So, on Friday I finished my seven-week voluntary placement working at a local primary school as a classroom tutor. I can’t quite believe how fast it’s gone by! I’m not sure what I’ll do now that I have Fridays free. It’s become such an integral part of my routine, something I always look forward to, that I feel a bit lost.
I spent much of yesterday morning oscillating between watching the solar eclipse and helping Class 4 complete their short creative writing pieces for a competition they’re hoping to enter soon. The eclipse was a bit of a let down really since it wasn’t all that perceptible from where I was located and then the internet wouldn’t stream live coverage without crashing! Listening to all the students’ renditions of what they thought was going to happen made it that little bit more bearable: they seemed to have envisioned a situation whereby everything, in a matter of seconds, would be subsumed in absolute darkness. Their faces, when they realised this wasn’t actually the case, were priceless. Eventually, we managed to get a glimpse of the eclipse by observing it reflected in water.
When I think back over the entire experience, I am struck with how diverse the sessions have been. There wasn’t ever a time when I was doing the same thing over and over again and that made it so much more exhilarating. One week, for instance, I might have spent the whole day display-making for the new term (I am now incredibly adept at using a laminator. In fact, I can use two at the same time. Mad skills right there.). Another week, I might have accompanied Class 4 on their swimming lesson, or worked with small groups to help develop their literacy/maths skills. My favourite week, hands down, was Red Nose Day. I can pretty much summarise it in two words: bake sale. (I will also add that charity calories don’t count. Those brownies, jam and custard doughnuts, slices of banana loaf and butterfly buns I consumed were all for a good cause…Alas, I wish the weighing scales would see it that way!)
Every week of my placement exposed me to a new facet of primary teaching and this has been invaluable in informing my career aspirations. I remember undertaking this project in the first place because I had in mind that secondary teaching was the path I wanted to pursue and I just wanted to gain an insight into the kind of environment students making the transition to secondary school would be coming from. I hoped it would help me understand the various kind of difficulties they might be faced with when adjusting, and it has. At the same time, I was curious about what teaching at primary level entailed. I had never really considered it as a possible career choice for me because I’d always perceived it to be slightly less demanding. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Students at this level are at a pivotal point in their learning. They are forming new skills, refining those they were introduced to back in nursery, it is a key period at which they are acquiring the basic groundwork of knowledge that will support them for the rest of their lives.
I sort of understand now what my own teachers meant when they said that teaching is a very ‘rewarding’ career: I have never felt a greater sense of achievement than seeing a child produce work that they are proud of, knowing you helped in the process. What’s more, I feel better in myself and my own abilities. Before starting the placement, I was rather apprehensive about dealing with behavioural issues. Now, at the end of it, I feel a lot more self-assured, in the sense that I am able to take the lead in situations. As I began to get to know the students more, I noticed that they, too, appeared to develop confidence in me and started to ask for my help a lot more. This made me think that, actually, I can do this. It became easier, then, to bring to the role my own idiosyncrasies.
One of the most important observations I have made about teaching whilst I’ve been on my placement is that it’s a profession that requires resilience. Every single day offers a new challenge, with increasingly higher expectations to meet. You must be flexible, able to adapt to changing circumstances with flair and ease. The teachers I worked with and, indeed, every teacher I have ever come across, seemed to do just this with an air of effortlessness that I am absolutely in awe of. I mean, it’s definitely not an an easy profession, at all. And yet, they make it seem so. That, to me, is an incredible feat and it makes me want to pursue this path even more.
This has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life so far. I will take so much away from it. To any student thinking of undertaking some for of work experience, I would definitely encourage you to go for it.
The thing I think I’ll miss most, though, is being called ‘Miss Akhtar’.