The disadvantaged Head of English

I grew up in South Wales in a small town where drugs and suicide thrived.

I am the youngest of five children and, at some point in my school life I would have appeared on a list of ‘disadvantaged children’.

My father was a plumber and worked seven days a week to provide for his family. My mother worked part time as a nursery assistant then care worker.  Despite this, I was classed as coming from a low income family and I vividly remember my laminated FSM card – complete with photograph.

I was fortunate.

Looking back I can confidently say that I had excellent parents. Not perfect parents: my mother is the world’s biggesr stress-head and my father’s hard discipline (of my brothers rather than me) was difficult to justify – but I was loved.

All that being said, I was still disadvantaged. My parents failed the 11plus and went to comprehensive schools. They left said schools at 15 and went to work. They met in their early twenties, got married and raised a family. They did their best to raise four boys and one girl.

I remember fondly all of the stimulation my mother gave me. We painted with potatoes, made pictures with egg shells, pressed leaves under the mattress and picked shells on the beach. We went to the library. We went on holiday. I was very fortunate but I was still disadvantaged.

I was disadvantaged compared to my peers whose parents had more money and more education. I would have started secondary school knowing less words than those who were more advantaged than me. I would have started secondary school knowing less factual knowledge than those who were more advantaged than me. And, those gaps still exist.

I can still, as a Head of English, be confronted by my peers with words I do not recognise. I can still, as a Head of English, have to dodge questions from my superiors because I do not understand the words being used to ask them or, at best, I have to rely on the context to try to figure them out.

But what does all this matter?

It matters because you can still be a success if you are disadvantaged. It matters because even as the Head of English I do not need to know the meaning of every word but just know that I will continue to try to learn and be better. It matters because if you build the right relationship with a disadvantaged child then that child will grow into an adult who is continually striving to achieve. Who knows they will have to work twice as hard to keep up and so will work three times as hard to compete and four times as hard to win. It matters because that child will grow into an adult who will be humble and gracious and not take things for granted. It matters because that child will grow into an adult who acts with integrity and transparency and want the best for all.

Not every disadvantaged student is  the same but every disadvantaged student is a student who is capable of becoming something wonderful.

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