Perhaps some children are just too tired for your amazing Science lesson

I’m trying to move house at the moment which is quite stressful. It doesn’t help that the whole prospect of thinking about housing reminds me constantly of that time when I was 18 and living in a hostel, having to concede defeat by becoming acquainted with the new reality that I wouldn’t be going to university; my A level grades tanked following months of having to work late into the night after college to support myself (I’ve written about this before and you’d be surprised at the number of callous comments from educators I get over this), plus I just couldn’t afford to go really. This blogpost is about how educators see childhood through the prism of their own experiences, not thinking about how certain lesson types might actually be detrimental to disadvantaged children.

Anyway, I was sporting a temporarily furrowed brow recently (after the children had done home) and a colleague commented on it. Actually, she was not impressed at all at my lack of upbeat demeanor. Said colleague is quite wealthy and like most teachers had had a middle class upbringing, therefore wasn’t exactly familiar with any of the everyday stresses that us ‘normal’ people put up with. Of course, I assured my colleague that I wasn’t allowing my own tribulations to affect the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom, but I couldn’t help but think that this trite request to ‘just be happy’ is very much a slap in the face when you’ve got ‘life stuff’ to think about.

Smile, it’s good for you!

Naturally, this led me to think about how this kind of ‘just be happy’ attitude might affect children in the classroom. As you know, I am concerned with the education of disadvantaged children and while it is good that we have young and worry-free educators who can give that little bit extra in terms of time, energy and ‘sunshine’ to the lives of children, it might not be so good when it comes to lesson design and experiences. Teaching standards, consultants, missives in the TES and god knows what else always implore us to make our lessons fun and different, so we slave towards the never ending Holy Grail of ‘unique experiences’ with lots of groupwork, discovery, resources, moving around, carousel etc etc. I’m wondering whether disadvantaged children really do love all this ‘Guess what we’re doing today kids!’, or whether they might appreciate something a little more laid back and routine.

Simply put, I know for a fact (because I’ve been there) that children who are just that little bit more emotionally spent because of their home lives do not necessarily respond to ‘fun’ in the way that your pampered middle class child does. If there is little they can give in terms of energy and enthusiasm, then we must use this efficiently, so as to give this child the best return on their effort, ensuring that they themselves can see how their effort is rewarded with the true feel-good factor of increased knowledge. Expecting them to burn through their personal bank of smile credits during that ‘fun’ discovery lesson, knowing that they lack the vocabulary and general knowledge to discover like their middle class friends is a big waste of time; it is not simply a case of saying to these children ‘Just be happy’.either.

Who’s with me?




3 thoughts on “Perhaps some children are just too tired for your amazing Science lesson

  1. In 2000, I commissioned a small market research survey in Norfolk to find out what kind of independent school would appeal to parents. One of the most striking findings was that most of the respondents who had well-paid professional jobs favoured progressive educational practices, whereas those with household incomes <£16,000 overwhelmingly preferred traditional practices. Needless to say, the survey was good value for money: I discovered that the kind of school I wanted to start would only appeal to those who couldn't afford school fees, no matter how much we tried to keep them affordable.

    This said, it's a mistake to think that middle-class kids won't respond to traditional practices. All children want to achieve and learn, and after a while they get bored with perpetual play-school. When I inspected Framingham Earl High School (a solid middle-class suburban comp) for the Telegraph Good Schools Guide in 1999, the pupils we pretty openly contemptuous of the primary schools they'd attended, where they could get away with almost anything. I only wish I could have recorded their remarks for the benefit of all the woolly-minded primary school teachers who never teach if it can possibly be avoided.


  2. Routine is very calm and ordered, and those who lack calm and order in their life will appreciate it. The disorder caused by progressive methods means that there is no respite from noise and chaos for those who experience it at home.


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