I’ve started to fill any spare minutes spent on the carpet with “news”.
I do this with my own class from time to time, but it’s much more fun down at the younger end of the school. It started off so well. Freya told me about her birthday party, Jonah had new bunkbeds, Zareena had lost another tooth. “You’ve all had a very exciting week,” I told them. “Who else has got news to share?”
Anton waved his hand in my face. “Last night, my Mummy found a worm in my bottom,” he told us proudly.
This rendered me temporarily silent but, as several children probed Anton for more information while helpfully offering up their own experiences relating to worms and bottoms, the teaching assistant came to my rescue with a timely reminder on the importance of hand washing before we quickly moved on to phonics.
They now clamour for a “news” session. Last week, Jade put her hand up. “I’ve got bad news,” she told us. “My guinea pig has died.”
Five- and-six-year olds are innately competitive and I was then inundated with tales of dead pets, dead relatives, broken bones and swallowed teeth as they competed to deliver up the worst news. “This is all very sad news,” I told them. “Who’s got some happy news to give us?”
A small girl put her hand in the air. “Me and my brother got a goldfish at the weekend and we called him Frank,” she told me. I beamed at her. “That’s really good news, Lottie.”
“We bought him a castle to swim round,” she added. “But my cat pulled him out of his bowl and he died.”
Jo Brighouse is a primary school teacher in the Midlands