I have recently volunteered at my children’s primary school to help with reading and literacy.
I had been mulling things over for a while, and I hesitated to volunteer for a number of reasons:
- I am not very good at joining in and being on message.
- I like to do things my own way.
- I am not in favour of the National Curriculum or a lot of the government’s policies regarding education. I did not want to end up supporting and teaching things I don’t think actually help children very much.
- I did not want to end up as a generic classroom assistant.
I do not have anything against classroom assistants, by the way. I think they (for the most part) do a very valuable job. If it weren’t for the work that most Teaching and Classroom assistants put in, most primary schools I know of would simply cease to function. The assistants have a great deal of responsibility and little or no pay for what they do, and they work miracles.
I did not want to be one because I know my limits. I am not patient. I am not kind. I am not good at ‘new’ maths. I have no desire to help out with sports or swimming. I am not interested enough in everything they do in class to be effective. I know I would get bored, and what the school does not need is a part time trouble maker and rabble rouser who makes everything ten times worse and then leaves because they’re bored out of their mind.
I know that I would be entirely capable of doing all this, and probably more.
If I was going to be of any help I needed to volunteer to do something that interests me, enthuses me, and that I think I might be good at. This way I know I am pretty likely to stick around and actually be able to proffer some real help rather than just causing chaos.
I went to speak to the headmistress about volunteering as what I termed a; ‘Story teller in residence.’ Lots of big businesses have story teller and poets in residence. I figured this could be my job, if they would let me.
The main aim is simply to get as many stories read to as many children as possible to wake as many of them up to the possibilities and excitements of stories, and hopefully give them more enthusiasm for reading.
I had lots of ideas as to how I might do that. I had no real plan. I was not organised. I was just enthusiastic.
Luckily the head teacher is very open to new ideas and seemed to think it might work.
Over the last few weeks I have been going in to school regularly. I have been listening to the children read, so I can get an idea of their capabilities. I have been helping to sort out the school library, which had fallen rather in to disarray. I have been reading stories. I have been visiting the different classrooms and introducing myself. I have been talking to the teachers about what they need, and what they want, and how I might be able to support them with what I can do.
It is still at the early stages. I am an unknown quantity to them, and they are an unknown quantity to me. We need to be able to take the measure of each other. We need to work things out and see what fits in with what time the school has for me and what time they have to allocate to other, more measurable needs and goals.
I am learning a lot. I am learning that I am pretty good at telling a story. I am pretty good at asking interesting questions. I am learning that I am not pretty good at controlling large groups of children yet. This is something I need to work on.
I am learning that as in all things, the children are teaching me as much, if not more, than I am teaching them.
This is ok.
This is probably how it should be.
Sometimes I come home from school and I am elated, and full of the possibilities of what we could do.
Sometimes I come home from school and I am dejected at what I have failed to do, and how much there is to do, and how much some of those children need help, and how little I feel able to provide that help.
It is a bit of a rollercoaster.
I am determined though, that I am not going to give up. If nothing else I am going to do this for my son, to support him.
And maybe all I can do is facilitate debate. The very fact of my being there is forcing people to look at literacy, to look at how we read and what we read to children and to ask questions and to seek answers, even if for the most part it is how to get me to go away and leave everyone in peace.