In a class of her own

There are many opportunities to volunteer in schools. Running clubs and activities, supporting in the classroom or with reading, being part of the Parent and Teachers Association, right the way through to being a Governor. People choose to volunteer for lots of reasons. They may be retired, have a pupil at the school, or want to help and support young people. Those of a working age may find themselves at a work crossroads and volunteering may provide the bridge to a new career. I went to Greswell Primary School in Denton this week and met a volunteer called Ed. Ed used to work in engineering and has now decided on a career change to work in schools. He is now volunteering to get the experience he needs to be a teaching assistant. When I arrived Ed had been supporting a group of pupils with their reading and was now listening to some from Year 1 read individually. The timing was uncanny because I had just presented the breakfast show on Tameside Radio and had interviewed Gillian Simm, a Schools Performance and Standards Officer and Executive Headmistress, who was explaining why reading was so difficult and the importance of practice to improve reading skills. Each pupil came to see Ed in the library to pick a new book and to read a few pages aloud. I was very impressed how Ed was doing some of the things Gillian had suggested, asking questions, talking about the pictures and helping the children to sound out words to read for themselves and coming in to help if they were struggling too much. I got my chance to give it a go and it was very rewarding. I was nervous at first especially when Ed asked one young man to “read to Miss”. I am not used to being a ‘Miss’ for a start and confused the pupils by saying my name was Louise. They were then unsure what to call me so I offered Louise, Miss or Mrs Croombs. They opted for Louise and I didn’t blame them but I remember at school when adults told you their first names and how weird that felt to not call them Sir or Miss. Supporting with reading was easier than I thought and the pupils seemed happy that Ed and I were interested in sitting and listening to them.

I nipped home at lunch to get my wellies because it was forest schools in the afternoon. Forest Schools are a chance for the children to work in nature and learn new skills and because of that is outside. It was Mrs Flattery’s year 1 class’ last day of forest school. They were full of excitement carrying the equipment outside. I wasn’t too excited because the weather forecast had predicted hail. Ed prepared the fire while I took a group to find twigs and branches as fuel. All my Girl Guiding days came flooding back and I explained about what would be the best ‘fuel’ for the fire before returning to the group. The pupils were then to make dream catchers with twigs and wool, art in nature. There was a huge queue of children around me needing help with their wool but once they got going they created the most beautiful things with wild flowers inside them. We had to get the fire going again and I helped the children to roast marshmallows showing them where best to roast it and how to keep safe, rather than them just wafting them in the smoke. I asked Ed what was the most important thing you needed as a volunteer teaching assistant and he said “patience”. I had certainly felt that when 10 children had wanted help with tying wool on their dream catchers. He said that having his own children had helped and gave him an interest in working with children. After the marshmallows were gobbled and washed down with a hot chocolate, the pupils had some free play. They seemed so happy in nature and had a wonderful afternoon. Just as we were about to finish the heavens opened and we huddled underneath a shelter that the adults had helped build until it was time to go. I joked that no one would guess what we had been doing. Mouths covered in chocolate, muddy wellies and a distinct smell of smoke followed us as we went back to the classroom to change. It was a rewarding day. If you have patience and like children, volunteering in a school could be for you. Rewarding, fun and you could be building the young people of the future, and who knows a new career might be at the end of it.