Our first Values seminar was a brilliant deceit and I ate it up.
It began with our tutor giving each group a envelope of goodies- and by goodies I mean a load of random stationary- which we had to use to come up with a concept that would have helped us when we first started university. At first we just stared at the items, waiting for the big idea of how to turn blue-tack and a rubber band into this brilliant showcase of an idea. But we had nothing. Nothing that we felt confident to present. We started to look around at the other groups and were shocked at the coloured paper and pens being aired about. Not only did it upset us, but we got so distracted by the other group’s items that our weak attempt of ‘making do’ and ‘covering it up with a bit humour’ was just not going to cut it.
When it came to the presentation, it was easy to say that our tutor had her favourites. She had endless amount of praise for the colourful Free Parking badge presented by one group but all we could salvage for our idea was a half mark. Yes, not even a full mark- a half! It was mortifying. I felt dumb, like we did something wrong. But what more could we do?
In the end, this was a lesson of structural equality and very good performance on the tutor’s behalf. It was such a real and powerful way to really put ourselves in the shoes of those kids that, without any fault of their own, didn’t have as much as others. I knew this was prominent in schools, but to really get a feel of it has opened my eyes and will impact me as a teacher in the future. It amazes me how such a simple lesson can really take effect. It excites me so much for future lessons if this is how they make me feel.
The seminar got me reflecting on my past experience in a school, where I have seen this type of inequality and the stereotypes that comes with it. I was asked to work one-on-one with a ‘troubled’ boy who needed a little extra help. But instead of giving him work that was deemed a bit more ‘his level’, we completed the same work as all the other pupil but with a little bit more attention and praise. He thrived, felt so accomplished and it was clear he didn’t think he could do the same exercises as his peers. I think it is important that we acknowledge a child’s background but not use it to put them in certain categories. It is vital that we treat pupils fairly and as individuals. It makes them feel valued and evidently, improves their performance and confidence.
I will never make a child feel as though they do not have the right to the same opportunities as others. I understand there are obstacles , but it is with the awareness of such issues that emphasises the need of strong teacher-pupil relationships. This allows children to feel like they can raise the issue of inequality if they were to feel it’s impact.
I remember back in primary 4, the teacher posed the big, heavy question ‘What do you want to be in the future?’ Back then a teacher did not even cross my mind. I remember pondering the question for hours, thinking of more appropriate ideas for my little, nine year old brain- like a fashion designer or a singer. It wasn’t until I got home that evening that I asked my mum what she thought; without hesitation she said I should be a teacher.
The next day at school I watched the teacher very carefully, envisioning myself in her shoes. I already loved school but seeing my teacher mark the kid’s work with little ticks and using multi-coloured chalk on the blackboard, I decided I needed to do that as a career. Now, I laugh at how naive and oblivious I was but a job was something so far in the future, I used to sometimes believe it would never actually come. However silly, that is where the dream began. I was off! Red marker pen at the ready!
I continued to say I wanted to be a teacher throughout my first few years at secondary school, however, it wasn’t until the good old anxiety started to take hold of the reins and my dream of teaching took a seat on the back burner. I used to curse myself for not pushing myself forward for the dream earlier, instead of shying away from the prospect of rejection and my time after high school took a total different direction than expected. I had a lot of growing to be done first and during those next few years on working entirely on what makes me- me, it is what got me here, writing this post today, away to start my degree at exactly the right time.
It’s a learning curve, folks.