“If life was a Formula 1 race, my children would unfortunately start from the last positions.”

Gedanken eines Teach First-Fellows im Bereich Elementarbildung

Ab Herbst ist es so weit. Teach For Austria geht in den Kindergarten. Zwölf Quereinsteiger*innen sollen in sechs bis acht Kindergärten in Wien eingesetzt werden.  Zielgruppe sind drei- bis sechsjährige Kinder aus sozioökonomisch schwachen Familien – ihnen soll ein guter Start in die Schule gelingen. Unsere Schwesterorganisation Teach First UK hat schon seit einigen Jahren erfolgreich Programmteilnehmer*innen, die mit dieser Altersgruppe arbeiten. Einer von ihnen ist Luca Bellana – er arbeitet seit fast zwei Jahren mit Kindern zwischen fünf und sechs Jahren – in England gehen Fünfjährige bereits in eine Art Vorschule (“Infant School”) bevor sie die vierjährige “Junior School” starten. Das System ist also anders als unseres – das Anliegen, früh zu fördern teilen wir allerdings mit Luca und Teach First. Warum es für Luca genau der richtige Weg war, was er von und mit den Kindern lernt und wieso es ihm ein besonderes Anliegen ist, Kinder im jungen Alter  zu fördern, hat er uns erzählt.

What encouraged you to work with young children?

Honestly, I originally applied to become a Secondary School teacher: I already had some experience working with young children through activities as a volunteer and the work at BAG EJSA, and I really enjoyed them, but most of my teaching experience was with older students. As such, I felt more confident applying to complete my teacher training in Secondary School. However, when Teach First offered to train me as a primary school teacher, I have to admit that, I thought it would actually be easier. “How hard can it be teaching maths to little kids? Or science? You don’t need to have who-knows-what knowledge. And planning lessons will be easy, as well as marking their work”.  Mistake. Huge mistake. Having had the chance to study with well-prepared Teach First tutors  at one of the top-ranked universities in the world in the educational field, UCL, I realised how many things a pedagogue has to do every day to be a real professional: work hard on one’s professional development, keep oneself up to date with educational research and then make evidence-informed decisions, as well as having at least a basic knowledge of neuroscience and how learning happens.

What does it mean to be a Teach First Participant and work with children from socio- economically weak families?

Getting into teaching with Teach First has shown me what “educational inequality” truly means. My pupils – children full of talent, creativity and desire to learn – constantly face obstacles and barriers that make their school and life paths a lot harder than their wealthier peers. If life was a Formula 1 race, my children would unfortunately start from the last positions, far behind those who were lucky enough to be born in affluent families and could start, on the contrary, from the pole positions.

What does it mean to work with young children in the early years programme?

Working in Early Years or, as I do, in the very first year of primary school, can definitely help these children by narrowing the gap with their more affluent peers before it’s too late. How? We start from simple but essential things, such as having high expectations from all of them, challenging them with high level thinking questions, reading to them frequently. We want all children to develop a growth mindset, get used to challenge themselves and be passionate about reading and learning. The goal, for which I am responsible, is to make a difference for these children and help them achieve their goals and dreams, whatever they may look like: going to university or getting a diploma, having a decent job that makes them economically independent, travelling, etc. How? Being a high-quality trained pedagogue, a professional who believes in these children’s potential and is determined to lead them towards educational success, despite of the difficulties that surround them.

What is the impact of your work until now? Have you reached your goals as an early years  teacher?

At the end of Year 1, pupils have a phonics national exam: they are given a list of 40 words (20 real words and 20 made up words) and they have to correctly identify at least 32 of them. Considering the nature of the English language (with so many irregularities, alternative sounds for the same graphemes and same phonemes represented by different graphemes), it is a highly challenging test. In the 2017-2018 academic year, 81% of test-takers passed the test. My school serves one of the most underprivileged areas of UK (the borough of Brent in London) and all 29 of my pupils last year speak English as a second language. Thanks to my hard work and the support received by Teach First, UCL and my school during my training, my pupils performed above the national average with the 86% (25/29) of them passing the national test. Using this as an indicator of the impact I am having on my pupils’ learning, it can be seen as remarkable. In all subjects, pupils are meeting, or even exceeding expected progress. This year, some of my pupils are already working at Year 2 level, while almost everyone is hitting their learning targets. And, most importantly, they are happy to come to school and are enthusiastic learners. I love working with young children because they are spontaneous, funny, and the growth (at both personal and academic level) they make in the 11 months we spend together is evident and impressive. The children started in September scared and missing their parents, and after only a few months together they complain about the Christmas holidays because they say they’ll miss school! Where as before, they lost things every day (school jumper, scarf, gloves etc.),they are now responsible for their own books and homework. At the beginning they could barely count from 0 to 20, and by July they could count in twos and fives forwards as well as backwards between 0 and 100.

Which subjects and how do you teach?

I teach all subjects with a dialogic approach, which means that children are involved through questioning and explorative tasks. Classroom conversation is highly valued, as is collaboration among children. Children have the opportunity to independently apply what they have learnt. Every lesson is designed to ensure that all children are challenged according to their respective academic level. Most of my teaching and assessment for Learning is evidence-informed, which that I make my decisions based on academic research supported by evidence and classroom data.

Why is it important to have Teach First participants in Early Years?

Children from affluent families are generally exposed to books, reading aloud, challenging conversations, and to enriching experiences such as travelling, visiting places, going to the theatre/cinema, taking part in sports activities, and learning a musical instrument  from the very beginning of their lives. On the other side, children from low socio-economic backgrounds don’t usually have the same luck, and by the time they are five and start Primary School they are already months (or even years) behind their wealthier peers in terms of language proficiency, vocabulary, emotional intelligence and experience. I believe that the sooner highly trained professionals committed to the Teach For All values and mission get the chance to teach little children from disadvantaged background, the bigger their impact can be in reaching the gap with the more affluent peers and making easier a successful path in education and life.

Die Übersetzung auf Deutsch könnt Ihr hier lesen.

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