Lesson 63 on The virtues of forward planning
Next door to Owen’s class was the reception class. Mrs Reception was one of the best teachers I ever came across in my entire career. She had trained for teaching later in life when her own children were young and she brought with her a rich store of practical wisdom.
Like almost all the teachers in Owen’s school she had been born in the area and had been brought up on one of the town’s many estates. She had a keen sense of the social niceties of these. Her own estate had been one of the oldest, but was towards the middle of the respectability spectrum. She was warm in her childhood recollections.
“There was always something happening,” she would reminisce. “It was like Dallas without the money!” (Dallas being the popular soap opera of the time)
The estate where the school was situated, Mrs Reception assured me, was second from bottom in the town hierarchy. There had been some staffroom disagreement as to which came bottom.
Mrs Reception was very concerned about Ofsted. This was her first post and she had only a few years experience, but she was a great one for organisation. Believing it best to leave nothing to chance, she soon had her plans laid out. She would train her pupils to shine. She was determined nobody for whom she was responsible would ever be named or shamed.
Central to her training regime was her special cupboard. In Mrs Reception’s cupboard was a truly marvellous treasure house of treats. There were biscuits in order of merit for rewarding whole class achievement, ranging from rich tea for completed but average work to chocolate hobnobs for excellence. There were selection packs of small chocolate bars and suchlike for group awards and larger bars for outstanding individual achievement.
Every treat had to be earned, but there was an eclectic list of criteria for reward. You could get a reward for not gurning and screwing up your face when you were in a bad mood. You could be rewarded for taking your turn and not complaining. Not interrupting or shouting out for a whole afternoon could gain some individuals an extra biscuit.
The chief thing was that it was fair. Mrs Reception knew her pupils’ individual strengths and weaknesses, and the whole class appreciated this. People were rewarded for doing things they found difficult, whether this was school work or social behaviour. Also the desired improvement had to be maintained over a period of time and Mrs Reception was ace at judging how long a period justified a reward.
The pupils in Mrs Reception’s class had few advantages in life, so she provided as many as she could in school, and not just of the confectionary nature. Everything was in her room was organised and secure. People knew what was going to happen when. Where many homes were insecure and chaotic, Mrs Reception gave pupils a safe, predictable place in which to learn. And my goodness, did they learn!
With regard to Ofsted, she knew her pupils were thrown by unexpected visitors, especially ones who looked like any form of officialdom. At the end of one day catching sight of me in the activity area with a notebook and Biro in my hand, she had a flash of inspiration.
” Now you know, children, that I’ve told you about the special visitors we’re going to be having. Well, Mrs Wise is going to come in for our storytime just like one of them. She’s going to write down in her special book the names of who behaves and who doesn’t behave (looking pointedly at a few usual suspects) and then afterwards she will give me her special list.”
Put on the spot I assumed a proper gravity and stance to obey my instructions. Pupils remembered their very best carpet behaviour and, mindful of the cupboard behind me, performed like little stars.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.