Sunday, 26 June 2016

The importance of looking outwards and forwards

My name is Clare.  I am a teacher.  I have been a teacher for 21 years.  I have been a teacher for 21 years in the City of Sunderland.  I have lived in the City of Sunderland for 22 years.  My husband and my two daughters were born in Sunderland.  I was not.  I was born in South London, and then grew up and went to school in Surrey.  I chose to live in Sunderland.  I guess that makes me an immigrant.  I have always done a job that could have been done by a local.  And the vast majority of teaching jobs in Sunderland, especially in primary schools, are done by locals.  It is unusual to hear an accent that is not Geordie or Mackem.  It is a little more common in secondary schools.  But it has never bothered the children I teach.  I think that is because they assume that I am French and/or Spanish, and that is why I talk differently to them.  My daughters get me to copy them saying things like "The giraffe laughed in the bath", but then they admit that I sound weird.

I think it's good for children to hear at school accents that are different to theirs.  It makes them realise that there is life and therefore possibility and opportunity outside of Wearside.  Because it is a very insular place, with comparatively little social or actual mobility.  It is this fact that has motivated me throughout my career as a teacher of languages.

In 1997 I volunteered to attend a meeting on behalf of my department at the secondary school where I worked at the time.  It was a meeting held by the local authority about something called Comenius European Education Projects, about which none of us knew anything, but which the blurb on the leaflet made look quite interesting.  This meeting was to change the course of my career.  Comenius projects have had various names since then, most recently coming under the Erasmus+ aegis, but they remain essentially the same: a group of European schools sets up a partnership together and receive funding from the European Union to enable them to do a collaborative project.  From the beginning in 1998 of the first project that I co-ordinated until the last project that I was part of in 2009, I worked with colleagues in France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Estonia and Lithuania.   I personally learned a great deal from all of them and was able to travel to places that I know I would never have seen otherwise.  The students also learned a huge amount from their European counterparts.  They found that there were some differences in their cultures and ways of life, but there were also many similarities.  These differences gave them cause to reflect upon their own culture and their own way of life.

I hope that this was enough to arouse sufficient curiosity in some of them to want to explore the "world outside", that it gave them the courage to look outwards and try something new.  Because on Thursday 23rd June, 61.3% of the 134,324 Sunderlanders who turned out to vote in the referendum (out of a possible 207,207 voters) ticked the box that said "Leave the European Union".  They chose to turn their backs on the millions of Euros that the EU has invested in the City over the years to help to regenerate the area after the closure of the mines.  They turned their backs on the efforts made by the City Council to forge links with and to open doors to communities in other countries.  They turned their backs on the efforts made by many of the City's schools to show children the wider world.  They turned their backs and decided that it is better to look inwards and backwards.

I wrote this rationale in 2001, but its words still ring just as true today:

"We are living in a rapidly changing, “shrinking” world.  Technological advances and economic and political changes have produced an increasingly global society of which we cannot fail to be aware.  Pupils of XXXXXXX  XXXXXXX are conscious that changes are taking place, but perhaps not of what these changes could mean for themselves and their lives, chiefly in their position as global citizens.  They remain traditionally insular in their attitudes, and have little access to, understanding of, or means of communication with the “world outside”.  Our pupils are, after all, the adults of the future, and should complete their education and enter the world of work fully cognisant of the opportunities that are open to them globally and equipped with the skills and attitudes that will enable them to live successfully alongside their international neighbours."

Our political landscape is currently changing by the hour, and uncertainty about the way forward following the Leave vote continues to increase.  I intend to go into my schools this week and continue to fight the good fight of the language teacher, to show the children that there is a world outside their window and that it is a colourful, interesting, friendly, welcoming and wonderful place.  We do not yet know if they will have access to the freedoms of movement and labour that we have enjoyed, or if schools will have the opportunity to access the funding streams that will enable them to participate in eye-opening projects with other schools in Europe.  But I have every confidence that we will find a way.  We have to find a way.