Today I came across an article in the Independent newspaper that describes how a teacher in USA received ‘heartbreaking’ notes from the children in her class when she asked them to share their worries with her. The teacher, and those who have read some of the responses given by the children, were surprised by the range and seriousness of the worries presented by the children.
While educating and supporting children living in areas of high social deprivation I heard children expressing similar worries. What concerned me was that many of the staff, working with the children daily, were oblivious to the problems and stresses that the children were being exposed to at home and in their local environment. Many of the teachers lived outside of the areas they worked in; most had not grown up in socially deprived areas; few had any reason to visit the child’s home. Although they had the intention of being supportive and caring, the teachers’ lack of real knowledge of what the children were experiencing outside school, meant the children’s needs were not being properly met.
Often when I asked children why they were looking so tired, or pale, I would hear stories of overcrowding in the homes that prevented children from sleeping properly, late night parties and domestic violence keeping them awake, gang violence in the street outside and so on. Or when spending time with a child complaining of ‘not feeling well,’ discovering they hadn’t eaten anything from lunchtime the day before because the cupboards at home were bare and parents, suffering from addiction or mental health problems, hadn’t even considered their child’s needs.
Many teachers, believing they are ‘aware’ of the social conditions of the area, make assumptions about a child’s home, these assumptions colouring the expectations they have of the children’s performance. Many teachers assume that a child has someone to read with at home, or has the resources needed to do a simple homework task, this just simply isn’t the case for many children.
Many families are so highly disorganised, or are struggling financially to meet even the most basic needs, that the children don’t have access to simple things like books, or pencils and are often too embarrassed to tell anyone.
I heard that one of the children we taught was given a facebook profile as his birthday present. Some children would say that they wish someone in their family had even remembered it was their birthday.
Reading Pals helps all children by developing reading comprehension skills and language. As a Community Interest Company it particularly aims to help children and families in socially deprived areas. Reading Pals can help in several ways:
- By working with Give a Book charity free books can be provided for the children to use at school and home, this is vital in homes that can only afford basic commodities.
- The old.er Pals can read with children who are not being supported with their literacy at home. Children in areas of high deprivation are often not supported at home for a variety or reasons including a lack of resources, or parents lacking time due to work commitments.
- Being responsible for helping their younger Pals has proven to increase the Older Pals confidence and sense of self-worth. Social deprivation has been linked to low confidence and self-esteem. Coaching their peers will give children important opportunities to develop their skills and self-belief, enabling them to aspire to positive goals in the future