Attitude shift

10th July 2015 at 01:00

When is standing up for yourself subversive? It's not a rhetorical question, I don't actually know the answer any more.

My father came to this country in 1958 as an immigrant, determined to make the UK his home. He met and married my mother here and raised a family. My parents instilled many things in my brother and I, but two things have always shaped our lives.

First, my father believed passionately that education was the key to success in this foreign land, and embedded that in everything his children did.

Second, but perhaps even more importantly, he taught us time and time again, through words and actions, to stand up for what we believed in, to raise our voices so that they were heard. He fervently believed that "if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything".

My brother and I have taken different paths in life, he into medicine and me into education. But the one thing that binds us is a passion for our respective fields and a need to drive improvements. And because of this, in our workplaces we have sometimes found ourselves at the wrong end of a conversation about "attitude".

Our desire to constantly strive to improve ourselves and to encourage those around us to be the very best versions of themselves is not always met with a warm smile - more like a cold shoulder.

But, and this is the part I really don't get, don't we try every day to encourage our students to be curious, creative and diverse? Don't we want them to embrace ideas and to respect and celebrate those of others, even if they run contrary to their own? Don't we feel a warm glow of satisfaction when a student listens to the argument of a fellow classmate and begins their response with, "But have you thought about.?" I certainly do.

Talking to colleagues who are as diverse in age, background and experience as a smorgasbord at a Swedish banquet, they all seem to speak with a unified voice on this matter: what we want above all for the students under our guidance is for them to emerge at the other end as thoughtful, reflective citizens, able to play a productive part in society. And how do we get them there? By encouraging them to trust in themselves and their abilities, and by standing tall.

If we, as educators, ardently wish this for our students, why do some teachers fear it? I wish I knew. It's disheartening and more than a little soul-destroying to be met with resistance and scepticism at the merest mention of something that runs a little contrary to "what's always been done".

None of us pioneers are doing this for self-aggrandisement; if that was the case, we'd be in a different line of work. It is always, from the beginning to the end and everywhere in between, about the students. The hackneyed old teacher phrase "could do better" is a clich for a reason.

Zareena Huber teaches English at a school in North London

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