I have been trying to think of a special moment to share with you – you know, those nuggets when you realise that teaching is the best, most privileged job in the world. But I can’t think of one. Don’t panic, it’s not because there aren’t any, it’s just that in my particular line of work, the moments are little specks of gold scattered throughout my days. I get little glimmers of recognition and hope that light up children’s eyes as they grasp something, achieve something or do something that they had previously really struggled with every day.
I am in the enviable position of being a specialist teacher, working in an infant school with some of our most vulnerable children. In the mornings, that means working with children entitled to Free School Meals or Pupil Premium funding to remove any barriers to their to education.
Take Thomas* as an example. He is in year 2 and does not receive any support from home with reading or homework (it’s hard for his mum who has no support from a partner). That’s where I come in. For half an hour a week, I might read to him to so he feels the joy of books and stories; he might read to me to practise his skills; or, if he has homework, we do it together. This doesn’t just boost his learning, it also ensures he does not feel mortified that yet again he hasn’t been able to complete homework when the rest of the class are excitedly bustling in with theirs, eager to show their class teacher. A multi-layered, multi-purpose, but vitally important, pocket of time for Thomas.
In the afternoons I put my specialist dyslexia training to good use by working with children who are “low on the data” in literacy. I absolutely love getting creative, using books, playdoh, WikiStix, magnetic letters, chalk, big fat markers and sand trays to teach reading, phonics, spelling and writing skills.
One of my favourite ‘customers’ was Freya*, a year 1 girl who had a lot to say but nothing to write. Freya didn’t have a diagnosis of Dyslexia at the time, but she would declare readily that she was ‘rubbish at writing’ and needed a shot of support before we ‘lost’ her to her negative attitude. So I planned a six-week programme of support encompassing phonological awareness, phonics, writing skills and reading. Each week we slowly built her ability to get those great ideas down on paper. After the first block of support, we decided that she needed another. But, by the end of the 12 weeks, she did not want me to do any of the writing – she didn’t need me and could do it herself, thank you! And when asked what she thought of herself as a writer she said, ‘I’m a good writer.’ Brilliant.
The absolute joy of this job is that I am trusted to assess, plan and deliver provision as I see fit. I am allowed to look at each individual child and plan what works for them. My headteacher is one of those rare and wonderful creatures who leaves me to it because I have the training and I don’t need to be told how to do it. She trusts me and she gets results.
She also uses part of her precious, dwindling budget to pay for me. This seems to be a rare thing indeed. Whilst perusing the job market in an idle moment (I’m not jumping ship, I hasten to add) there is no comparable role unless I become a teaching assistant. But imagine Thomas never sharing a book with an adult or having someone to support him with homework. Or consider Freya: had she not been scooped up and given that support for just a short pocket of time, imagine where she would be now – even more sure than ever that she is “rubbish at writing” as she moves through school.
In a time when the headlines are full of news about the funding crises facing the NHS and cuts all over the public services, I realise education needs to get in the queue. I am also way down low on the list of priorities; what I do is not life and death and the children will still get through their education without me. But, despite that, we are here to make a difference to children every day. So for now I will keep tucked up in my little learning support room with all my colourful, imaginative resources and continue to try to spark up those glimmers of gold for those fortunate enough to have landed in my school.
* All names have been changed.
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