Moving forward And Slowing Down:
An Infant Teacher's Perspective
Schools are back; the new year is underway! I am reflecting at the end of the two-week settling-in period for my Junior Infants and looking forward to next week when they will be in school for the entire day for the rest of the year. Of course, I am thinking of this from the infant's perspective as I am a junior infant teacher, but these thoughts apply to every class! And it dawned on me that I had not heard the phrase we were all singing from the rooftops this time last year – 'Slow down to catch up.'
Last September, all teachers were heavily encouraged to slow down, follow the children and catch up on what they had missed in the previous year. Teachers across Ireland welcomed this. After all, our children missed just under 50% of their schooling in the academic year of 2019-2020. Imagine making a curry and leaving out half of the ingredients; it's just not going to taste the same. So the acknowledgment that our children were not expected to be at the same level after missing half of their face-to-face schooling was an understandable expectation. Of course, school management and teachers worked as hard as they could to provide the best provision online, but there is no denying the children still missed an enormous amount.
'Slow down to catch up' to me meant scrapping my timetables and expectations, and instead, I looked at the children in front of me. Of course, I always do this, but last year I really looked at my children. Not at the maths books or the whole school plan. The 'slow down' advice from the Department Of Education removed my fear of 'what will the inspector think?' because it gave me the confidence to follow the children's lead. I observed them every day, every lesson. I planned forward based on my observations and not on what I thought I should be teaching, not because of curriculum time guidelines or external expectations. I looked at what my children needed and not what someone or some plan or book told me they needed. I forgot about what an inspector might expect to see should they visit my classroom. It resulted in an incredible first term. It was a term filled with quality learning where I saw so much progress in my class, and we had fun moving at their pace. The children led the way, and I guided, and gently pushed, encouraged, and nudged where it was needed, rather than me leading at the front and my little ducks following neatly, blindly, in a nice row!
And then January happened… and school didn't, or at least in person schooling didn't! Schools began returning in march and we worked on as best we could. Filling the potholes once again and doing what was within our control to repair another broken year. But we all know about that and I am sure none of us have forgotten the road we have been down over the last two years just yet! And I did my absolute best, as I know we all did, but remote learning is just not the same.
We have come back to school this year, and the considerable focus on slowing down, which was so present 12 months ago, seems to be a distant memory. Yet the children in front of us are more deeply affected than our classes last year were. Not only did they miss almost half of their year in 2019-2020, but they also had a large chunk of time taken from their schooling last year too!
As I sat and looked at my junior infants this week, I realized that a vast proportion of their complete preschool education had been taken away from them. If you have 3rd class, they have missed a massive chunk of their 1st/2nd class cycle. Whatever class you have, think of what they have missed – it is enormous! And while we can't wave a magic wand to give it back to them, it needs to be acknowledged and our expectations altered to reflect that acknowledgment.
Were our infants truly 'ready for school' this year? I can't help but think of the effects of the last two years, and how we are likely to see these shining through in our classrooms for some time to come. I know that no two classes are the same and that we shouldn't compare, and while I'm trying not to compare, it is increasingly hard not to wonder and consider the ‘what if’s?’. As infant teachers (like myself) face into ‘full days’ next week, it's undoubtedly going to be challenging for many of the children. Many of us may be nowhere near the expectations of good routines that we would generally have established after our two weeks of ‘settling in’ time. Many children will need additional time to embrace routines that junior infant classes in previous years may have grasped long before now. One would have to assume that there will be an increase in emerging needs as direct consequences from the periods of remote learning and the absence of socialisation opportunities for our children.
And after all that waffling, what is my message? Well, my message is to continue to slow down, to catch up. Look at the children in front of you and give them what they need, not what a curriculum or a book tells you they need. These children need our support to regain and rebuild what was lost, reduced or missed out on during Covid-19 closures and restrictions. While we slowly get back to normality, one step at a time, our children also need to do this -, one step at a time. We can not approach this year as we did in September 2019! Too much has been lost, missed out on! But we have also gained in some regards! For sure, I have recognised an increase in my own confidence in following the lead of my children. After seeing the positive impact that this approach has had on their progress - my approach to teaching, my job satisfaction, and the children's happiness, to name but a few - all of which have contributed in boosting my confidence towards following their lead!
If your class, no matter the age group, needs work on an area or skill, but it doesn't quite fit into where they should be, slow down and follow their lead! Covid may be starting to drift into the background slowly, but the tale it has left behind on many will only begin to be told in the weeks, months and years to come!
Thank you to Lorraine from All Things Primary for sharing a wonderful lens into instruction in the infant classroom, particularly important for post-pandemic times we are travelling towards.
Lorraine is an Irish primary school teacher and Deputy Principal with a wealth of experience across the primary school.
Lenses into Learning is the guest post feature of this website. Here, educators spanning a variety of educational sectors share opinion pieces, recommendations and thematic articles to inspire conversation, development and learning.