This one is from Teach Reading and Writing which is a special publication from the people at http://www.teachprimary.com looking at…well…teaching reading and writing. It also features Michael Morpurgo, Malorie Blackman, Michael Rosen, Jacqueline Wilson, Roger McGough, Anthony Horowitz and Lauren Child but you can flip through that stuff to get to the back where I am. Saved you some time there. However, if you really are interested in what those guys have to say (whoever they are) you can view the entire mag here:
My eldest started primary last September. Me, being an English teacher and all, decided to prep him before he set off on his merry journey through the deep dark forest of burgeoning literacy. I tried to get him to recognise the letters in his name, gave him a go at writing using all manner of fun and permanently-staining writing materials (‘wipe-clean’ indeed, our walls now look like a Jackson Pollock cast-off) and was generally insanely enthusiastic about the whole endeavour. Unfortunately my boy was having absolutely none of it. He would stare at me blankly and then just wander off, happily dismembering any superhero action figures he could get his felt-tip-caked hands on.
This perturbed me greatly. I was greatly perturbed.
Because I work at the other end of the spectrum. I’m currently in FE, have previously worked in PRUs and adult training and I witness, first-hand, the devastating consequences that a lack of skill in reading and writing can have. I see what it does to people’s’ life chances, their confidence and their self-worth. Believe me, it’s far from pretty.
So I fretted. I attempted to cajole, bribe, persuade, order…all to no avail. Term started and his Cs looked like spaghetti, he would treat his starter book with no less than complete disdain and the alphabet was about as interesting to him as a superhero action figure that no longer had any of its appendages attached. I didn’t hold up much hope for him. I was a teacher of 12 years, I had taught in some of the toughest educational establishments in the country, and I, with my great skill and endless fake enthusiasm, had gotten nowhere. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
I was beaten. And if I had failed, what chance did his poor reception teachers have of unlocking the mysteries of the written word?
Well, every chance as it turns out. Seemingly without effort (although I know that’s not in any way the case). Ego-deflating? Most definitely, but also a great relief and a complete joy to see. My son is now sounding, spelling, writing and reading the hell out of just about anything that comes his way. The change is remarkable.
It’s a special type of everyday magic that repeats itself countless times up and down the country on a daily basis to such an extent it has almost become mundane and I, for one, am extremely grateful for it. Although, I suspect the term ‘magic’ is doing those classroom practitioners a massive injustice. Literacy is a hard won prize, but it is one that is absolutely worth the great time and effort spent.
Just ask the people who struggle.
I could spend the rest of this piece filling it with quotes from my students about how much they regret not being able to read and write to a level sufficient enough to get them to the place they want to be. I could fill it with words of anger and frustration at the missed opportunities or the shame of not being able to read a bedtime story to their own children. I could fill it describing the hours upon hours of time wasted on strategies and excuses for not being able to do the thing that so many of us take for granted. It would be easy; I have heard variations on the theme hundreds of times.
It’s this that has left me of the firm belief that there are few more important tasks in education than teaching a child how to read and write. It is truly fundamental not just for the child but in the shaping of the adult that the child will become. Literacy allows you access to the wider world and the opportunities that world contains. The students who I see in many cases (and for a variety of different reasons) are denied those opportunities and that denial is keenly felt, often internalised, and can eat away at them.
So I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the primary teachers out there. The weavers of words and the shapers of sentences for creating the magic (yes, I think I will call it that, because, deep down, that is what it seems like to me). A magic that allows children to be able to experience their world in its full glory, a magic that can clarify, crystallize, and transmit thought, a magic that allows the communication of experience from one person to another. And for getting my son to sort out his Cs. That on its own must have taken a pretty powerful spell or two.
We are much obliged.
Thanks for reading.