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Primary Education News
News Behind the timetable: a day in the life of an English teacher
From poetry with year 8 to the opening night of the school play, Simon Smith, an English teacher in a vibrant inner-city school details his school day, from wake up to falling into bed
As I wake up at 6.30am, as I always do, I am already mentally making lists to start planning how I am going to fit everything in and what to prioritise for the day. I rarely get half of it done despite best intentions.
I live in Camberwell in south east London, in a lovely flat with a beautiful garden which I have designed and planted from scratch over the seven years I have lived there. During this hot summer, I eat my breakfast there with the heavy scent of the lilies wafting through. I am a creature of habit and always have porridge with blueberries and a cup of tea in my Hamptons Flag mug. If we run out of blueberries in the week, it is not a good start to my day.
I am lucky as I drive to Deptford Green school and usually pick up my friend and colleague enroute at 7.30am. We have our debrief during the 15 minute drive, talking through issues from yesterday and talk about plans for the school day. We both work in the English department so have got plenty to discuss.
Today we arrive at 7.45am – we always try and get in early so there is actually time to get some planning done before the onslaught of students.
Today is special for several reasons. The first is that I am hosting a debating competition for the whole morning, run by a philosophy organisation Philosophy Foundation in a programme called DebatEd.
So at 9.30am groups of children from six local primary schools flood into our school, which is housed in a brand new building that opened in September 2013. Our school building is stunning but not without problems. There are four floors and hardly anyone is allowed a lift key so on days like this, when there are so many students to get around the school all day I find myself running up and down so many flights of stairs. It honesty feels like I've run a mini marathon or am appearing in Challenge Anneka (showing my age here) – no wonder I never need to go to the gym.
I am also the school's gifted and talented (G&T) co-ordinator and I feel privileged to work with a fantastic group of inspirational students, who are school leaders, excellent debaters and journalists for the school Gazette, which I also edit. I run the debate club in school. We are on a programme called Debate Mate which a really fantastic organisation, giving the students training and access to local and regional competitions. Our debate club has got a chance to be the other side of the debating table today, as hosts, mentors and judges in the year 6 students' debates.
The year 6 debate event finishes at 12.30pm. A great success, but exhausting – hope some of those current year 6 students inspired to join the debate club when they start here in September.
I have to go and get ready to teach my year 10 class. I have about 30 minutes to eat lunch, print off resources, respond to urgent emails and have a short rest while I also try to eat my bagel (another of my habits) at my desk.
The unperturbed debate team either have to go back to lessons or to the final preparation for the summer drama production of A Midsummer Night's Dream which has its premiere tonight.
I am very excited about the play as we have an outstanding drama department and some very talented budding actors and actresses in our school, many of whom I know well either through teaching them, or through G&T events. Either myself or one of the gazette team, are going to be writing the review of the show, so I will be watching avidly. I am excited to be attending the opening night.
It's the first lesson after lunch and year 10 are already filing in. Many are late as usual. They are currently learning Of Mice and Men. It is my favourite unit and theirs too. We have so much fun reading it; I and some of the students try to do accents and whoever plays Slim gets to wear a Stetson hat I had from a fancy dress party.
I just hope the fun can translate into excellent controlled assessment grades.
There are some real characters in that class and a couple can be difficult to say the least. One student is challenging but he loves acting and so is very happy playing Curley's wife.
As year 10 leave my classroom, year 8 arrive, not terribly impressed at having to analyse another poem. Luckily they quite like this one: Island Man by Grace Nichols. The line 'Another London day' is one that many of us working here can relate to and actually the students really understood the message in this poem as many had lived in or visited the Caribbean to see family.
After tutor time, we have a long department meeting discussing classes, schemes of work, data and everything we need ready for next year. We are a fully collaborative department and everyone shares all resources and writes schemes of work for us all to use, so we are all lucky to be part of it.
From the end of the meeting until the play starts at 7pm, I have to continue marking year 10 mock exams, an arduous and time consuming job that seems to take us all many days.
At last, a much-needed antidote to marking: the opening night of the school play. Midsummer Night's Dream is an unprecedented success. The direction and all of the characters are just perfect. I particularly enjoyed seeing my year 10 student who was Curley's wife in my Of Mice and Men lesson earlier this afternoon playing Flute and witnessing his creation of the most hilarious characterisation of Thisbe I have ever seen.
Finally, at 8.30pm, the school day has ended. I drive home to my peaceful, cool sanctuary, away from the July heat. I think a bottle of Pinot Grigio and dinner with my flatmate in the garden is definitely in order.
We don't eat until 9.30pm; then it's straight to bed. Tucked up by 10.30pm. Shattered but it was a better day than many.
Simon Smith teaches English at Deptford Green school where he is also gifted and talented coordinator.
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