Matt Hill recounts his time as a teaching assistant at City Heights Academy. A role he found challenging and tremendously rewarding.
We often wish we could go back in time to repeat our pasts, amend our mistakes and prevent our wrong-doings. In a way, my time at City Heights has given me the opportunity to do this.
It began with a memorable assembly in the Great Hall on a drab Monday morning. Two Old Alleynians, Tommy Devlin and Solomon Ofosu, joined Jim Henderson, the President (Headmaster) of Tulse Hill, to advertise the school’s new state-of-the-art buildings and tell anecdotes about life within them. Not long afterwards, I had volunteered and my sense of enthusiasm was reawakened by the awe, enjoyment and fascination of the 50 over- excited pupils I joined for activities week in Richmond Park at the end of their Summer Term. The next thing I knew, I was looking forward to taking on the responsibilities of a classroom assistant as I joined the new Head of Year 9 and a group of other new staff for the first day of the school year. In many ways, it felt as though I had returned to the classroom as a student, for I was having to learn what was being taught in class. As a new member of staff, I quickly realised the need to earn respect rapidly from teachers and students, as well as to keep track of who I was lending pens to! When the school bell rang at the end of that day I was relieved, but felt I could judge it a success. I had managed to teach something: tundra, the word for icy wasteland. The proof of this came when we played hangman towards the end of the afternoon and a boy used it. Just as important in the early days was learning how to interact with pupils appropriately. The fine line between classroom banter that can lead to increased productivity and hysteria that stops any work all together is one that is often crossed – but can also, thankfully, be crossed back over. I was given much encouragement by my colleagues, who made me feel I could rise to the challenges in my classroom and deal with them in a way that would assist the teachers in doing their job. My main role in the academy was to support a boy in Year 9 whose rare medical condition meant he had learning difficulties with comprehension tasks. I came to realise that he needed help not only because of this, but also because English was not his first language. To help him overcome these barriers, I had to be by his side in lessons such as History, English and Geography because his attention span was no longer than a few minutes. I had to adapt my approaches to bring him out of his various and frequent daydreams, depending on the level of noise in the room and how I interpreted his mood was that day. On some days, he would respond to almost all my questions only by shaking his head or a shuffling in his seat. On others, he would try to guess the answer without me having finished the question and the answer might be on a different subject altogether. This was at the beginning of the school year. Throughout the first term, I had to be rudimental in my methods; I couldn’t take any knowledge for granted, and I had to be cautious about using colloquialisms that might confuse him. After weeks of hard work, dedication and, at times, frustration (felt by both of us), I believe we prevailed. He now raises his hand in a lesson if there is a questions to which he knows the answer, and he has begun to make friends with other children in the year who are serious Super Smash Bros fans. So, with the opportunity to go to school again, I found I went back to lessons with a greater appreciation of all subject areas, and certainly enjoyed the Year 9 syllabus much more aged 19 than at 14. The experience has taught me about myself and my community and I hope that Dulwich and City Heights can continue to enjoy an evolving, symbiotic relationship through which they continue to learn from each other.
Matt Hill OA (04-15)
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