Perspective isn’t something I thought much about before the year 2020 but it has now become a word that pops into my head almost every day. It’s a word that’s getting me through each week and helping me to digest all that 2020 is throwing at us. Perspective is a word that’s made this year, not one to disregard or write off rather it’s made 2020 the year of change. This is the year we have all been waiting for.
How long could we carry on giving one month (if that) to discuss Black History? How long could we teach children to celebrate Christopher Columbus as a renowned explorer who ‘discovered’ the Americas? How long could we only give a platform to any Muslim country when explicitly teaching about Islam in an R.E lesson?
As teachers, we already know our own education in this country was a very diluted, lesser, bias version of real events and thanks to 2020, we have been given the push we have desperately needed to demand that the same lacking education we received isn’t given to the children of today.
Since returning to school on June the 4th, I was met with mixed emotions. Blogging had overnight become my new undesired forte during the lockdown, spending my weeks either in school or at home tirelessly trying to find accessible, engaging activities for my class that didn’t require resources, limited parent input and was worthy of 10 minutes away from Tik Tok.
Numbers on the blog dwindled and comments from my students such as ‘ thx miss i did this bye’ were enough to drive me back into wanting my classroom back open for business. But when it did happen I had to bite my tongue when we received an all-staff email from the Learning Trust (all working from home) thanking us for our dedication and commitment to our local communities in enabling schools to re-open. As if we had a choice. My borough was at the time estimated as having the 3rd highest COVID related deaths in the UK so you can see why many of us saw this as a huge juxtaposition.
But, that word perspective comes back again. With planning out the window, work in books to remain unmarked, numbers of pupils unknown I essentially could do what I wanted in class. They gave me an inch and I ran with it. With no real guidelines to follow apart from some maths and English each day I took this as an opportunity to respond to what we were seeing in the news and to say to these children that they deserve more in their education and they deserve to know the realities of the world we live in.
Luckily enough, my inner London school did provide a very broad, diverse and engaging Year 5 curriculum. We have spent the year studying the likes of Malala Yousafzai, the Suffragette movement, Frida Kahlo, global warming, human rights and inequalities. So I’m proud that my children already have a minor head start on these issues but it was nothing compared to what came next.
The Black Lives Matter movement gave us the perfect motive (not that we should need one) to understand, read about and discuss systemic racism, segregation, apartheid, discrimination, racial profiling, white privilege, fake news and everything that came with these topics. We were inspired by female Black and POC creatives in our art lessons, we looked at key Black figures in history that had been left out of the curriculum, we understood the term segregation and compared the South African apartheid to real modern-day circumstances where it still exists.
The response? The children loved it. They were finally being treated like humans that were part of the wider world, not machines that had to conform to classroom restraints that would only enable them to become cogs in a wheel in their future workforces. They debated, they dissected arguments, they demanded justice, they thrived.
After months of feeling like a fraud in my profession, I felt like I had my purpose back in my life. Teachers without their students are worthless. But worthless teaching is what exists. The pressures of SATs in primary schools have marginalised subjects and topics that are far more worthy then test results. Our children are being robbed of life lessons which even with a maths degree are set up to fail in life, predominantly if they are Black, a POC or of an ethnic minority. We have been teaching history dishonestly inside and outside of schools for so long now that it takes the death of an innocent man murdered by a police officer for us to wake up and contest the status quo. Learning doesn’t stop after school, learning has to and must continue for the rest of our lives else we are doing future generations no favours in the improvement of humanity.
Towards the end of the term, I was yet again to receive an all-staff email from ‘above’. One that did reflect on the well-being of our families. It stated that actions will be taken to ensure that ‘our curriculum models challenge received perceptions, particularly some of the received messages from history’ and ‘talking and more importantly listening to the concerns and opinions of our communities’.
So yes, 2020 has been a disaster in so many ways, but from my perspective, if 2020 has made everyone question history, questions our laws, question our educational system, question our beliefs, question our morals then some good has come from this year and hopefully our future selves can look back on it as the year the world woke up.