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Reflections on Being A Foundation Teacher

I have spent the last half term as a Foundation 2 (4 and 5 year olds) classteacher in my new school. Combined with a multitude of other factors, including finding my feet as a Deputy Headteacher, it has been the most challenging and intense seven weeks of my teaching career.

I thought I would take some time to reflect on what it was like to go from teaching Year 5 (9 and 10 year olds) to Foundation 2.

Pitch

One of the biggest challenges was adjusting the pitch of what I was teaching. This applied at every level, from what I was planning to my expectations for the children. I suppose this would be natural as I was teaching children 5 years older for so long. I have a much better appreciation for the ways I can adjust what I am teaching to suit different needs, including the way I use my voice or how long we spend working together.

Care

This is central to what occurs in the Foundation stage. What school should be about – I perhaps lost sight of this working with the older children. Finding things, tieing laces, scraped knees, getting changed, toilet trouble, tired children, family news – the care for children at this age is much more important than anything else. It is a care that gives them boundaries and helps to develop their independence and confidence. However this is energy sapping – I know from having a 4 year old at home – but times that by 30 and you quickly realise at the end of the day that you are emotionally drained as much as anything else.

Starting School

Foundation 2 is the first time they begin to experience elements of school as it will be for the next 5 years or so. It is an important time for the children as they have to adapt to new expectations and ways of working. I have learned so much about where the children are when they enter school, what sort of level they are working at and even the broad range of abilities that are evident even at this age.

Organisation and Preparation

Above anything else I have learned how important it is to be super organised and prepared for anything at this age group. You can lose the focus of a little group in seconds if you don’t have want you need to hand. The classroom needs to reflect this level of organisation and done well will facilitate the independent learning going on.

Sometimes you have to respond to something unexpected and it takes all of your attention – a nasty scraped knee, a nosebleed or a toilet problem. You have to just go with it.

Every Second Counts

A big lesson I have learned is that you have to take every opportunity for learning. Counting the children for register, counting the milk cartons, counting the fruit, counting the letters we are using, counting the people in a picture…

Specialist

The role of a Foundation teacher is such a specialist position. The level of care that is required and the expectations for teaching and learning make it such a unique role in school. My time in Foundation has shown me every facet of the role. I think part of the specialism is being able to cope with the energy sapping days and to remain focused on the myriad of ways children are learning. I have a much firmer respect and appreciation for the role of teachers in Foundation and the crucial part they play in helping children start school.

Comfort Zone

There have been some real lows over the last seven weeks, admittedly I have found it a serious struggle at times. But I have learned from it all. I have had a comfort zone and in the last half term I have been as far from it as I can remember. You learn to find comfort in other things, I have adapted to each new challenge as best I could.

I took one day at a time and as Dai Barnes pointed out to me when I was finding it tough:

“Life is many days. This must end.”

“Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves.”

James Joyce – Ulysses

Cross curricular

I would like to see a whole school curriculum approach to learning in the same connected way as it is done in Foundation. A small number of areas of learning that just make sense and approaching contexts for learning in a holistic manner. There is the balance between child initiated learning and teacher directed work. I think my time working in this way will have a big influence on the way we re-develop our curriculum in the future.

Technology

By the time I was finishing my time I was hitting my stride a little better, so to speak, and was considering the role technology has to play in this early stage of school. One thing was how aware the children were of technology in their everyday life, clearly this is mainly from the exposure to mobile and online technologies at home.

Whilst we were working on some phonics activities for the “er” phoneme, I had a picture of an envelope for the children to think of “letter“. But one little girl said email when she saw it. Perhaps an isolated instance but nonetheless indicative of the need (and importance) for a clearly thought out strategy for technology at this stage of school. I will keep this firmly in my thoughts as I spend more time next half term on how my new school is using technology.

Another thing I noted was the need for technology to enhance and support the role of record keeping and evidence gathering in the Foundation stage. Learning happens and occurs at such a fierce pace, sometimes unexpected, sometimes planned – a strong tech solution for gathering, tagging and recording these occurrences would be ideal.

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After my tumultuous first week I wrote that it had been the most testing few days of my career and I would go on to say that the whole seven weeks have stuck to that template. At times I have felt like a student again, learning pieces of a bigger puzzle, at times I have started to think like a Foundation teacher – linking up learning opportunities and seeing connections.

A very capable young teacher is taking over the reins after half term and I will be working from the sidelines to support his first teaching role. I know that I have learned so much and on reflection I feel I have become a better classroom teacher because of it.

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Pics: My Life by pattyequalsawesome / A Crossroads by thorinside

Tom Barrett

Tom is a writer, speaker and consultant. He has been sharing his thoughts on teaching, learning, curiosity and creativity on this blog for over 10 years. Drinking coffee and writing would be his idea of a perfect day.

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27 Comments on "Reflections on Being A Foundation Teacher"

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4 years 2 months ago

ViSalus…

[…]Reflections on Being A Foundation Teacher | edte.ch[…]…

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4 years 6 months ago

math for kids…

[…]Reflections on Being A Foundation Teacher | edte.ch[…]…

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[…] Barrett’s reflections on being a foundation teacher is an interesting read: http://edte.ch/blog/2010/05/30/reflections-on-being-a-foundation-teacher/ . Considering the role technology has to play in the Early Years, Barrett makes several valid […]

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[…] have a pretty close understanding of the EYFS after spending some time in that age group and getting through a county profile moderation. It is interesting to see the […]

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[…] teachers were using iPads in the early years and from the ongoing discussion with them and from my experience of how these Foundation stage classrooms are structured I have a few […]

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5 years 9 months ago

[…] thinking that needs to take place for pupils to succeed in all the key areas. Tom Barrett made an interesting point on this when be wrote of the transition to being an infant teacher when he described how every […]

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5 years 11 months ago

[…] have enjoyed recognising particular strengths in the very youngest of our pupils in primary school and it is hugely important we nurture the fun and passion they connect with in […]

tomgbarrett
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tomgbarrett
5 years 11 months ago

Thanks Dave – I expect you would see the wider curriculum we deliver at primary level with a different perspective, I love the variety it brings. And yet it has all too often been boxed up, “right put those Geography things away we are doing Literacy now, and before you ask no they have nothing to do with each other.”
Foundation offers a connected provision which we must try and emulate in the rest of primary.

Dave Stacey
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5 years 11 months ago

Great post Tom. Particularly interested in your point about the integrated nature of the curriculum. One of the best things I've done in recent years was spend a couple of afternoons with year 6 in our feeder primary schools helping them learn how to use the macs / video cameras that money from a transition project bought. Often thought that if I could do an exchange with a year 5/6 teacher for a year or 2 I'd jump at the chance.
Thanks as ever for the honesty, and good luck :0)

tomgbarrett
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tomgbarrett
5 years 11 months ago

I would certainly like to see something developed with tagging and archiving functionality that can be done on the fly via a mobile device. I think Steve Kirkpatrick was working on something similar.

tomgbarrett
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tomgbarrett
5 years 11 months ago

Catherine I think that learning is much more tangible and lucid at this age group – it certainly is engaging when a child manages to write a number 2 for the first time. I like seeing learning take place on that sort of level, smaller yet no less significant.

tomgbarrett
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tomgbarrett
5 years 11 months ago

Hi Dai – thanks for stopping by, yes the FS experience has already equipped me with an insight I couldn't gain at such a deep level about the intake to primary. Going back would be fun sometime in the future, I will certainly be heavily involved in the first year of my replacement.

Do you think foundation stage children would enjoy using iPads, jumbo iTouches!?

daibarnes
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daibarnes
5 years 11 months ago
I am flattered to be included in your post Tom. 'Life is many days and this will end' has lifted me from many a low spot in my life, particularly at work (maybe it's the cyclical nature of teaching that complements it). To continue the honesty theme, I have never read Ulysses. Reading your post, the one thing I am certain about is that you will be a better Deputy Head for having spent time in FS. The only thing I might suggest is that you go back there sometime? Better prepared and with an appetite for challenge. Armed with… Read more »
Catherine McMahon
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Catherine McMahon
5 years 11 months ago
My student teacher is just finishing her second semester in a fifth grade classroom (10 year olds) after working in my classroom full of 4 and 5 year olds. I recall her feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. She said that she would rather work with the younger children due to the high level of active learning that they experience. It made her feel more active as a teacher and more engaged. I guess I have been doing this for so long that it has just become my state of functioning. I think teachers forget about the “process” and joy of learning.… Read more »
chrisrat
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chrisrat
5 years 11 months ago
Tom, as you well know, read your blog a lot! I have to say, this reads as one of the most self-reflective and honest posts that you have written. That is said in a very positive way, it looks like you have had a very hard half-term, and one that I am sure seemed like it would never end! I have noticed at the nursery that Elizabeth is at, is the huge volume of record keeping they keep on what seems to be every single aspect of her learning. For a parent that is wonderful, for the person writing them,… Read more »
tomgbarrett
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tomgbarrett
5 years 11 months ago
Hi Vicki – thanks for taking the time to comment, I hear it is your first – hopefully not your last I like how you explain that the FS “stretches the notion of 'teacher'”, it certainly stretched me. The combination of care and learning and how you get the best from such young children is a true challenge. I have a great understanding as to where children are on entry to primary school now, not just on paper but what learning looks and feels like for these 4 and 5 year olds. How do you think it compares with seeing… Read more »
tomgbarrett
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tomgbarrett
5 years 11 months ago

Thanks Robert i will have to look into the Gerver book you refer to, might be food for thought.

tomgbarrett
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tomgbarrett
5 years 11 months ago

Thankyou for commenting Kathy – some of the most enjoyable moments over the last few weeks have been seeing learning spring up from child initiated activities. I have learned to step back and be an onlooker, not to intervene but to observe the natural path it takes. Amazing really being part of it.

tomgbarrett
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tomgbarrett
5 years 11 months ago

Yes it seems that technology should be anything but sitting in front of a monitor, for the FS. It must be embedded in everything and bullet-proof at the same time.

tomgbarrett
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tomgbarrett
5 years 11 months ago

I have also spent a number of years in Year 6 the oldest class in English primary schools. During that time I thought that all teachers should see the demands and expectations we have of children ready to leave school. In reality such a perspective is rare, I feel lucky to have had both.

Managing learning in the early years class is certainly a different skill than any other class.

tomgbarrett
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tomgbarrett
5 years 11 months ago

Thanks Mary – yes any jump between phases poses its own sort or challenge. How have you found working with the Year 5s? What has been the biggest challenge?

Vicki McCormick
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Vicki McCormick
5 years 11 months ago
Really interesting to read your post, Tom. I've taught throughout Primary over the past 20 years and have been in FS for the last eight. It is a truly amazing phase which I think stretches the notion of 'teacher' more than any other within primary. I agree with Louise in that I have believed for a long time that all primary teachers should begin their career in early years to really cement the idea of children as individuals alongside children as learners – as you've discovered, in FS, there's no escaping their needs or skating over their demands. As for… Read more »
robertdrummond
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robertdrummond
5 years 11 months ago

Great post Tom, really interesting and really open and honest. Thanks for sharing that. I agree with your comments about cross-curricular. I've recently read a book by Richard Gerver which is fantastic and advocates a cross-curricular approach and explains how he did it in his school. He draws the same comparison as you regarding foundation stage approach and needing to extend it through the school. Website is http://www.richardgerver.com – his school was the Grange Primary in Sandiacre which as you're from that neck of the woods you might know.

Kathy Desmarais
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Kathy Desmarais
5 years 11 months ago
Thanks for sharing. Learning isn't always pretty, for students or for us. I am going back to Kindergarten (5-6yr olds) after 11 yrs in grade 1 (6-7). Not the leap you made, but still very different. I was especially interested in your comments in the “specialist” and “cross curricular” sections. I am looking forward to creating a learning environment provides the right balance between teacher directed and student initiated learning. Thanks for reminding me about the energy needed…it will be a great reason to rest-up over the summer. Lots of books at the beach for me!
oliverquinlan
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oliverquinlan
5 years 11 months ago

Really interesting post Tom. I am currently in year 4 and very keen to move to younger age groups soon so your reflections have given me much to think about. Well done for making it through the challenge.

I think Technology in this age group is very interesting. To me it seems that technology other than computers plays an even more important role than in Key Stage 2, but it requires totally different thinking to implement than the kind of work many ICT savvy KS2 teachers (myself included) do.

Louise Winsor
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5 years 11 months ago

Too often little credit is given to the enormous energy and organisation required to effectively manage learning in an early years class however it does get easier as the year passes. I've often thought every teacher should spend time in a Kindergarten class-if you can master that everything else is a breeze (well maybe not Year 9 high school girls!) They are very tech savvy (especially the ones with older brothers and sisters) but my favourite a ha moment is when they go to the computer and tap the monitor screen to make things happen:-)

Mary
Guest
5 years 11 months ago

What a fascinating and insightful post Tom. I've gone this year from spending the bulk of my time with teenagers in my secondary school to liaison work with Year 5 in our feeder primaries and I've found that a huge jump – but I think yours is even greater and I admire your fortitude!

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