This is the eighteenth part of my Reflection Series – a self-reflection of my year teaching in the UK.
In what ways did you change the lives of your students this year?
You know, I really struggled in writing a response to this question. That’s why it’s the second last one I’m releasing, even though it’s higher than that on the list of questions.
The truth is, I don’t think I did necessarily ‘change the lives’ of my students.
I hope I made a positive impact on them. That’s so very important, particularly in a low socio-economic area. I hope I was able to provide a stable, constant presence. Even a kind, friendly, caring one. For some of them, perhaps that would be life-changing, but for most I know that realistically it won’t.
I taught them the curriculum, expanding their knowledge of the world of science. Some of them hadn’t done experiments before (having just started secondary school), and some hadn’t been to the planetarium either – it was really fun to watch them exploring these new and exciting things. We did fun things like solving ‘murders’ and discovering the tiny little organisms growing in the pond outside our window, and boring things like writing definitions and laws. I would answer all their questions about the content and beyond, even when they were off topic, because I think encouraging their curiosity is so important – science is about observing the world, and you can’t observe without curiosity.
I also taught them about Australia, which is a lot more cultural knowledge than many of them have exposure to. They loved my accent, and picked on me for words we pronounce differently (data, anyone?). We learned about Aussie slang on Australia Day, and they had endless questions about our wildlife. Yes, it is all out to kill you, especially the spiders and drop bears.
We had informal discussions about relationships, friendships, careers, political happenings (Miss, you’re going to lose so much money with Brexit hey), and yes even sex (in the biological sense). I wanted them to know that they could ask me any questions they had on any topic, and I would answer to the best of my ability if the questions weren’t inappropriate. Many of these kids get their information from the internet, which isn’t always correct, so I wanted them to realise they could ask the adults in their lives about the things they’re interested in. Not that we’re always correct either, but it’s a good start.
There are things that I did that I can’t discuss because of child protection laws, but I know those things will pan out to be positive life-changers. Even something as simple as talking with a student who is usually largely ignored by the others, or sitting together two shy students who you just know will get along, can have a profound effect. Taking a few minutes out of a lesson to teach some of them how to read an analogue clock, encouraging them to sound out the words they can’t read immediately, showing one girl how to tie her shoelaces, quietly having a conversation with one boy about how there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the fact that his mum can’t afford to buy him Christmas presents and then having the whole class agree that off their own backs that the best part of Christmas is actually having fun with your family or friends – all little things that I hope will have a lasting impact.
Overall, if anything, these kids changed my life. I learned so much from teaching them in their strange and different system. I hope that I didn’t profoundly alter their lives, unless it was for the better, but simply that I had a positive influence and that if they ever think of me, it is with happiness.