Long, long ago, as a bright-eyed teacher fresh from college, I closed the door of the large Victorian house I was sharing with four others in East Grinstead, squinted into the September morning sun and set off for my first day in my new job. I remember feeling nervous and excited as I walked the mile through town to the school, my brand new red academic year diary in my bag. I had already memorised all thirty two names of my Y7 form (1HR) and hoped they would be biddable. It had been drummed in to me at teacher training college that my priorities as a teacher were two-fold: to keep ‘control’ without shouting and to keep my classes ‘engaged’. It sounded simple enough. What I discovered on that first day and during the rest of my probationary year, was I could keep control and keep them engaged most times, couldn’t do either sometimes and didn’t need to even try during certain times. Certain times involved reading. Whether it was me reading to them or taking them to the library or if the pupils took it in turns to read from a play script. Using books, especially fiction books, was the most effective teaching aid to classroom management ever. Actually, books were better than ‘effective’, which sounds too functional; books were magical. When I read out loud, the children listened and were absorbed; fidgeting stopped as they were transported to imaginary worlds. There was no need for ‘control.’ It goes without saying that it helped to choose the right book. Fidgeting started again if the plot lost its grip or the play sagged in the middle. Choosing the right book and teaching pupils how to choose the right book for themselves, was a real skill.
I honed this skill through trial and error. At college there were no book lists or recommendations as such and only a handful fiction titles on in the small bookshop on campus. I only had one workshop about classroom readers in four years of training. It was in my second year (I think) and the lecturer had us all sitting in a circle and reading out loud, one at a time. When it was my turn, my feedback was that I had a good, clear voice but needed to slow down. At the end of the talk the lecturer mentioned The Midnight Fox by the American writer Betsy Byars as being a ‘good read we could try’ and that was it. End of reading for pleasure module. I bought The Midnight Fox. I bought Byers’ The 18th Emergency and The TV Kid, too. Those titles are still in print. Kudos to my lecturer (whose name escapes me) for his sound recommendations.
Forward to 2016. It is now sixteen years since I taught in a classroom. I stopped teaching full-time when my kids were little and only taught part-time or on supply once they started school. It was during this period I took up writing. Just small bits and pieces but enough for me to know I had discovered something about myself. As well as reading stories, I liked writing them.
By the late 1990s, the National Curriculum was in full swing and teaching had changed forever. Gone was the freedom to choose what to deliver and how. A teacher’s time was now dedicated to long term, medium term and short term planning and having anxiety attacks over the next Ofsted inspection. I don’t think the National Curriculum is necessarily a bad thing but it is overly complicated and demands too much in terms of preparation and assessment. I am in awe of teachers who fulfil all its requirements and still manage to turn out well-rounded, keen pupils.
It must be so daunting for a new teacher starting out today. They need more than an academic year diary and an apple to get them through, that’s for sure. Luckily, thanks to the glorious internet, there is back-up. The web provides so many resources aimed at helping teachers, old and new, in the classroom. Here are a few I rate highly:
Literacy & Book Websites:
The Literacy Trust including Premier League Reading Stars initiative. Definitive website for resources and stats relating to reading especially how children’s reading attainment is a greater indicator to future success than poverty/background
The Reading Zone – all the latest buzz about books/authors/competitions from Reception to KS3
The Literacy Shed – jam-packed with ideas in different ‘sheds’ such as ‘the fantasy shed’ etc
Love Reading for Kids – book reviews, news etc
First News – every school should subscribe to this newspaper aimed at KS1/2
Patron of Reading – linking authors with schools – genius!
Barrington Stoke: Expert publisher of dyslexia-friendly books
Young Writers: Useful website for competitions to stretch your budding writers. Contains tips & resources for the classroom, too.
Blogs about reading:
Michael Rosen’s brilliant tips on how to create a book loving school
Pie Corbett’s Reading Spine – free downloads KS1/KS2
Page 45 Reviews – Stephen’s shop in Nottingham specialises in graphic novels. His reviews on kids’ books are a masterclass in enthusiasm
Ideas from authors/poets:
Brian Moses’s poetry ideas – every one a gem to use in the classroom with lots of examples written by children
Shoo Rayner’s website includes loads of youtube clips on how to draw as well as stuff about books etc
Sarah McIntyre’s blog is awesome – full of fun ideas on how to create comics and much more.
Tom Palmer is the ‘go-to’ author for books about football and ideas to get boys reading. Loads of resources for schools, too.
Hilary Robinson has teamed up with illustrator Martin Impey to create an accessible picture book series for KS1 and KS2 about the First World War. Her Coppertree series is also right on the button for issues that worry kids.
There are loads more links – I’ll add them as I go along.
In part 2, I’ll blog about my favourite class readers, books and plays for KS2. The list will be long and it will be mighty.
This blog is dedicated to all those about to start their teaching career this week, especially Paul Hill of Huddersfield. Good luck, Paul. May the spirit of Danny Ogle & David Wagner keep you strong.