Fellow NQTs, congratulations; the first half-term is behind us!
For most, the final week of the first half-term was probably a tiring one; one of those weeks that seems to last forever, like the never-ending moment spent waiting for sleep on Christmas Eve (yes, I am thinking about Christmas already!).
My final week happened to be spent on a school trip in Wales.
The trip was part of the transition work for our year 7s, geared towards bonding the pupils – while developing resilience and teamwork skills to prepare them for the challenges of secondary school – through out-of -doors activities designed to push them out of their comfort zone.
Aside from revealing my own gullibility (how was I supposed to know the instructor was joking about the tree bark tasting of strawberries? Or that there is no such thing as a small, hairless creature with long claws, often seen crossing roads, called an Araf?), the trip offered an opportunity to get to know the girls outside of our natural school habitat. It was illuminating in many ways.
I had not realised that, to children raised in the city, the countryside is “dirty” (“mud Miss, gross!”) and the city is “clean”. One pupil’s response to being offered a succulent looking blackberry to eat was: “But Miss, you don’t know where it’s been!”
Even after I pointed out that I knew exactly where it had been (growing right there on the blackberry bush) and that we have far less of an idea where fruit that is packaged in plastic in the supermarket has been she was still unconvinced.
The week also shed some light on how our pupils react when faced with challenges. One such challenge involved me being boated out with a group of 12 pupils to a small section of sand in the middle of an estuary with some barrels, wooden poles, rope and oars and attempting to build a raft to carry us back to dry land. Despite our wet feet and the cheek-whipping winds, we were having good fun. The pupils set to work with enthusiasm, carefully tying special knots that they had been shown by our instructor; I was very impressed.
All seemed to be going fine, until the tide came in. Where a moment or so ago we had been stood on squelchy sand, suddenly our ankles were swallowed by swirling sea water, which was rising, fast!
At this point, panic set in. Equipment began floating away in all directions; two girls had to ditch raft building in order to catch floating barrels and oars before they were swept away.
Urgent action was called for. Our, until that point, calm and composed instructor began frantically calling at pupils to tie this knot here, hold that pole there. I have to hand it to the pupils, despite the evident fear rising in all our voices, they continued to battle on; by the time we were ready to board we were waist-deep in freezing water.
Unfortunately after all the excitement with the raft building it seemed we were not incredibly skilled with the oars; after 30 minutes of paddling and going nowhere except in tiny circles, our instructor admitted defeat and called for a boat to tow us in.
For a tiny moment I was worried the pupils would feel like they’d failed, but the stories they got to tell the rest of the year group at dinner by far made up for that.
If you get the opportunity to go on a similar adventure with pupils from your school, take it. Just make sure you don’t lick any trees.
Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of maths from a south London secondary school.