Do you care about the children that you teach? Do you know the conditions they’re living in? Do you know what circumstances surround them? Do you have an insight into their lives? Do you have time for their story? All questions that I asked myself during today’s thinking Saturday.
Of course I care. You don’t get into teaching thinking, “This is my chance to make children’s lives miserable.” At least I hope you don’t. You get into it to make a difference and inspire young lives. You want them to succeed and learn and grow. If Year 8, period 6 on a Friday, would sit down, shut up and listen, perhaps they might get to learn from your expertise. But they don’t. Especially that one kid.
You know that kid has a shocking home life. You’ve heard the stories in the staff room. Nobody expects them to make it to GCSE. They’ll be taken out of your life soon and plonked in a holding space so that the rest of you can get on with your inspirational, life changing lessons. Do you wish it would happen sooner rather than later? Do you dread their presence? Do you describe the last time they were in your room to colleagues over lunch, reminding yourself of how much of a hard time YOU are about to have? Do you want sympathy for the difficult hour that you are about to endure? Do you return home and offload to your family over a hearty, home cooked meal? Do they gasp in horror as you describe what the little shit did to you today?
Do you think about what the little shit is doing right now? I don’t. Once I’m home, the memory I am describing is in the classroom. They exist in school. It’s not that I don’t know they exist outside of school. It’s that I am indulging in a memory that will create sympathy for the hard situation I’M facing. But what about them?
What if that little shit is starving now? No tea and chat in their house because their mother is high again. The food money was spent on heroin and the cupboards are empty. What if that little shit is comforting their siblings that don’t understand what’s wrong with mummy and the hunger pains are crippling them? What if that little shit starts their day with abusive words filling their ears, tears filling their eyes, pain filling their heart and their mind filled with fear? Then they come to school.
Teacher #1 is trying to fill their mind with maths. The teacher isn’t in a good mood. It’s data collection day and they’ve not had a chance to mark anything this week. This kid doesn’t concentrate. They’re disrupting your flow. Detention. That’ll teach the little shit. Teacher #2, attempting to inspire with geography, gets the anger caused by teacher #1. The teacher won’t stand for this insolence. This topic needs to get finished today or they’ll never get onto learning about glaciated regions! Teacher #2 has the kid removed. Easier for everyone. Teacher #3 wants silence for the English test. Teacher #3 doesn’t understand when the kid swears at another kid. The second kid whispered “smelly junkie” at break but Teacher #3 doesn’t know that. Teacher #3 has not got time for childish behaviour. Detention #2 is handed out. The kid’s mind bubbles over as he’s screaming inside, “Who’s gonna pick my sisters up now?” Teacher #3 sends him out. History, RE and a failed detention later, it’s home time for another round of the hunger games.
What’s that kid’s education teaching them?
Chris Kilkenny, an exceptionally bright and intensely interesting human being that I met for the first time this weekend, wrote this. He was that little shit. He found his voice and uses his narrative to explore how teachers can make a difference to children living in poverty. We spent our thinking Saturday using this narrative to explore what we can actually do for the children we work with. Hearing from Chris made it poignantly obvious that, unless you’ve been there, you cannot imagine the pain and fear these kids are going through. He described the first time he saw happiness in other people. He’d been taken to London, to stay in a five star hotel as part of the filming of The Wrong Trainers and he saw happiness in other people’s faces. Happy eating breakfast and even happy to go to work! In his hometown, he didn’t see happiness; he saw pain. Can you imagine his life?
It’s easier to imagine that children in Ghana need our help than the kids in our classes. Far away, sad stuff on Comic Relief is safe to imagine. We can pledge a tenner and pat ourselves on the back while someone else goes out and fixes this. You’ve contributed. Well done.
Poverty in our own back yard… poverty that we could really do something about if we wanted, that’s not comfortable. That’s too real and anyway you do tell them what they need to do. You tell them that taking a French GCSE will give them better prospects. You tell them that they will be able to work themselves out of desperation using education. You tell them exams matter. You tell them maths will make them more successful. You tell them that literate people can change the world. You tell them but do you ever listen? You hear their words but do you listen?
How, as a busy teacher with targets to meet, classes to teach, spreadsheets to fill, can you take five minutes to understand that young person’s pain? How can you help them find their voice so they can articulate their pain and own their narrative? How do you support them to understand that we all have narratives and that’s okay? Our beginnings do not have to define our futures but how do we make that make sense for them? How do we make sure that they not only understand that they can be happy but give them the skills that they need to find and enjoy that happiness.
I am so bothered by all of this.
I wish that I could get everyone in the world to just STOP! Stop talking. Stop working. Stop worrying, bragging, buying, selling, making money, talking politics, creating policies, arguing…. just STOP! Look around. Open your eyes. See what a mess everything is and just stop, look and realise. Are we proud that filling in a spreadsheet comes as a higher priority than caring for a child in pain? Are we proud that we allow poverty to exist when there IS enough to go around? Are we proud that we teach our children to share but grownups are allowed to be greedy? Are we proud that we are causing pain to little ones by forcing them through tests to show that we are the best and can beat other countries at passing bloody tests? Are we proud of the world we have created and continue to feed? I’m not. I’m fucking disgusted at it and I wish we could all just stop and start again from scratch. There has to be another way.