Monthly Archives: September 2018

Equality & Inequality

Last week I took part in my first values seminar. As we went in, we were separated into four teams. Each team was given a brown paper envelope with some unknown items inside and we had set time frames in which to plan an idea, make the idea using only the objects inside the envelope and present the idea . My team took the brief about making a useful tool for a new university student very literally and decided to physically use the items; including pens, coloured paper, Blu Tac, paperclips, and tape; we had been presented with to create a pencil case and a detachable campus map. After presenting our idea for the helpful tool to the group, each team was given a score out of ten that ranked each team from best to worst. In my particular group; one team scored one point, another scored three points, my team scored seven points, and the final team scored ten making them the winners. The winning team, and my team, as we came second, were given prizes.

The teacher then asked us various questions about the task, such as did we enjoy it (to which, of course, the winning team answered yes) and had we noticed anything about the competition side of things. Neither my team, nor the winning team, were grasping what she was getting at. Then the other two teams started to pipe up and say that they had noticed the teacher spending a lot more time with the teams that came first and second. At first I thought this had just been a coincidence, but then the two lowest scoring teams began to offer up more examples of inequality that they had experienced during the task. They said that the teacher had been less encouraging of their thoughts and ideas, less involved in their design process, and less respectful and attentive when listening to their presentations.

The penny finally dropped when the teacher said to look at the other teams’ tables. Whilst we were looking around, the bottom two teams were saying things like “Yes, I knew it!” and the top two teams were exclaiming “Oh wow, I didn’t realise that!”. The scores that the teams received not only corresponded with the attention and help that they were given, but also the supplies that they had had inside their envelopes! The team that scored one point had only a couple of items like a pen and a white piece of paper, but the team that scored ten points had an abundance of products to take advantage of; from staplers and hole-punches, to rainbow pens and sticky notes.

The thing that has shocked me most about this seminar is the fact that I, and everyone else in the two ‘best’ teams, didn’t notice the blatant inequality and unfairness that was occurring in the other two teams. We were all oblivious. We had just assumed that the task presented the same challenges to the other teams as it did to us, however they were having to think twice as hard because they not only had to come up with a plan, but also had to problem solve to work out how to accomplish it with their very limited resources.

I think this class that we have been involved in is not only a powerful metaphor for the many imbalances across the country’s, and even the world’s, education centres, but it also speaks volumes about how as both societies, communities, and individuals, it can be far too easy to go about our business and live our lives oblivious to the struggles of others. I had no idea of the other groups’ positions. Just because I had made that assumption that we had all been treated equally, I concentrated on my own team and our task at hand. If I had just looked up from what I was engrossed with, I could have realised that, although we had a challenge to complete, other people around me had further hurdles to overcome before they could even get to the challenge I had.

I can see how the wider meaning of this task relates to financial inequalities in schools everywhere that may impact on students’ education, but also on a more personal level that, as a teacher, you must take time to consider which barriers each different child may have standing between them and their potential accomplishments. Each child is unique and will have their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to both school and life. It is so important to recognise and adapt to these differences to help everyone to reach their full potential.

My Primary Reason

The environment in primary schools has always appealed to me. When I learned there, I loved it. I loved how the brightly coloured furniture and catchy phrases on the walls could inspire me to try something new every day and try my hardest to be the best that I could be. I loved the interactions with a huge range of different characters that I would never otherwise have come into contact with. I loved the engaging lessons, from teachers that delivered the perfect balance of work and play, blending the learning with fun activities that kept the class excited to progress. From my pupil perspective, school was an amazing place.

This does not mean to say that I have always wanted to be a teacher. When you are young and someone asks you what you want to ‘be’ when you grow up, your mind will tend to fall to the typical clichéd careers: teacher, doctor, hairdresser, vet, the list goes on. I would often blurt out “teacher” as a way to avoid the topic and move onto something else. It was not until I started the senior phase of high school at 16 that more serious questions would arise, such as ‘What are you doing after school?’ or ‘Where will you be in ten years?”. I decided that the only way I could decide on my path in life would be to give things a go. So I began going to do work experience one afternoon a week at my local primary school. I feel that to be a teacher, you have to be passionate about education, it is not a career that you could just do as a ‘Plan B’ if you couldn’t think of anything else. There must be a strong commitment to the job, through the inevitable ups and downs. As I have been told many times; “When there’s a will, there’s a way”.

There is a moment when you just know for sure that teaching is the one for you, starting work experience; that was my moment. This was when my passion was ignited. From the very first day I joined the class of 5 year olds, I knew that this was it, there was nothing else out there I could do that would live up to what I was involved and engaged in in this environment. Seeing the teacher give lessons took me straight back to 12 years earlier, when it was me sitting on that alphabet carpet. When I was one of those tiny beings with a mind like a coiled spring, ready to bounce into action and absorb all of this new information along the way. Now I got to be on the other side, the one setting free all the little springs, helping them to bounce as high as possible. The year flew by, I found myself sitting in my subjects on Wednesday mornings, eagerly awaiting the arrival of fifth period so that I could make my way to my favourite ‘class’ of the week.

After my time with the P1 class was up, I knew I couldn’t leave it at that. I then requested that I was a classroom assistant two times each week as I saw this as a great opportunity to attend classes in both the junior and senior primary school age groups. In this second year, I joined a P6 class of 10 year olds and rejoined my class from the previous year (now in aged 6 and in Primary 2). It was amazing to experience hands-on the similarities and differences between teaching the upper and lower levels of primary education. The topics that are covered are worlds apart, with P2 just becoming familiar with Biff, Chip & Kipper and P6 moving on to novels by J.K. Rowling and David Walliams. However, the core values remained the same; giving children a voice among their peers, helping them to develop no matter what stage they were at, and giving them control with their own learning. It was also fascinating to have the chance to grow with the same class of children for not one, but two years, which is something that not all teachers get to experience. It was so inspiring to see that not only the pupils’ level of working had improved, but so had their attitudes. Those who had been shy and unsure about getting involved in activities were now rarely seen without their hands raised proudly in the air, ready to answer a question. Other children who had not previously associated school with enjoyment, were now ready to get involved and were even volunteering to help others with tasks they could see them struggling with.

Seeing children thrive in the classroom and expand their knowledge of the world was so inspiring for me. The fact that these 30 or so small humans came into these adults’ classrooms and, in the space of a few years, went from knowing almost nothing about the world outside their front door, to being able to pick up a pencil and write about anything they could imagine, pick up a book and read about anything that anyone else imagined, or pick up a maths homework sheet and (sometimes with some grumbling) sit down and understand numbers to evaluate sums.

After these two years of experiences, I felt so grateful to have been a part of what is just the beginning of these children’s learning journey. Even if they don’t remember me a few months down the line, I will never forget my first time as a primary school staff member; how just being in the classroom environment, taking their reading groups and helping them with tricky maths tasks, shaped my path for the future and drove me to where I am today.