“Mr Bellana, I haven’t done my homework because I don’t have a pencil at home…”
“Mr Bellana, my mum can’t help me to read the book you gave me because she can’t read.”
“Mr Bellana, it’s fine, it’s just that my stomach hurts because I didn’t have breakfast… No, I never do, there’s nothing to eat at home.”
These are just some of the situations I encounter on a daily basis in the primary school where I teach; a school located on the outskirts of London, far from the prosperity and the dazzling sights of the centre, in a socio-economically disadvantaged area.
Getting into teaching with Teach First has shown me what “educational inequality” actually and truly means. My pupils – children full of talent, creativity and desire to learn – have to 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.
In this situation, who can really make a difference for these children and help them achieve their goals and dreams, however they might look like – going to university or getting a diploma, having a decent job that makes them economically independent, travelling, etc.? Easy: me. Other teachers and me. High-quality trained teachers, professionals who believe in these children’s potential and are determined to lead them towards educational success, despite of the difficulties that surround them.
When Teach First offered to train me as a primary school teacher, while I had applied for secondary school, I have to admit that I thought it would 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 the chance to study with well-prepared Teach First tutors and at the top ranked university in the world in the educational field, UCL, I realised how many are the things that a teacher has to do every day to be a real professional: work hard on his professional development, keep himself up to date with educational research and then make evidence-informed decisions, have at least a basic knowledge of neuroscience and how learning happens. This is what I am trying to do daily, and it is having an outstanding impact on my pupils.
Furthermore, Teach First has taught me how to be an effective leader in the classroom, self-aware, and taking responsibility for ensuring the highest impact on children’s learning and self-confidence: they see me involved, interested, ready to challenge myself in every lesson, and it encourages them to do the same. As a leader, I am also accountable for various targets and I have to understand what I should do differently, in order to grow professionally.
I know that for those who are not in the field this might sound like an obvious, natural and easy process. But it’s not. Almost never. There are days in which I come back home tired, frustrated, overwhelmed, and I wonder if it is really worth it. Then I think of my thirty children, the impact that I have on their lives and how we are working, together, for a happy and bright future. A future all children should have. And whilst the tiredness remains, the doubts are pushed away by one of the few certainties I have: becoming a Teach First participant and working in a primary school are two of the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
In these years, I have been thinking often about the impact that a programme like Teach First could have in Italy, a programme that brings in classrooms young leaders who share its vision and mission.
For children in under resourced communities it would mean changing their life trajectories from limited to increased opportunities, while for teachers, it would be a chance to contribute to the development of Italy, and their own leadership. I believe that the benefits would be so meaningful, that it feels imperative and urgent to start Teach For Italy. The different national programmes of the Teach For All network, which Teach First if part of, have a proven positive impact on participants’ growth and pupils’ attainment, and these are the reasons why I enthusiastically support Teach For Italy and I decided to put my expertise at disposal in order to contribute to its development.