'Sir, do I need to leave the UK now because of Brexit? I’m Polish – people don’t want me here'

A primary teacher in Gloucester argues that teachers have to keep their own views on Brexit out of the classroom

Kate Townshend

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I’m only a part-time teacher, which means that I can spend today in my pyjamas using social media as a platform to shout about my anger and sadness at the vote for Brexit.

I hoped we would stay. I hoped we would vote for togetherness and tolerance and remaining part of something outward-looking and hopeful – something that says we are more in love with ideals of cooperation and harmony than those of nostalgia and nationalism.

It didn’t come to pass and today I don’t have to be brave about it.

But on Monday I will re-enter my classroom. On Monday, how I act and what I say has to be about the children I teach more than it is about myself. Because however angry or afraid or baffled I may be, that’s not what my students need to see. Colleagues in the profession have already reported heartbreaking questions from their pupils:

“Sir, do I need to leave the UK now? I’m Polish – people don’t want me here.”

“Sir is it true there will be a depression now? I heard that the pound has crashed.”

“Miss, why do we still have to do French if we aren't in the EU anymore?”

No easy answers

The problem is, there are no easy answers to these questions. And sometimes I think children, particularly older ones, need honesty and not just protection – after all, they’re the ones who are going to have to live the longest in this brave new world.

I’ve always seen a teacher’s job as one that can change the world, even just a little, for the better. Which means I can’t give the children I teach cynicism and exhaustion and sadness; I have to try to give them love and hope and courage. And at any rate, it isn’t ethical to bring personal politics into the classroom. It’s my job to give my children the tools to make their own judgements, not to share mine.

Perhaps then, I’ll stick to the few facts that I cling to as well: all is not lost; people are still fundamentally good and kind; Britain is still a tolerant and diverse place, for the most part; and most importantly, if they don’t like some aspects of the world in which they find themselves, they still have the power to grow up and change it.

Love and hope and courage. It’s not just children who will need those things going forwards.

Kate Townshend has taught in primary schools across Gloucester for the past 10 years

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Kate Townshend

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