So my month or so of full-time voluntary work at my old primary school has come to an end. I’ll be glad to have some well-deserved rest now cos I’m absolutely shattered, but I’m reaaally gonna miss it! It’s been a fantastic experience for me personally – I’ve learned so much and it’s been so enjoyable! – and I like to think I’ve made a bit of a difference too, judging by the way the kids have really taken to me (one little girl even gave me a little present on the last day – aww!) and some of the great conversations I’ve had with them. I’ve seen both the positives and negatives of teaching as a career, and even though it’s quite daunting imagining myself teaching a class of 30 kids every day, I’m sure I’ll be fine when the time comes. Teaching is a real talent that you have to develop; you need to have certain basic skills to begin with, such as a real love for the children, good communication skills, and bags of patience, but the rest I guess you learn over time, and I know God will give me all the strength, wisdom and (extra) patience I need when the time comes.
And I’ll need it, because teaching is difficult: much more so than many people realise. From 9 til 3 when you’re in the classroom, you’re responsible for engaging and retaining the attention of potentially 30 restless, fidgety, boisterous individuals long enough to teach them loads of stuff; not just the entire curriculum, but actual skills that they need for life as well. When they step out of line, you have to quickly intervene with authority. But if you’re too strict they’ll decide they don’t like you and be little rebels; you’re constantly striving to get the balance between being someone who they get on with and can have a laugh with and someone who they really respect and listen to. And different children respond differently to certain things, so you have to find the best way of enabling each individual to learn the best way they can, whether that means making sure Johnny and Freddy are sat at opposite ends of the classroom, remembering that it often takes multiple attempts to persuade Sally to follow your instructions, making allowances for Suzie’s toilet troubles, or frequently giving Bob the positive affirmation that he needs to boost his painfully low self-confidence. Not only that, but after such an exhausting day, you’re expected to go home and spend most of your evening extensively planning the rest of the week’s lessons, marking piles and piles of your children’s work, evaluating whether each child is reaching their full potential (and if not, why not?) and ascertain whether you’re meeting all your targets. And that’s on top of trying to have some sort of social life and, quite often, being a parent and juggling other responsibilities at home too. How on earth do they find enough hours in the day for all this?!
But even though it’s hard, in many ways it’s so rewarding and enjoyable! Yes there’ll be days when you come home deflated, frustrated, and absolutely drained, but the fact that you have the opportunity to make a tangible difference in so many people’s lives is amazing! Society’s crying out for good role models – especially good male role models like I’ve said before – and while it’s a big responsibility, it’s great that you can be such a strong positive influence on the children you’re teaching and help to shape the people they become. And some of the children are just brilliant! Here are some more of the amazing things they’ve said to me recently:
– ‘Mr Birchenough, your shoes are quite sophisticated!’
– ‘You don’t need to wash; you smell beautiful just as you are!’
– ‘You’re very high!’
– ‘Can I tell you something really funny? I wish you were my brother!’
– ‘I don’t like tomatoes, that’s why I call them tom-AY-toes.’
– ‘You’re my best teacher-friend!’
And one boy in Year 3, after drawing me a picture, wrote on the back:
– ‘You are my friend James. You are good at fun.’ Ahhh amazing!
So while 18 year-old me isn’t ready to be an actual teacher, I’m confident 20 or 30 year-old me could do it. It’d be challenging and unpredictable, but that’d keep it exciting! And it’d be such hard work, but it’d be soooo worth it. Even though teaching has to be one of the hardest jobs in the world, then, it’s gotta be one of the best!