As I stood in the school hall, during an assembly on National Languages Day, I felt such pride, but equally astonishment at how the children had embraced the task of saying hello in as many languages as possible. I watched in amazement as the 34th child stood up in front of the school to share his knowledge of yet another greeting from a different country. I don’t know whether it was the sheer volume of children or their confidence whilst standing in front of the school and speak a different language that struck me most, but whatever it was, made me reflect on how I had come to be in this moment.
My career journey has led me to the current privilege of working Head of EAL and MFL at a junior school, doing a job I love and sharing powerful moments like this with the children and staff. From a young age, I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher. Even as a young child, I arranged my playroom as a classroom regularly instructed my younger sister to answer the register I had created, before completing the workbook I had spent time designing earlier that day.
My experience as a school pupil further fuelled my desire to teach. I grew up loving school and being keen to learn each day. However, it was one teacher and lesson, which had the most profound impact and altered the way I viewed teaching. I suppose It allowed me to realise that language learning, in fact, all learning can take many forms and the most practical and sometimes unexpected lessons, can be the most memorable. My language teachers were all energetic, enthusiastic and clearly possessed great passion, but one, took this a step further. We had been studying French songs and translating Edith Piaf songs. This culminated in our teacher taking us up to the roof of our tower block building, 16 floors high to song je ne regret rien at the top of our voices. Not only was this memorable but 26 years on, I still know the words! Without realising it at the time, we were learning and having fun. I went on to pass my degree, followed my heart and achieved my ambition of becoming a teacher. Along the way, I seized every opportunity to spend time abroad taking up chances to shadow teachers in a French school, studied a semester of my degree in Germany and even completed a teaching practice abroad. Each of these endeavours only increased my passion for languages.
One experience, which led me to really see the value and merit of learning different languages, but also had an impact on my teaching, was my time working in an international school in Germany. It was truly incredible to watch children as young as five learning lessons in English, then playing and conversing with one another in German, English and other languages. Even those who did not share a nationality found a common language to converse in. Whilst teaching a multitude of nationalities, it became imperative to use practical methods and concrete resources. This is something I have kept with me and truly believe makes a difference to children’s understanding and recall of what they have learnt.
After seventeen years of teaching, I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed my job more than now. The key to my happiness is watching the children experience the same joy and enthusiasm that I felt from learning all those years ago. I know that feeling of rushing to prepare lessons having just finished the pile of marking and trying to plan for a range of children with an array of learning needs. Practical lessons not only make concepts more memorable, they are also accessible to all children. In language lessons this has become a reality in a variety of ways: children have created restaurant role plays using self- created French menus, used Euros to pay, whiteboard cloths as waiter’s towels and flowers from my classroom window as table decorations. A reminder that resources do not need to cost a lot! The children’s confidence peaked in this situation as they used the vocabulary we had learnt in previous lessons to order their food. Other practical lessons involved taking Nursery out to hunt for colourful autumn leaves, which we then said the French colours for and sorted into groups. A year two class recently learnt French fruits by guessing my smoothie ingredients and which fruits were in my shopping bag, before writing their own smoothie recipes. Following this lesson, one child demonstrated they had retained the knowledge from this encounter by going on to make a smoothie at home with their family following their French recipe and naming the fruits they used for their parents in French. Another lesson saw children directing each other around the classroom in French, making giving directions suddenly more important, when needing to avoid classroom obstacles. Although my lessons are language based, I believe that the principle of using practical methods to teach any subject creates a lasting impression on children and makes the content of what’s being taught more memorable. Whether it is using smarties for ratio work in Mathematics or bringing History to life through drama we as teachers need to unleash our creativity to provide as many opportunities for practical learning.
I am living proof that having inspiring teachers, who bring learning to life and explain not just concepts, but also take the time to set up real, practical learning opportunities can result in the development of an individual with a lifelong love of learning. I implore all those in our profession to remember the teachers who inspired them and perhaps had an influence on us choosing this vocation. It is important to remember that the passions we ignite now can lead to lifelong interests and have a genuine lasting impact. In my opinion, practical is powerful, memorable and above all accessible to all children.
Natalie Burdett @Natalieburdett9 is a MFL and EAL coordinator and at Akeley Wood junior school. I am fortunate enough to be able to spend my days sharing my enthusiasm and teaching languages to children from Nursery to Year 6.
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