I thought I would share with you an Interview I have done with someone in my prefered career choice, a teacher.
Me: Hello, I know that you have been a primary school teacher for many years and, as I am considering becoming a primary school teacher when I have completed my degree I wonder if you would agree to answering a few questions which could help mw to determine whether this would be a suitable career for me to contemplate.
Ms Wilkes: Certainly, but before I answer your questions I will give you some information about my teaching experience. I’ve been working with primary school children for more than thirty years. I have taught across the whole range of primary education from the three year olds when they first enter the nursery class to the level 6 children who are about to move into the world of secondary education.
Me: Why did you take up teaching as a career?
Ms Wilkes: Firstly, my own primary school experience was a full and happy one. Also, as a teenager I enjoyed looking after children and decided I would like to enter one of the caring professions. Teaching seemed to be the obvious choice for me. I have to admit that the long summer holidays and the job security which went with teaching helped to make up my mind.
Me: One often reads and hears reports about deteriorating discipline in schools, I realise that many of the statistics apply to secondary education but have you encountered many problems in the primary sector?
Ms Wilkes: Although standards of discipline often reflect the ambience of a school, each primary teacher imposes his/her standards within the classroom and the majority of children respond to consistent but fair rules. Obviously there will be difficult moments when the teacher might need the support of other agencies.
Me: What do you think are the qualities that make a good primary teacher?
Ms Wilkes: This is a question which is almost impossible to answer. There is no magic formula for producing a successful teacher. Some are loud, extrovert and exciting whereas others are more patient and have a much gentler approach. Nevertheless, they have something in common, which is their enthusiastic attitude to their teaching and they also have that special knack of discovering talents and interests and they provide encouragement and praise for all achievements.
Me: As art is my principal interest and also the subject of my degree, could you tell me how important it is in the primary school curriculum?
Ms Wilkes: Art is very important in the social and intellectual development throughout the primary school years. There are no rigid subject boundaries which you will remember from your secondary school days, so art and crafts can be used to enhance a wide range of subjects as well as being an important aspect of the curriculum in its own right.
Me: At what age do you think children are the most receptive to new techniques and experimentation?
Ms Wilkes: During their primary school years most children enjoy trying something new. However, the younger the child, one would generally say, the more enthusiasm they demonstrate. There are always a few in any new situation, hover at the edge and have to be persuaded to participate. There are also some who find the idea of getting dirty, abhorrent, probably from parental or social influences. As children reach the end of their primary school years, they do become more discerning and self critical and are reluctant to take part because they feel they are not as good at the subject as the rest of their peer group.
Me: Do you think that children should be made aware of the work of famous artists at the primary school age?
Ms Wilkes; I feel that children should have as many suitable experiences as possible throughout the primary school stage. Well chosen, suitably displayed work will be assimilated and judged by the children themselves and can often lead to casual group or class discussion.
Me: Does the attitude of the children towards art and their willingness to participate vary according to their social and family concern?
Ms Wilkes: It is very difficult to answer this question with a general statement. Children from troubled backgrounds often find concentration difficult and the art they produce can sometimes be recognised as an emotional outburst. Some young children will use only one colour or cover all their work with black. Others enjoy the freedom of scribbling with big crayons or felt tips on large sheets of paper. Children from more stable backgrounds tend to have a wider range of out of school activities and this, coupled with a longer concentration span, helps them to represent in a pictorial fashion at a much earlier stage in their development.
Me: Having achieved my degree and possessing the required subjects at G.C.S.E level, I would have a choice of training within the classroom or taking another university course, which would include periods of teaching practice in a number of different schools. Which would you advise?
Ms Wilkes: This is a difficult choice and it is a decision which you will have to make for yourself. Going directly into the classroom equips you with many of the practicalities of teaching and you would have immediate contact with a group of children that you would get to know well. However, your experience would be limited to one school in one particular locality. To experience the wider picture of primary education the university choice would be preferable.
Me: Having qualified as a teacher and found a suitable teaching position what are the prospects of career advancement?
Ms Wilkes: Most dedicated teachers can further their career prospects if, as well as their everyday classroom duties, they are willing to undertake extra curricula activities or take on extra responsibilities. With your artistic talents it should be possible for you to contribute to school projects, drama with its demand for scenery and costume, and after school art activities. You must remember that the further up the scale you travel, you move away from the children and into the field of finance and administration.
Me: If I do decide to follow the path of primary school teaching, I would like to continue with my own studio work. Do you think the demands of the job would prevent me from giving time to this?
Ms Wilkes: I realise that the teaching profession is renowned for its long holidays, but at the present time much paperwork is attached to the job and that eats radically into one’s spare time. Christmas and Easter holidays are soon used up when catching up with any back log. There is also thought and preparation for the forthcoming weeks of teaching. The summer holidays do provide some much needed breathing space. But, if you consider that many women run their family life along with this demanding timetable, I see no reason why you should not find time to follow your own interests. In fact, teachers who are passionate about their hobbies often have much enthusiasm for their teaching jobs.
Me: And, finally, what would you consider are the bigger pitfalls for a student about to teach her first art lesson?
Ms Wilkes: The greatest key to successful lesson in primary school is preparation. Be enthusiastic but not too ambitious. You must ensure that everything you need is readily available. Monitor carefully the use of sharp implements, craft knives or scissors. Don’t be too rigid with your expectations; leave scope for the contributions of your pupils. Watch the time and be aware of all that clearing up! Remember that children thrive on praise and encouragement.
Me: Thank-you for your very useful advice and for giving up your time to answer my questions.