THE POWER OF THE PRIMARY TEACHER

We must never forget the impact primary teachers have upon the children they teach. The power and importance of the primary years is demonstrated in a letter received by former chair of NAPE, Jeremy Rowe.

 

Dear Jeremy Rowe

Are you the Mr Rowe who was a primary school teacher at William Torbitt School in the early 1970s?  I hope you are, and that I have identified you correctly.

I just wanted to say thank you for being such an inspirational teacher. I was in Class 4R at William Torbitt School, in 1972-3. Back then, I was Cathy Brown, and I was a redhead, (and very well behaved according to friends’ parents).  I am studying for MA B Project at London Metropolitan University and my theme is Valuing Women.  This has made me review the people I have met who I value because of the contribution they made to my life.

I found you to be an imaginative, energetic teacher. You were newly qualified and had brought many modern teaching methods to your classes.  You led us in performing an opera, which really impressed my father!  You played your clarinet(?) and I remember watching you fiddle with the reed when we started singing, before you joined in. You built a library corner outside the main hall in the school, and taught woodworking skills to lots of children in order to get it built.  We learned by doing projects and finding things out through looking at books that you had arranged for the school to borrow from the council library.  I particularly remember looking at Volcanos and Glaciers in the Geographical Project and Anne Boleyn in the Historical Project.

I also remember writing to the Port of London Authority for a project and getting lots of maps back from them.  You also had us write to local supermarkets for floor plans so we could work out whether you could walk all round the store without doubling back on yourself – you complained bitterly that when you shopped with your wife, there were lots of men in charge of the trolley, waiting at the end of the aisles while your wives ran up and down, selecting the goods. You did not like the congestion of other men with trolleys!   I thought it was very daring when you had us open the double glazing in the classroom, stick the plans on the back of the window, and stand on the desks to draw walking routes around the supermarkets.  It was really imaginative, inspirational teaching.

Another time you were teaching us a french song about The Sea.  You were unimpressed with the translation and had a friend re-translate it.  I was terribly impressed that you knew someone who spoke French sufficiently well that they could translate a song!  Probably someone with whom you went to university?  You also introduced storytime at the end of the day, and the first book you read was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I also remember our class having a big debate about the death of Marc Bolan and you contributed with a positive opinion on modern music (totally unlike my parents!)

I hope I have found the right Jeremy Rowe.  Your enthusiasm for teaching and learning has remained with me all my life.

Thank you. Cathy

 

Jeremy comments:

I was working soon after the publication of the Plowden Report, and as a fairly newly qualified teacher, was doing my best to use Plowden principles as the basis for my work. In the early 1970’s I was working a project-based integrated day, with a wide range of arts embedded into the curriculum. Over forty years later, the impact of this kind of child-based way of working is apparent. Here is a lady who celebrates the experiences she had as an 11-year-old girl.

I qualified in the late 1960’s from a 4-year B.Ed course which included a great deal of curriculum development, as well as a high profile given to child development. There was no “induction” in my first appointment as a probationary teacher, it was straight into a large full-time class. I had 42 children in a conventional square-box classroom in a large East London junior school. (This was before my Oxfordshire days) With terrific positive support from the brilliant Mike Windle, my first headteacher, I spilled out into the corridor, and generally around the school. There were no teaching assistants, or indeed any other support people. Ironically, although the work load was huge, it was probably less than primary teachers today as there was complete trust that teachers had the skills to get to know their children fully, and deliver exactly what each child needed.

Here’s a bizarre strategy from those distant days: Mike asked each member of staff to identify areas of the curriculum they were least happy with. He then gave each teacher a post of responsibility for the subject they were least sure of, prompting a great deal of “homework” to get to grips with the responsibility. I was made responsible for boys’ games! (And was never afraid of teaching sports again!)

 

The point of all this is many-fold:

1. To flag up the importance of a thorough training for all teachers, with knowledge of child development enabling them to plan for each child individually.

2. To note the importance of a good project-based primary phase – this is the time when a good teacher can really do a great long-term job for every child.

3. To recognise the huge amount of unnecessary work currently undertaken by primary teachers because no-one trusts them to understand children and work with them, giving them individually what they need.

4. The essence of a good primary teacher is to take risks, and with a good understanding headteacher holding a safety net, anything can happen.

5. No Ofsted, but some excellent HMI’s. In my first job in London I was particularly influenced by the outstanding mathematician, Edie Biggs.

6. I firmly believe I couldn’t have done this without the thorough training I had at Portsmouth Teacher Training college, which included three long teaching practices, the last of which was a full term’s work, fully in-charge of a primary classroom, in a school 100% committed to thematic project-work.

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