Well-readhead: First day of school

Friday, 5 March 2010

24 February 2010: ABC journalist Leigh Sales attends the first day of school with ACU graduate Dominique Goode.

ACU graduate Dominique Goode with a student on her first day at Sacred Heart Primary School, Villawood. Photo: Kitty Beale/Catholic Education Office ACU graduate Dominique Goode with a student on her first day at Sacred Heart Primary School, Villawood.
Photo: Kitty Beale/Catholic Education Office.

This extract is from a story published on the ABC's The Drum website.

It's Dominique Goode's first day of school. She's wearing a pretty fuchsia dress and her brown hair is in a bun decorated with a sparkly butterfly clip.

She walks into her kindergarten class with 26 new students, one line of boys and one line of girls. Inside, Dominique puts on a bright orange name tag."Hands up if you can see Miss Goode's name tag around her neck?" she asks the children who sit cross legged on the floor before her. All the hands shoot up.

Today is Miss Goode's first day as a teacher as well as her students' first day of formal education. She graduated from university last year and this is day one at Sacred Heart Primary School in Villawood in Sydney's West.

"Shaun and Patrick and Vivienne and Marc Anthony, you can go over to the table with the blue fish and get your name tags and come back and sit down," she says, pointing to various children in the group.

Miss Goode has already memorised all her students' names from photos taken on orientation day.

"I think it's nice for the children to know that I know who they are," she tells me later.

She's also spent hours creating things to make the classroom inviting: beautiful coloured cut outs of fish and octopuses and other sea creatures are attached to each desk.

"In a moment we're going to sing a song, but first let's look at the smart board and see if we know what day it is," she says as the children stare wide-eyed at the electronic whiteboard.

"Grace, do you know what tomorrow is?" Miss Goode asks.

A girl with enormous dark eyes and black hair puts her fingers in her mouth.

"Can we sing a song?" asks Grace.

"We'll be singing a song soon, but first let's see which day it is tomorrow," says Miss Goode kindly.

"Monday!" shouts out one boy.

"I'm looking for someone with their hand up," Miss Goode says and there's instant silence and a sea of thrusting arms.

Dominique is 26 and when she left school, she worked in retail, unsure what she wanted to do.

"I thought about what I enjoyed doing and one of the things that I enjoyed was being in the classroom," she recalls.

"When I had good teachers, I really loved being there."

She wants to make learning as pleasurable for her students as some of her teachers made it for her.

"My year 4 teacher was amazing," Dominique says.

"Something as boring as learning the states and their capitals, we had to do a trip journal. It was like we were going on a trip, and we had to look up the main attractions for each state. She made it fun."

Dominique may know all the children's names but they don't know each other yet. She has them move into a circle and they sing a song:

What do you think her name is?
I wonder if she knows?
Her name is... [Olivia! Grace! Madeleine!]
Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello!!

On the last line, the children wave at each other giggling. Myles confidently declares his name when it's his turn.

One girl twists her name tag in her hands and screws up her face and says it softly. The same girl sometimes seems to have difficulty following instructions. It may be because she doesn't speak English very well. That's the case with some of the children and many of the parents at Sacred Heart.

Villawood is perhaps best known for its immigration detention centre. The suburb hosts a sizeable Vietnamese community and school notes are sent home in both Vietnamese and English. Some parents are refugees and there's substantial poverty in the area.

"The school provides a lot of support and outreach to some of its families," says Mark Rix of the Catholic Education Office.

"There are, of course, challenges for beginning teachers in every school, including Sacred Heart, but the families are very supportive and appreciative."

The Catholic Education system makes sure that new teachers, like Dominique, get whatever back up they need. They are assigned both a mentor and a supervisor and are given seven days during the year away from the classroom for extra training, research or preparation. Head office understands that the first day in particular the can be daunting.

"It is a very significant event for a beginning teacher," Rix says.

"The realisation that this is their own class and that there is no-one to hand the students back to or jump in if things don't quite go according to plan can weigh on their mind."

Dominique says she's nervous about her first day but it doesn't show.

"I think all that singing and waving deserves a pat on the back, let's pat ourselves on the back," Miss Goode says.

Twenty-six tiny hands copy her move. The bright, friendly principal, Mr Barrington, pops into the classroom to say hello. He invites the kindy kids to visit him in his office later.

"I think these clever people might even remember where my office is, Miss Goode," Mr Barrington says.

"I know! I can show you!" cries one boy.

Ms Goode decides to take the children on a tour of the school to learn where the important places are. Olivia puts her hand up.

"I don't want to go out," she says. "But we're all going," replies Miss Goode brightly.

The first stop is the toilet block. "Now if you need to go to the toilet..." Miss Goode begins. "Miss Goode, I need to go to the toilet," one boy interrupts.

"Okay then boys, put up your hand if you need to go to the toilet," Miss Goode says. Twelve out of 13 boys' hands instantly shoot up.

After they return, shirts now untucked, the class heads to the canteen, where Miss Goode explains that they can buy lunch if they didn't bring it from home.

"I've got money!" declares one little boy.

After stops at the office and the library, the children clop back to their classroom in their shiny new black shoes and oversized maroon and blue uniforms. Once they're seated, Miss Goode asks them to recall what they saw on their walk. "I saw a princess!" Olivia exclaims.

The rest of the day passes quickly: little lunch, activities, big lunch, a rest, music. At 3:15pm, the children excitedly skip out the door and grab their bags, ready to tell mum and dad all about the first day. Miss Goode's first day is over too.

"I'm probably a little bit relieved that it's over and that we can just get into it now," she says.

"But that first day of teaching - I'll never have it back again. I'm pretty wired."