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Next entry: Posh Posse
Previous entry: Internet Command Central
Thursday March 13 2008

Last Tuesday was a big day for me at Kings Cross Supplementary, because I was filling in for Mr Vora, who was away for some mysterious family crisis reason.  Whether the children learned very much I cannot say, but I did.  I was teaching them about centimetres, metres and kilometres.

Lesson number one for me was that indelible marker pens that I use for writing the names of movies on DVDs that I have recorded off of the telly are called indelible for a reason.  They’re indelible.  Well, not quite, luckily.  Spit, and the immediate use of some of the toilet roll I had brought with me meant that the thing I wrote on the white board was reduced to a slight pink smear, so it could have been worse.  But not having a proper (water-based?) felt tip marker seriously cramped my style for the next two hours.  Maybe if I had asked for one, I might have got one, but maybe that would only have interrupted the other teachers to no purpose.  Does Mr Vora have is own?  I suspect yes.  Oh well, teach and learn.

I had been warned about doing this, and I had tried to think of all the things that might go wrong – such as riot, violence, hostile indifference.  The wrong kind of marker turned out to be the big thing that went wrong.

image

Apart from that, the interesting thing was the contrast between the two classes.  It was almost a controlled experiment.  All the children at Kings Cross Supplementary are well brought up by parents who love them and who want them - really want them - to get ahead and do well, and will make hell for them at home if they hear they’ve been playing up in class.  All the children are nice, and basically obedient.  I am an inexperienced, benign, clever, knowledgeable, rather frightened teacher, not happy about shouting.  So: same social milieu, same teacher.  Nevertheless, the younger ones whom I tried to teach for the first hour were basically teetering on the edge of chaos (albeit happy chaos), while the older ones were not.  There were about six younger ones and more like twelve older ones, so class size should have made it easier for me to “control” (quotes because I do so hate doing this) should have been easier for the first hour.  But the second hour went decidedly more smoothly.  This despite Miss Rogerson, who is in charge of all these Supplementary Schools and who came on Tuesday (just to make sure there were no riots or fights I imagine), giving the small children a small rocket for not paying attention when I did do some half-hearted shouting and they still ignored me.

On the basis of just two sessions of classroom teaching in my entire life, namely those two, I put this difference down to age.  The younger children were in a basic sense unsuited by their intellectual and emotional nature to sitting at desks and doing sums from an arithmetic book.  They wanted to socialise and have fun, or just gaze at whatever happened to take their fancy.  They wanted to talk with each other.  The older children, on the other hand, had undergone some metamorphosis of the sort that made them, in some odd way, quite like doing this kind of thing, even if they didn’t like it, if you see what I mean.  So, the older ones just got on with it.  They got stuck.  I helped, individually, while others worked or waited politely for my attention.  They didn’t “get” the question, so I explained the question.  The time flew by.

This does not mean that it was a waste of my or their time for me to be teaching the small children like this, or a waste of anybody’s time to be teaching them like this, although I now understand the argument that it is a waste of time rather better.  I’m just, as American commenters sometimes say, saying.  I often read that in parts of the European continent, they teach very young children by singing songs in circles and going on nature walks and talking and playing with stuff, concentrating on socialising.  Only when they get to about six do they switch to more solitary reading, writing and arithmetic.  I now understand better why.

I sort of knew a lot of this already, of course.  I’ve not lived for six decades, albeit without children of my own and having been the youngest of me and my siblings, without noticing things about children of this age and that age.  But teaching children all in a group is something else again.  You really learn stuff that before that you only sort of knew.

Despite all my difficulties with pens and recalcitrant small children and not liking to shout, I enjoyed myself.  The basic rules of Kings Cross Supplementary work.  Only children with very committed parents attend.  The children mostly do as instructed.  The children are nice, to us and to each other.  The place works.  They do learn.  Being immersed in all that is satisfying.