Teaching children to read, and talk

One of the key aspects of teaching Year 1 anywhere in the world is most likely to be teaching children to read. This was definitely the case in Finland, where during my two years of teaching, I was able to teach in my mother tongue, children to read in their mother tongue, since majority of the children I taught had Finnish as their first language. Also the children in my classroom back in Finland were ready and eager to learn to read at the age of 7 and had been exposed to the language for their whole life. Many of them already read by the time they stepped into my classroom. Without sounding too naïve, I dare to say that teaching children to read in those circumstances was relatively straightforward.

Now let me give you a short summary of where I found myself after I relocated to the UK. I now teach in my second language a group of children of whom majority did not speak English as their first language either. The children are two years younger, had not been exposed to one culture and language for the first years of their lives but instead often to a mix of cultures and languages. I teach them a language (English) that by all measures is very demanding phonetically.

No wonder, teaching children to read in my new job turned out to be a bit trickier than in Finland.

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One Hundred Lessons of Solitude

People who do not know the ins and outs of a teacher’s life does not believe me, when I say that I used to be very lonely in my job. “How can you be lonely in a classroom full of children?” one would say. Or “we are all lonely”, another might comment. And while both of these are valid points, they don’t take away the feeling I had. Although your days as a teacher are filled with laughter, cries and bubbly chatter in your classroom, sometimes you feel like the loneliest person in the world.

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The schoolbooks I once had

Finland really is the promised land for schoolbook publishers. I wasn’t able to find any real data for this, but I feel confident to say that a very large majority of primary schools use schoolbooks in their teaching. Every subject had its own book series and teachers followed them quite happily. Students are very proud of their books, especially the first Finnish book that you get to keep as a memory from the first year of school. Things are changing in Finland with the new curriculum and the call for active and multidisciplinary teaching, but the books are still there and don’t seem to be going anywhere. At Central however, they are long gone.
It’s not really one of the things you’d come to think of to ask in your job interview. “I do have one question. Do you use schoolbooks in your school?” Coming to think of it, maybe it should be, since the answer can make quite a difference to your job as a teacher. I had some colleagues back in Finland who took a job in a school that was experimenting with bookless teaching. I heard their stories and thought, that’s a lot of work, and not for me. Only to find myself a few years later in that exact situation.

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A lifelong learning journey

It’s a beginning of a new school year. How do I know, you ask? Set aside for a second the fact that I spent a week getting my classroom ready for the new children, ordering and labelling books, sorting through resources and now getting to know 30 new children and their parents, what really made me realise that it’s a beginning of a new school year is that my head teacher handed over a three-page form that I need to fill in outlining my personal development targets for the year. It’s part of my performance management. And it’s no joke; it really is three pages long.

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My first year at Central

The last day of term I ran into my head teacher in the dining hall on my way in. “Congratulations, you survived your first year of teaching at Central!”

I said thanks and walked into my classroom thinking, yes I did indeed. Not that I really ever had a doubt in my mind. What I didn’t expect was that I would actually enjoy it as much as I do. Don’t take me wrong, this year was no walk in the park. Actually quite the opposite, but the mind works mysterious ways and maybe that is exactly why I feel this way right now. I got through it.

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The joys of report writing

It’s common knowledge that teacher around the world find writing reports stressful and challenging. I was not expecting it to be any different here. I was also not expecting that every child in our school gets a report that is two pages long and includes individual comments about the progress of the student in every subject also including the highlights of the academic year. So you can imagine my surprise when I opened the Word document and realised just how much work it would be. Far behind were my days in Finland teaching in Year 1 where I would just choose the suitable option from three step assessment, evaluating each subject as a whole. There were no individual comments, actually not even a possibility to comment because it was all done through a system where you would juts input the numbers.

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Welcome to the world of Phonics

I hear sounds in my head. Letters float around in the air in front of my eyes and anytime the bump into each other, they make a sound. Ay, oy, ar, ow, ey.

I wake up and I immediately feel restless. Another dream about sounds. I sit up although it’s way too early to wake up and think about what is happening. Words in English that once seemed so simple now haunt me. I search for the correct sounds day and night. I draw buttons and boxes to try to make sense of the words in a way I had never before. “Welcome to the world of Phonics!” I say to myself before laying back down hoping to get some more rest.

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