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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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
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.
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.
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.