Have you ever had a class that was 'unteachable?'
That's the situation I faced before I went on my teaching journey. I didn't think that I would be able to reach these 'terrors of the classroom.'
In this week's blogpost, to close off our 'encouragement' theme, I am going to tell you my story of how a group of 6 naughty school kids changed my life & got me on the path of teaching.
This is not the usual tips & tricks blog - I just want to speak honestly about why teaching has made a monumental impact on my life & made me see that despite what the Red Tops say, we change lives.
I hope that this will inspire you & help you keep up the Good Fight. What we do is an incredibly tiring, draining & emotionally taxing job. There is no hiding in a cubicle for a teacher. But it's all worth it. Educators keep on the fantastic work.
How I Started in Education
Around 10 years ago, I left the Private Sector looking for a change in career. I worked for a huge blue-chip company that specialized in Telecommunications, & to get that job more or less after Uni, felt like I hit the Big Leagues. I felt like a wiseguy in Goodfellas.
My colleagues & I wore designer suits, had platinum watches that competed with rap stars & upgraded our cars like some people upgrade their Sky broadband subscriptions. My Mum breathed a sigh of relief - her baby came good.
At first, I loved it - the work was demanding yet exciting. I got to meet some really cool people & my bonuses keep me on a material high. But this didn't last long.
After a while, I just felt like my work was missing something. It quickly dawned on me that I was making money for a select group of people to go & play golf all year round & swill their martinis at boozy work lunches.
I wanted to do something that made my soul not feel dirty like it had been on a rugby field after England played Wales on a rainy November evening.
After the Great Recession of 2008, my sector took a huge hit & my organisation had to do some 'streamlining' (firing people) to mitigate their losses. Luckily, I saved a bit of cash & left before I was pushed. I settled on helping young people & started to explore my options.
After racking my brains & doing a bit of Youth Work at a Music studio, I wanted to make serious in-roads into Teaching & I managed to land myself a role as Primary Teaching Assistant in an inner-city London school.
Being a Londoner that I thought that teaching younger students 'would be a walk in the park' - but it quickly dawned on me that this would be a whole lot harder than I anticipated.
Straight Outta London
The school I worked in was an Inner City Primary school sandwiched between 2 areas that notorious for anti-social behaviour & crime. Being from a rough neck of the woods myself, I understood how the area could influence these children.
But what I found heartbreaking was the level of needs that these kids had. Some kids were barely able to write their own name & they were in Year 6?!? What type of future were they going to have?
As well as being a TA, I helped to run the school football team. This allowed us to build relationships with some of the more troubled students. The SLT knew that I was going to leave to pursue my teaching qualifications & they came up with a cunning plan...
They suggested that I leverage my relationships & gain valuable classroom experience by taking a small group of six Year 6 students to whom my job was to give English Booster Lessons before they went to Secondary School.
The six learners were absolute terrors. The group consisted of boys only and their behaviour was terrible: they were constantly being thrown out of classes because they were rude, defiant and even aggressive to their teachers.
These ten-year-olds had very poor written and spoken English and as it stood, would completely fail their Key Stage 2 End of Year Tests, which would hurt their chances in high school. This was a tall order but the hope was that because they were in smaller classes, they would be able to cope better.
On the first day, these kids were just not with it at all: one boy put his black Nike Air Maxes on the desk and just sat in the chair with his hands behind his head and smiled smugly at me. I had just started & I felt finished.
'The Scholars Class'
I couldn’t throw them out of my class — They were there was because no one else would take them! I'm sure the teachers were having a party when they were with me.
I complained to the Assistant Headteacher who listened carefully to my responses then gingerly patted me on the back and told me to 'persevere.'
But after a couple of sessions with these boys, an interesting pattern started to develop. Most of the boys thought that there was no point to these lessons as they “have always been dumb, always been bad and that will never change.”
When I asked them about where these labels had come from, many told me that while they were growing up many authority figures such as teachers and parents had told them that they would “never amount to anything” and even when they tried to change, they were never acknowledged or taken seriously.
I started realising that they had poor self-esteem from the years of disbelief and discouragement and this was ‘playing out’ in their behaviour.
I knew that I had to make some changes. I re-dubbed the group “The Scholars Class” as I told them by the end of the year that is what they will become and they were all capable of doing it.
In that small classroom, I made sure that we had lots of motivational quotes that spoke about Personal Development and Self Improvement. I gave them short motivation speeches before the lesson about hard work, dedication and grit and asked them to embody those characteristics.
At the time, I was listening to a motivational speaker & performance coach named Eric Thomas who would release weekly motivational videos to inspire you for the week. This kept me energised to keep on staying positive & helped me to stay focused.
I challenged them to read and write more and lavished praise upon them when they pushed past their comfort zone. Slowly but surely, the boys started to see that I was there for the long haul & they started to respond. There was hope yet.
But the turning point was when these boys started to believe in themselves. They started to actually care about the work that they were doing because they believed that they capable of it & they deserved a shot in life.
The lights started to turn on & the boys started to catch up with the rest of their peers in the mainstream classes. 5 out of the 6 boys managed to pass their Key Stage 2 tests, which was a great achievement for them and a real watershed moment for me in my teaching career.
If you will remember anything in this blogpost, please remember this quote that Eleanor Roosevelt stated:
No one CARES how much you KNOW, until they KNOW how much you CARE.
It must be Maslow before Bloom. you can know the secrets of the Universe, but if your students don't feel like you even want to know them, you will not be able to engage them. I know that this seems like a tall order but you can do it.
You make a huge difference that will echo through the life of that learner.
Are you new to the blog & don't know where to start? Check out my 1st ever blog that will teach you how to become the 'Drake' of Behaviour Management & serves as a roadmap of what you need to learn. Click the link below to find out what you need!
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Karl from actionheroteacher.com