There are times when I have been grateful for the fact that I possess a Teacher Voice. Like when I am attempting to corral my children from a large play park, or silence a tea time contretemps. My sister-in-law has an even more impressive one, seeing as she is a secondary school teacher; she can stop random teenagers in their tracks at 50 paces. It’s a skill.
It’s not something that I am used to hearing much, outside of the day job, though. Chatting with your mates after the school run (we have a street corner where we put the world to rights) isn’t the place to get the Teacher Voice out (not unless you wish to terrify the little old man who is passing by and force him to totter into the path of oncoming traffic, that is). Last week, however, at Primary Rocks Live, I was surrounded by them.
There’s something about the voice of a primary school teacher. I never used to think I had it (I used to think I was just me), until I heard myself recorded one afternoon. We were doing a character hot-seating activity (you know, the one where volunteers volunteer to sit on a chair at the front and answer questions as if they were a character in whatever it was you were learning about), and there it was, Teacher Voice. Calm. Interested. Controlled enthusiasm. Reassurance. A voice that is enriched by relationship.
Richard Farrow (who said, yes, children’s work should be on display in their classrooms) has it. Jonny Walker and Krysta Parsons (who understand that children live in little hermetically sealed worlds, punctuated by home and school and who have worked together to break down those barriers of ignorance) have it. Claire Bracher (who understands that, in order for all the children to learn stuff, they need to feel safe – and how to go about making them feel that way) has it. Meeting these teachers, talking to them, hearing that voice, that voice of understanding of young children, did me the world of good.
Sometimes, with all the chatter around Education, all the policy making, all the talk of floor standards and targets, standards and results, sometimes I feel that we (by which I mean the wider ‘we’ – when you’re in that classroom with those children, the last thing you do is lose touch with reality) have lost sight of what it is that we actually do. Some of us work with the children of the privileged. Some of us work with the vulnerable and poor. Some of us work with academic sparks, and some of us with those who struggle at the desk and with the pencil. But whoever it is we work with, we, in primary schools, those distinctive places that feel, to me, so ignored in national conversations, do the same thing.
It’s not the National Curriculum (although we all follow it). It’s not the maths or the literacy. It isn’t the subject knowledge, the special skills or the Fast Track. We make the safe place. The place to give new things a go. The knowledge that, if you get it wrong, it’s OK; it’s part of what learning is. It’s reassuring children that, while some adults are capricious and vain, not all are. Some of them are prepared to step back, and let the children take the centre stage. It’s the working together.
The ethos of primary education is a very precious thing. Let’s not lose it.