I am back in year two. I haven’t taught this age group since being an HLTA several years ago, and since then almost all of my teaching experience has been built in years 5 and 6. At some point, I have taught or tutored – at least briefly – at every stage of education from Foundation Stage to A-Level (with a bit of informal maths tutoring for chemistry undergraduates), and every age group has given me a slightly different perspective on how people learn and what it means to be an educator. Mostly that sense of a new perspective is revealed incrementally over the space of months and years, but sometimes there are epiphanies and sudden feelings that a tiny threshold of understanding has been crossed. One such moment occurred yesterday, a few hours after an English lesson on fairy tales. After reading the class some examples and asking the children to share with me the variety of such stories that they have encountered – filling the flip-chart with a long list of the typical characters within them – we began to write some sentences using the following sentence stem: Once upon a time, there lived…
The vast majority of children wrote sentences like these:
Once upon a time, there lived a brave little dragon called Sparkles.
Once upon a time, there lived a knight called Megan.
Once upon a time, there lived a beautiful princess with long purple hair.
After hearing some of these sentences read aloud, I asked one boy to share his example. He replied with unerring confidence, “Once upon a time, there was a daddy.”
I paused briefly to take in what the boy had said, and then suggested that maybe he might want to reconsider his choice of character to make it ‘feel’ more like a traditional fairy tale. I then thought about this no more.
Later yesterday evening, my partner asked me about my day, and I explained how difficult I was finding it to adjust to the academic level of my class. I told her about ‘Once upon a time, there was a daddy.‘
She gave me a sympathetic look and then asked, “What words did you actually use to describe the characters that you wanted the children to write about?”
I thought for a moment – groping to understand her point – and then, suddenly, I crossed a tiny threshold of understanding:
“I said to the class, ‘Perhaps your character is some kind of hero.’ ”
The sentence that the boy had written about his daddy – a sentence at the time that flew past as one of a stream of minor frustrations at my own inexpert teaching – was actually rather beautiful. A six-year-old had been asked to think of a hero, and he had chosen ‘a daddy’. Not just ‘daddy’, but ‘a daddy’, indefinite article and all. To him, the vague notion of fatherhood and its monumental presence in his world was nothing short of heroic. In worrying about whether this child had really grasped the idea of a traditional fairy tale character, I had completely missed the naïve loveliness of what he had written. Of course, it is our job to educate children about their world and to help them mature, but we are fools if – as I was in my lesson yesterday – we are incapable of marveling at the fleeting beauty of their innocence.
I suspect I will like teaching in year 2.