Just as I usually do, I spent the first part of my Wednesday morning at a local primary school, helping the children with their reading. When I arrive, the kids are often just on their way to assembly, and the teacher nominates a couple of them to skip this and to grab their reading books. Yesterday, it seemed that they were all on their way to a harvest festival service, but the teacher pulled three of them out of the line, as usual, and we headed off to the empty dinner hall with their books. Why the dinner hall? Well, it's a big, open space and you can see me in there from reception. I'm not allowed to be left alone with the kids in a classroom.
It turned out that the three children with me were all Jehovah's Witnesses, and had been chosen because they would have been missing out on the harvest service anyway, just as they will miss out on the Christmas carols at the end of this term. I make no judgment upon their religion (and there's a Kingdom Hall just outside the gates of the school, so it probably shouldn't be any surprise that some of the congregation attend the school), it just struck me how the teachers of today have so many more things to think about than they did when I was at school.
The three kids were between five and six years old, and they were all at slightly different reading levels. Each of them brought a book with them, and so I started with the easiest book, and we worked our way up to the hardest, reading together. As you'd expect, the kids were teasing each other when they mis-read or stumbled over a word. It wasn't nasty at all and was done in good humour by all of them - it was just gentle ribbing. I was slightly taken aback, though, when the little boy suddenly blurted out: "You better watch it. I've got a knife and I'm not afraid to use it". He didn't have a knife, of course. He was six years old and it was said in exactly the same jokey tone as all of the other mild insults they had been hurling at each other all morning. I don't think he even knew what he was saying, and I doubt he knew what it meant. Even so, the fact that he had clearly picked this phrase up from somewhere suddenly made all that recent press coverage about knife crime in schools feel very real.
Teaching? That's a proper job. I had a tough day at the office yesterday, and as usual the hour I spent at that school was by far the most valuable thing that I did all day. I don't think I could be a teacher and I take my hat off to those who can.
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