'It's our job to make school life as stable as possible for those who feel the world is turning upside down'
I woke up this morning and cried. I cried because I was scared for the future; we don’t know what’s coming, we don’t know what will happen with our economy, or our government or, well anything really. I don’t pretend to know everything about politics, or what is happening. I’m really confused. But I’m an emotional being. I hate people hurting. And I hated today.
I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll say it again. My school is approximately 54 per cent EAL, and many of our students are from countries within the European Union. The freedom of movement has meant a beautiful eclectic mix of students from around the world in one place. It’s a sight that is seen in many schools across Britain now – and it’s lovely.
I arrived at school just as Cameron was resigning this morning. I had a class of year 10 first thing. I walked into the room and the kids were silent. It was all a bit strange. I changed my mind on the lesson and thought that maybe a lesson in the library reading and chatting might be nice. So we did. Gradually they warmed up and I just carried on reading, listening to the conversations. I heard them saying how sad they were, I heard them saying it was really confusing and they were worried about their friends. Then I heard this conversation:
Student 1: I was going for Leave, but then I thought of you and your little sister, because she’s half Polish and I thought that Remain is better. It’s not the immigrants' fault.
Student 2: Yeah, mum’s boyfriend is Polish – he’s really cool.
Student 1: yeah, he should stay. It’s crap that people think immigrants should go. They work like the rest of us.
Another student came and sat with me and watched the news with me on my laptop, “Miss, I’m sad. I don’t know what is going to happen to my best friend, cos she’s Lithuanian.”
After that lesson we sat in the office and talked. Everyone was worried; none of us really understand what it means for our day to day lives. People are worried about their mortgages, getting loans, keeping jobs, being able to travel and just generally how we will be perceived in Europe.
I then had another lesson with a different year 10 class. Again I took them to the library and we sat and read and chatted. One of my Lithuanian students was sat very quietly. He loves reading and is one of those students that you have to tell to put their book away, but I watched him and he was slowly tearing up a tiny piece of paper. I asked if he was OK as he looked very serious and quiet. He said he was fine. Next to him a couple of my Pakistani Heritage boys sat, talking about Cameron resigning. They asked me if Boris Johnson would be the next Prime Mimister, so I explained what would happen next and how it all worked. The whole class was interested and asked questions.
Then came the question from one of the girls, “why do people hate immigrants so much?” I tried to explain what people are worried about, why it is something that causes people to vote. Suddenly, the Lithuanian student who had been quiet all lesson, looked up and said “I hope they let me stay to do my GCSE’s.” ….My heart dropped….the Pakistani Heritage lad next to him put his hand on the first lad’s shoulder…my heart lifted.
I tried to make it better. I tried to say the right things without making promises or instilling ideas that I couldn’t. I just tried to make it better. In the end it was two Muslim girls observing Ramadan that made us laugh again. They keep telling me about the samosas they are going to make me, and the curry they are going to bring me (although not too hot because Miss Wood can’t cope with too much spice) when Ramadan is over and they celebrate Eid.
The Lithuanian student laughed when I said that the lack of food was clearly making them obsessed with talking about food and then we had a fit of giggles about the feasts that were posted on snap chat at about 9.45 every night after the fast was broken.
It was just a strange day. There just seemed to be a sad and confused undercurrent. It wasn’t nasty – just strange and unsettling. But there is something that I think we really need to remember: this massively affects some of our young people. They are in countries that are not their home country and they are trying hard to get qualifications, to fit in and live a normal life. Children naturally struggle with change; they like rules and boundaries (even if they think they don’t) and all this is really hard for those that have migrated and are now in a country where they can’t help but feel not wanted. They feel like people have voted against them, they hear people saying ‘it’s all the immigrants fault’ on the news.
I don’t for one minute believe that everyone who voted Leave purposely meant to hurt children. There is a whole multitude of complicated reasons why people did. It’s happened now – we can argue until the cows come home, but today I just hope that recounting what I saw today, will remind people that for some, this is a worrying and frightening time. When I was a teenager, the idea of not knowing where I would be living and whether I would have the same friends would have scared me senseless. Put on top of that, a feeling that people hate you for your nationality and I might have broken.
So let’s just keep that in the back of our minds. I’m going to try and make sure I know as much as possible so that I can answer questions and on Monday we shall be learning the brilliant things we learn every day and we will laugh and joke and prepare for qualifications that we WILL be taking until anyone says otherwise. We could have years of this and it is our job to make life at school as stable as possible for those who now feel like the world is turning upside down…and let’s be honest – that’s all of our young people…and many of us too.
Becky Wood is an English teacher in Cambridgeshire. This post originally appeared on the blog Just a teacher standing in front of the class