Aladdin is one of Disney’s all time greats. A story of a young male who was severely disadvantaged, struggled with decent role models and was not a success in education (I’m not sure he even had one). Aladdin was at a crossroads in his life without even knowing it. His life was changed by that lamp and the Genie inside.
The question is: are we providing enough lamps for our students? I’m fortunate enough to be working in a school which is really trying to support its disadvataged students. The project is called ‘Challenge the Gap’ and this project has involved going that bit extra and giving our students, who are disadvantaged, additional support through a mentor and other interventions. The staff involved are the perfect people to be the genies for these students. Now, unfortunately, they can’t use magic to grant wishes but they are there to allow students to flourish and achieve their potentials despite some significant barriers, which have potentially hindered their progress. With alarming statistics which suggest less than 5% of pupil premium students nationally go on to be doctors, lawyers and journalists it is worrying that there may be a lack of ambition amongst disadvantaged students . Luckily we have students who have aspirations to be a pilot, a plastic surgeon and go to Oxbridge that shows we are going in the right direction.
I think the first challenge we face with disdvantaged students is to raise their aspirations and let them know they can be more than what they think they can. Once they are open to the opportunities, you have a chance to hook them. If you think about Aladdin, he never would have thought he could have been a prince without the support of the genie. He had low expectations and was very neagtive about his own prospects; he would see things and assume he never had a chance to obtain or experience them.
Now, if you’re number of disadvantaged students is very high, then it may not be possible to assign them a mentor but there are big wave things you can do to impact on bigger groups. As I’ve said, raising their aspirations and giving them the carrot on the end of the stick can sometimes motivate them to overcome anything in the way. It’s not easy and sometimes we are trying against the odds and there are many variables out of your control, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try anyway.
I think a teacher could be a genie to the students. Creating an environment where students feel safe, wanted and valued. I’m still adamant the little things can make the difference. Knowing their names as quickly as possible is always a good one. I’ve spoken to students who said they don’t think all of their teachers know their names. I know it can be dificult, especially moving to a new school; I’ve had to start from stratch which can seem daunting. Yet 12 weeks in, I feel I am seeing the benefits of getting to know my students and a little bit about them. Giving up your time by asking a question can sometimes mean more to students than you realise. There’s this weird thing in teaching that people worry about asking personal questions or giving compliments. I completely understand this fear but sometimes you have to remember we’re all human. I’d like to think we all know where the line is, and when I say personal, I mean things like “Have you got a football match this weekend?” or “Did you go late night Christmas shopping last night?” or complementing them:
“I like your bag.”
“Your handwriting is awesome; it’s better than mine.”
Taking an interest in their lives no matter how small can make students with low self esteem or who hold a perception that their life doesn’t contain much value feel so much better – if only temporarily, but just imagine if more teachers did it.
Now, I’m not asking you to sing “A Whole New World” to them, but when you listen to those lyrics, it makes me think we should be making students aware of what the world has to offer them and that they can achieve regardless of circumstance. Sometimes they need to be shown that they have just as much right as anyone else to experience what is on offer and that if they apply themselves and embrace the opportunities we present them with, they can really achieve wonders; if their workrate matches their ambition, they have a chance. Strangely, one recent research paper suggests that most academically disadvantaged students in fact become teachers above any other profession. I wonder why that is? Is it because they want to support those who they relate to? Is it their way of trying to payback a debt they feel they owe? Is their attachment to education that strong? Who knows? But what I do know is there are a lot less appealing jobs out there no matter how much we can all moan about things. In fact, I always get a weird sense of pride when any student says they want to become a teacher.
So, the next time you look at your class data sheets and see who is PP or FSM etc. think what are you doing to support them? Can you be the genie they need even if it’s only for an hour a week? Make them believe in the impossible and make them believe in themselves.
Just don’t limit them to three wishes!