Julie Baillie, Primary Education and Professional Development Manager, reminisces about her first day of teaching and the lesson she learnt about the power of story time.
I remember being a young, fresh-faced teacher (with L-plates still firmly attached) sitting nervously in front of my class of 26 brand new Reception students. It was the very first day of school – for both me and them – and I was about to impart some wisdom (or so I hoped). Had my teacher training given me the knowledge and skills to turn this sea of raw talent into budding authors, artists, farmers and scientists?
The little pig-tailed girls wearing pink ribbons and lace-topped socks (it was the eighties after all) were all sitting up straight, hands in laps as I had instructed, waiting for me to ‘teach’ them. They nodded their heads solemnly as I went through our class rules about putting our hands up to speak, taking turns and sitting still with our bottoms on the mat. Learning was a serious business!
As I looked out over my charges, I could sense that not all was as I had hoped. Out of the corner of my eye, I detected constant, restless movement. What was going on? The culprits were like those toys with weighted bottoms – one minute they were upright, next they had over-balanced, and then quick-as-a-flash, they were upright again. But wait, they were all boys. Surely their bottoms were not more uneven than the girls’?
Exhausted from the effort of trying to stay calm and positive, I opened the door for playtime and the boys literally rolled their way out of the classroom.
After playtime, the students re-entered the classroom and took their places, the boys all red-faced and sweaty-haired. I really thought I was witnessing perpetual motion! Anxiously, I viewed my meticulous, to-the-minute plan for the day. Oh no, it was storytime! How would I be able to read with all this commotion? I bravely took my seat in front of the students and opened to the first page of my book, a brand new copy of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.
‘The night Max wore his wolf suit …’ I started to read. Astonishingly, one of the roly-poly boys popped upright, his eyes on the book. I kept reading.
‘I’ll eat you up!’ I bellowed in my best ‘Max’ voice. And another of the roly-poly boys stopped mid-roll and leant forward.
By the time Max came to the place where the wild things are, the rolling had almost stopped. And when the wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws, the students were all still.
Like Max, I had tamed the wild things with magic – not magic tricks, but the magic of words! Their ability to engage, excite and still the moving masses as we read our way through the library was nothing short of a miracle. We had our favourite books, authors and characters. We decorated our classroom as a pirate ship when we read Peter Pan, as the Australian bush for Possum Magic, and yes, as a forest when we read Where the Wild Things Are.
I survived my first day (and many hundreds after that), confident that every time I sat in front of a new class of students at the beginning of the year, the taming of the roly-poly boys would only be a matter of time – story time!
Julie is the Education and Professional Development Manager for the Primary Division of Oxford University Press. Julie led and conducted both stages of the Oxford Wordlist research and continues to work in classrooms, trialling literacy and numeracy resources with students and educators. Prior to joining Oxford University Press, Julie was an early years educator with the South Australian Department of Education and Children’s Services. With over 20 years’ experience in education, Julie has worked at school, district and state levels. She has written curriculum support documents and lead curriculum projects with schools and leaders implementing strategies to support literacy and numeracy improvement.