Lesson 32 on A for Effort
Before the government got so exasperated that it set up Ofsted to bully teachers into compliance, it tried to improve teaching standards by employing “Teacher Advisors”. These acted as trainers in their area of expertise, by visiting schools and working with the staff to develop new approaches.
I was appointed in a London borough to help teachers meet the demands of the growing multilingual school population. There had been a sudden increase in pupils from New Commonwealth backgrounds, largely due to a change in legislation. At one time, if you had a Commonwealth passport there were no restrictions at all. So, when immigration controls were proposed, workers rushed to bring their families into the country, to prevent them being permanently separated by the new legislation.
Nowadays it is hard to credit how little we knew about the backgrounds of our new pupils, but I can assure you we were hugely ignorant.
One older teacher with whom I worked had made great efforts to respond to the demands of her very much altered classroom and neighbourhood. In particular she planned to involve her pupils in an end of term production, to which the parents would be invited.
I arrived at the school to scenes of great excitement. The central hall had been decorated to reflect an eclectic Easter theme. Lovingly created artwork included daffodils and ducklings together with painted eggs, wooden crosses on green hills and empty tombs with attendant angels.
I was anxiously accosted as soon as I crossed the threshold.
“Have you remembered to bring the video camera, Mrs Wise? ”
This item was a cumbersome expensive piece of equipment in those days, not something in your handbag on your phone. Only important major events merited such permanent recording.
I got everything set up, the parents were settled, the rest of the infants were issued in to sit on the floor and the production began.
It was only then I realised what my colleague had done to ensure that all the cultures in her class could be represented – she had arranged an enactment of the traditional Easter story and colour coded the characters.
Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers were played by the white pupils, the Jews were portrayed by those from Asian backgrounds, with Jesus being the tallest Muslim boy, and the Afro-Caribbean pupils she had inventively included, dressed in flowing white, as an angel choir.
The parents and I were mesmerised. The angel choir sang and swayed in time to hearty Victorian hymns. The carefully memorised dialogue was declaimed. The infants gazed bemused. I seem to remember the story had been much simplified, edited and adapted to suit the 15 minute time frame and the age of the participants and audience. We didn’t have a crucifixion.
And afterwards, as the parents gathered round for tea and a slice of
Easter cake, there was nothing but praise for the pupils and their teacher.
Thankfully the video equipment failed to record.