Yes, I know it’s a fancy word for teaching and school but T and S are taken. I’m sure you would like to know a bit more about school in the UK and how I was coping with the system.
I noted in one of my emails home:
School has been a bit depressing as one of the staff was just given redundancy owing to falling numbers. The teacher was told early Thursday morning and has been off school (presumably on stress leave) ever since. The staff are angry, especially as it was a good and competent teacher who was given the flick. The formula used to get rid of her did not take into account teaching ability.
At least my job was safe. I was not going to be transported to Australia, at least until the end of the year. In Australia, if the numbers fall in a school the forced transfer is guaranteed a position in another school. I was horrified to see that this particular teacher had to apply for jobs in other schools. To my great relief she was able to secure a position.
School was really lots of fun. My favourite subject was history as we were studying the Romans. I found that I had mispronounced Boudica all my life as Boadicea. “Boudy” became our best friend as J, S and I planned our lessons together. She was the Queen of the British Celtic Icene tribe who led an uprising against the conquering forces of the Roman Empire around AD 60 and is now a British Folk hero. I drew parallels to Australian Aboriginal warriors who rose up against the British settlers and like Boudica, they were overcome.
I had been on some interesting school excursions in Australia but nothing like our visit to Wroxeter Roman Ruins. Situated at the end of the Roman road that ran across England from Dover it was on the Severn River and established about AD 55. At its peak it housed 15,000 people and was known as Viroconium, and had many public buildings, thermae and a colonnaded forum. We stepped around the ancient remains, dressed up in Roman costumes. The Romans withdrew in about AD 410 and it gradually fell into ruin as parts of it were removed for other construction. In 1859 it was rediscovered. Six years after our visit a replica Roman Villa was constructed on the site as part of a TV series.
I loved the lesson where each child was given a replica artifact from a Roman Dig and asked to speculate on what it was used for. There were so many aids for teaching this topic as it was repeated every year.
PE in its various forms was a contrast to its counterpart in NSW as the weather made it far more difficult to get outdoors. Gymnastics, which I mentioned earlier, consisted of using large apparatus, producing sequences of rolls, balances, moving in different ways etc.
For one term we attended swimming. It took up a fair amount of time as we had to travel by bus to a heated indoor pool, get changed at each end and also have the lesson. I was put in charge of an advanced group of swimmers doing their Life Saving Award so was able to instruct from the edge. The third strand was dance which was in the term after I left and before I arrived. That may have been a good thing for my students.
In Australia we have the Annual Athletics Carnival which can be quite competitive. Those with the best times move on the Zone Carnival and eventually to State level.
At my school in England the Sports Day was a thoroughly non-competitive and enjoyable day. There were sack races, egg and spoon races, skipping races, beanbag races, flat races of 50 metres and dressing up races. Children competed in these events and were given stickers as they crossed the finish line for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places.
My memories of Athletics Carnivals in NSW were of long jump, shot putt, high jump, discus and lots of running races of various lengths, all carefully measured and timed. Sometimes tunnel ball and captain ball was squeezed into a jam packed day.
Of course the older children may have had different activities but I was teaching Year 3 and couldn’t help but compare the different attitudes to physical and intellectual development in both countries. I’m not saying one is better than the other. Taking the best from both systems would be the ideal.
I enjoyed teaching Science as every topic was well equipped. However, when we were studying sound I asked the children to bring in used and washed cans so we could make string telephones. One child brought a can with sharp edges made by a particular type of can opener. I covered the edges carefully with masking tape but word got around to the parents and I was asked to delete that particular experiment from my lesson plan. I learnt to stick with the program and not deviate.
The school year ended before the long summer holidays so I taught one class for two terms and then began with a new class in the autumn. Unlike my part of Australia where the hot weather continues well into Term 1, I noticed the chill of autumn on the first day back at school. Grey skies and increasingly cold weather were to be the norm until our departure just before Christmas.
The same two teachers continued with me onto the new Year 3. The classes were split into groups for Literacy and Numeracy with constant pressure to move children up or down a group depending on their performance. In the first two terms I had the middle groups but for the new autumn term I had the top literacy group and the lowest numeracy group. I really enjoyed teaching writing skills and some wonderful work was being produced. I would have enjoyed numeracy too, except for the constant pressure to teach to the test and produce an ever upward improvement in results.
Every Monday afternoon there was an assembly of years 3 to 6 for the last half hour. All but one of the teachers vanished to make use of the rare free time in school hours. The one remaining teacher would host a well-planned assembly which ran like clockwork under the capable hands of senior students. They were most concerned when I wanted to change the music to “Advance Australia Fair”. The chosen topic was “St David’s Day” but I announced we were not going to talk about Saint David of Wales but rather about Governor Arthur Phillip of New South Wales. As the teachers arrived back at the end of the assembly some admitted to me they had never heard of Arthur Phillip. I suppose there is no reason why they should. Australia was only one of many parts of the Empire and I certainly don’t know the name of the first governor of the other British colonies.
Religious education was very difference to Australia for historical reasons. Whereas representative of various faiths come in for half an hour a week to teach members of their own flock at home, here in England we had two lessons a week taken by the class teacher, as well as the “religious” assembly. Although the curriculum had a Christian bias it covered all the major religions of the world and the various days of celebration.
Some things were jarringly absent. There was no librarian or large and inviting library. A teacher was given the job of managing the books and must have found it a huge task on top of being a classroom teacher. The computers were also the added responsibility of a classroom teacher and had a habit of being uncooperative, as computers often were in 2004. I was biased, of course, having only used Macintosh computers at home and I found the different operating system difficult to get used to and limited for classroom use. I used my own video camera and laptop computer to film and make videos of excursions, sporting events and classroom plays which I edited, burned onto DVD’s and showed to the children. The school reports, however, had to be written on a school laptop which I was allowed to borrow and take home.
It is frustrating that I have lost track of so many of my videos and photos. I suppose I am lucky that I still have so many as they have been transferred four times to successive computers and were all originally taken on film cameras.