The first thing I ever wanted to be was a teacher. Inside my bedroom, I made displays on the backs of my wardrobe doors, had a small collection of exercise books from the local stationers, and I sometimes transformed my room into a 'trip', where I'd laid out non-fiction texts and guide books from places I'd been with my family.
As I grew up, I went through a series of other professions as my target. In many ways, I think I am lucky to have returned to my original idea of becoming a teacher; it gave me a path to follow and a clear end goal. It also meant, whenever I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had an obvious answer.
But what are you to do if you're not sure? Rush into a decision? Lie? Say you don't know?
I like to think I would have gone for option 3, but I suppose I'll never know. At what point do you need to choose? At what point are you allowed to change your mind? Would we become greater successes, with more time to plan ahead, to make our options?
With this in mind, a teacher at my school wanted to open our children's minds to the sorts of jobs out there, and it was one of the most rewarding things I've ever been part of. It wasn't an occasion to pigeon-hole them into a job at 10 years old, but a rare opportunity for them to speak to a huge variety of people about what on Earth they do all day!
It all started with a simple letter to parents, asking if they'd be willing to volunteer their time to speak to our Year 5 and 6 children about their profession. We waited for the exact details of how to organise the event until we knew the sort of response we would get.
A few weeks flew and we received just over 20 replies, all from a wide variety of industries. The response was so good, our teacher decided to hold the event across an entire day. We split the volunteers across 4 classes (5 in each) and the children rotated around each room for each lesson of the day. It was fantastically organised - with a throw-back school lunch thrown in too - and our children gained so much from the experience.
We had a foster carer who explained the 24/7 nature of her job.
A few people from banks, customer service roles and international companies.
We had a midwife, who explained the reason for her profession was to help other mothers.
We had a globe-trotting businessman who explained how his schedule impacts on family life.
There was a publisher who's recently worked with a famous British Vlogger.
A professional footballer who explained his plan B after a career-shattering injury.
A couple of firefighters, a policeman and a few engineers.
We had a clinical psychologist and an occupational therapist.
A student teacher, childminder and Civil Servant.
In a spare hour between meetings, our Head Teacher even came to sit with a group!
Our children were totally inspired. As an anchor, we prepared a small booklet featuring the names of all our volunteers, with space for the children to write questions and make notes. We started the day with what they'd like to be, if they knew, and ended the day with the same question. It was not expected that they changed their mind as a way to 'show progress', but it was interesting to hear how many of them came up with 'but if that doesn't work out...' or had a clearer idea of a route to help them get to where they wanted.
Qualifications, experience and further education are all very samey from your teacher's voice. It verges on nagging. But to hear about the value of effort and hard work, from a wide range of different people, was invaluable.
The day was a complete success; the product of a teacher's work, another example of supporting our learners. I'd recommend you try it yourself. We will definitely repeat it, although maybe spread it across a few half-days; our volunteers essentially had the same conversation 20 times, which can be tricky.
Thank you to our teacher, who masterminded the whole thing, and thank you to our volunteers who I don't think will ever realise the impact they have had.
A while ago, I wrote about the time I showed my class various articles, regarding teachers' requests for an extended data submission date, in light of the late receipt of the exemplification materials. I showed them the video message, from our Education Secretary, addressing teacher's concerns regarding assessment, where the MP clarified some of the surrounding myths.
It wasn't a lesson on indoctrination, as one might think, but my hook for a unit of Poetry.
We talked about the pros and cons of exams. I explained how I use them as a teacher. They said why they think they're useful for life. We shared experiences of tests and how we feel while preparing for them, taking them and hearing our result; the downs and the ups.
After that, we read this poem, by Michael Rosen. It's his hauntingly accurate Guide To Education.
Later, we read the poem "The Minister for Exams" by Brian Patten. We discussed the message behind it and I was careful to ensure they understood its apparent breaking of 'the rules'; I hadn't spent months banging on about proper use of capital letters for them to take this example as gospel. We noticed how, while punctuation was used normally, capital letters appeared at every new line, rather than new sentence.
We read the poems, and I showed them this video too...
While Patten's is a little more sombre, Rosen's penultimate line lightened the mood a little - "Education is getting better because there is much more testing". It really struck a chord and I was very impressed with the children's ideas and responses to the poem; they had a lot to say.
I was using the poems, video and discussion as a stimulus for children to write their own poetry inspired by Patten and Rosen, but I felt like part of it became a life lesson; a chance for them to think about their future and how to get there, beginning to understand some of the hurdles that they might need to overcome on the way; this strange idea that, sometimes (despite our own best efforts) our successes are completely down to whether someone else agrees with our answer!
Our next lesson started with me teaching the difference between open and closed questions. We gave examples of each and talked about how an open question can have many answers, and that our answer might differ from someone else's...so who is correct? If anyone? Apples or leaves?
Later, we started to make up our answers to open questions, thinking about how we could include our different writing tools: metaphors, similes, etc.
After our annotating of the poem, rehearsal of open and closed questions, it was time for the children to write their own. Many of them came from a real place. It was so interesting to read their final verses. Patten uses a road-sweeper as the result of his 'failure', and we took some time to discuss our own ideas of a job we would dislike. The whole point of the unit was to discuss how differing opinions are part of life, and job choice was the same. We were careful to ensure your idea of an awful job, might actually be someone's dream career (my younger brother always wanted to be a bin-man; he used to sit at the window and wave through the glass!)
While we 'ticked off' a few Poetry objectives, we gained so much more. We learnt that the discomfort of exam season is almost universal, but in a sense it's a rite of passage, the storm after the calm. We learnt about how people will always have different opinions to ours, but it's what we do about it that's important. We learnt how, sometimes, we can give our all, but if that key person disagrees, it might not get us where we need.
Not fair? Ask the Minister for Exams.
Let's teach children the idea of a Plan B and equip them with the skills to cope with possible failure, because there are times in life when we could have done no more, at the hands of an unknown authority.