Image Source: Tes News
By Chrystianna Konidis | @ckonidis
A cool Friday morning breeze drifts through a spacious inner-Adelaide suburbs schoolyard, as the sound of bouncing tennis balls and lively chatter signal that another prized weekend draws near.
Dozens of the littlest students in the school clutch their oversized reading bags and eagerly await the sight of their teacher to invite them inside for another day of singing, drawing and play-based learning, known to students as Friday fun.
At 8:27 am, a bright-eyed figure known as Miss Nicki* arrives to save the cluster of petite cheery faces from the autumn cold as the classroom door unlocks, ready for another busy day.
A teacher’s personality often shows most clearly through their commitment to encouraging independence and creativity in the classroom.
“I try to encourage the kids to kick-start their daily routines by guiding them to their seat placements and helping them begin their Daily 5 activities,” Nicki said.
Nicki individually greets her students each morning as they settle into their morning routines.
“The first few weeks of the school year can be very overwhelming for any child trying to adapt to a new environment,” she said.
Nicki, 24, began her teaching career at Adelaide Primary School*, an inner-Adelaide public primary school hosting over 700 students.
Completing her teaching degree in mid-2017, Nicki’s official journey as an educator began as a second-grade teacher, with a wealth of experience in relief teaching, student placements, out of school care, and singing teaching.
Amid the colourful walls filled with charts of the alphabet, endless shelves of crafts and puzzles, and priceless artworks hung across the classroom ceiling with tasteful rainbow pegs, Nicki still has an important job to do.
Fostering the learning of 25 five and six-year-old children who are sparkling new to a proper classroom setting is not as easy as it sounds.
Image Source: Woodville Primary School, Victoria
Nicki said she quickly realised that many of her reception students had come from various different levels of development with many not knowing how to read or write at all.
“For me to observe their individual learning needs and where they’re at socially and emotionally, whilst trying to get them excited about brand-new concepts like writing numbers, is definitely a juggling act that I honestly did not expect,” she said.
Devoting 40 hours a week of intense contact teaching time with a full classroom, for 40 weeks a year, is not a career for the fainthearted.
“Being a reception teacher is something that university textbooks and theory could never have trained me for,” Nicki said.
“It’s the hands-on experience of being thrown in the deep-end to be responsible for the learning of our school’s youngest students that has brought me such invaluable experience.
“Teaching reception is a world of its own, but I really love the challenge.”
So how does one single teacher handle a bustling and unpredictable classroom with an extensive range of learning needs?
Nicki breezes through the morning with ease, chatting with parents, keeping a distracted group of girls on task, and delegating the most important job of all — taking the lunch order box to the canteen. It seems like second-nature to her, but she tells a different story.
“Honestly, our teaching team have felt the pressure from new staff budget cuts,” she said.
More than 3000 public school teachers recently went on strike in Adelaide, as they rallied for more resources to cater to special needs students and better working conditions.
Nicki said she supports the statement of a strike as she now must adapt to fewer resources in her classroom.
“Not having an SSO [School Services Officer] has impacted on my classroom dynamics and our ability as educators to encourage collaborative learning experiences when we’re needed to focus on students that need one-on-one assistance.”
Fellow year one teacher Kimberly* participated in the November strike.
“Trying to deal with 24 students whilst managing the special needs of two goes beyond the expectations of a single primary teacher. It’s not expected of private school teachers,” Kimberly said.
“You can definitely see the difference now without that extra support.”
Nicki has been trained in her undergraduate teaching degree to recognise and nurture diverse learning styles and continues to develop initiatives to capture her students’ attention on their journey of loving to learn.
A mountain of colourful folders on her desk loaded with details of each child’s progress in areas of reading, numeracy, and writing attests to Nicki’s strong work ethic and care for her class.
“One piece of advice I was given in my placement was that every student is so different in the way they behave and absorb new information and it’s something that has stuck with me because it is so true,” Nicki said.
When it comes to creating group tasks and personalised learning plans for each child, Nicki is careful to not disrupt newfound routines but uses the trusted trial-and-error method to observe how she can best support their individual needs.
Alisha, the mother of Chris aged six, says that Nicki’s creative teaching style and dedication to supporting her son’s school journey has improved his focus and behaviour at home.
“Chris was very nervous to transition to school and was behind in his number recognition, but he has grown so much in Miss Nicki’s class and loves coming every day. Some weekends he gets frustrated that it’s not time for another day at school,” she said.
The classroom is abuzz as dozens of busybodies organise their new and gleaming school bags overspilling with a flurry of matching drink bottles and over packed lunchboxes — every child’s most important tools of the trade.
The escalating morning chatter of Reception N suddenly changes pace to a sing-a-long.
“One, two,” sings Miss Nicki.
“Eyes on you!” returns the class.
She beams at the few parents still lingering in her classroom to signal that their time is now up.
Smothers of kisses and hugs are shared as the class settles in for some serious carpet circle-time to learn about shapes.
Outside, a now silent and motionless school courtyard awaits the next pounding of shiny black school shoes as recess break nears for 25 young and prospering students.
*Names, places and identifying details have been changed for privacy reasons.