In the classroom

To swim across the ocean or not, that is the question…

January 11, 2015

At the end of a very long day I found myself asking: where is the line of responsibility between pupil and teacher? To what lengths should a teacher go to for a student?

If the pupil doesn’t get the grade, whose fault is that? An obvious answer: the pupil. So why is it that teachers are always asked: Why didn’t they get the grade? What did or didn’t you do?

This comes as a result from a confrontation between 2 of my most intelligent yet unmotivated pupils about their lack of punctuality and effort.

In contrast, I ended the day with a catch-up session for the Year 11 class and 6 people turned up. The quality of work that was produced by being in a small group and working one to one was incredible. They all left with a sense of achievement and yes, they had a significant amount of help from myself but they did the leg work. I simply prompted their own thoughts about issues that will affect them later on in life which formed part of their answers.

The session lasted over an hour and a half, mainly due to the very deep and interesting conversation I had with 2 of my Asian pupils. I say Asian because race was part of the discussion, in addition to life in education and all the opportunities it can bring and what makes a good teacher.

This comes off the back of the attack in Paris and the effect it has had on our communities. One Muslim student condemned the attackers saying that hate is not a part of Islam and that they would go straight to hell, so why do it?

The conversation continued with race as an undercurrent. Education in a multicultural society was discussed and to my amazement (because we are in the UK) one of the students said that she felt uncomfortable in a predominantly white environment due to the fact that she is surrounded by a large Asian community. In retrospect, this really shouldn’t have been such a surprise, as coming from an island largely untouched by immigration, moving to mainland UK was a bit of a culture shock! I did feel uncomfortable around other ethnicities and you could say that I was racist, but that was out of ignorance. It was only throughout university and living abroad that I experienced other cultures and learned how to accept, embrace and live side by side them.

She continued to say that she started to knuckle down and focus when she realised that education would open up doors and the world to her. She said that she wanted to get out of Bradford and experience a community outside of the Asian one she has grown up in.

As a well-travelled person from a young age, I will always encourage the culturally curious and nurture them. I have shared many a time in class my own personal experiences of living abroad, speaking different languages and doing pretty much what I’ve set my sights on, which I am pleased to note today has had what I believe to be a positive influence on some of my pupils.

It has always been one of the reasons that I wanted to become a teacher – the many life experiences that I have had from a young age has instilled this unmovable belief in me that if you want to do something and strongly believe in it you will be successful and you will accomplish that goal. I wanted blinkered pupils to see that there is a much bigger world out there with many different opportunities ready for the taking, if they wanted to.

And I can now say that after all those battles and frustrations with this GCSE group, it has been worth it, even if I have only solidly encouraged 2 of the pupils. There are still 3 months left to develop the rest. I may stress myself out with tiredness, worry and effort, but at least when I am asked what did you do I can happily say that I “swam across the ocean” (in the words of one of my students) for that class, even for those that didn’t care.