It’s called an accident of birth. That’s not quite right. The accident comes from where you happen to be born and what family you are born into. It stopped being an accident a long time ago.
Last week I spent some time at a school not so far away from the ‘challenging’ academy I had spent six months at. Although the academy has an official Ofsted rating of ‘Good’, it is anything but a good and easy ride for its teachers. Indeed, it’s quite a rocky road through each day.
The staff who work (successfully) at challenging schools have their coping mechanisms.
They know how to settle a group in a manner that doesn’t place undue stress on the students or themselves. Worksheets are good and they are printed to order in a way to provide endless differentiation. A Powerpoint is also useful because it allows for a decent amount of copying from the board (much better than chalk and talk). On the whole, a settled class is a good class. My attempts at engaging students often fell flat as I tried to get them up and out of their seats in order to participate in collaborative activities.
They didn’t like to move. They didn’t want to deviate from the norm.
In my finite wisdom I have decided that I am not right for institutions of that ilk. The way I like to teach draws reactions of dread from a number of students and other teachers. I want a talking class that works together and gets involved. Worksheets are for making small fires with. Powerpoints are for making monotonous presentations with.
The new wants to enable social mobility. That means moving up from the lower strata of society towards the higher stratas. In truth, it also should mean moving downwards as well. It doesn’t.
Even in relatively modest income bands there is a distinct difference between those accidentally born on the ‘wrong side of the tracks’ and those that are not. There are boundaries in the geography of towns and cities and those boundaries play a definite role in the way in which our children get educated, and move on in life. The school that I worked at last week was as far away from the academy as one could get within a few short miles.
It was a ‘leafy’ school. The fecundity of nature (I love fecund) was everywhere on the day that I passed through it gates. Grass, trees, the buzz of bees, and relaxed freedoms were everywhere. The teachers mooched on their way to lessons whilst the students dawdled purposely and without the obligatory intimidations. In the classroom things progress in much the same manner with the ever-vigilant eyes of the eagle being replaced with a relaxed wander, a polite reminder, and a word of encouragement.
The students (most of them) seem to come to school in order to learn rather than to escape wayward home-lives. Here, they have come to do what is generally the accepted purpose for schooling. And they tend to do it without too much fuss. There are those children whose parents have managed to relocate themselves. These are the ‘more aspirational students’, I was told by one teacher. They know where they have come from and they want to move on, social-mobility in action.They are like the children of refugees who have escaped war zones, persecution and poverty.
It just seems that their journey to a better world is paradoxically more difficult that moving across continents.
Accidents of birth ought not to become tragedies.