I began my journey through education as a pupil on free school meals in an underfunded state school in a deprived borough of London. I came from a working-class background, neither of my parents went to university, and my mother worked in a factory during the day before putting in a night shift at the local McDonalds. Statistically, it was highly unlikely that I would go on to achieve the things I have accomplished since leaving school, but the support of many teachers and the stability of my family helped get me there. The challenges you have seen on Tough Young Teachers, or that you might be familiar with yourself, are all very familiar to those from my own time at school.
In Year 10, I didn't have one English teacher; I had six - a new supply teacher for each half term. I remember asking myself why it was that nobody wanted to stay at our school, but looking around me it wasn't that difficult to see why. Our school building was old and crumbling, we were oversubscribed, and classes were packed. And the first thing anyone ever thought about when they heard our school mentioned was the stabbing that had taken place outside the schools gates in 1999. Perhaps the reason I was so desperate for a teacher to stay was so that I had a better chance of getting the grades I needed to escape one day myself.
Despite the difficulties and challenges of my inner-city school, I still had so much that many young people in similar situations today may not have. My family had a strong work ethic which gave me high aspirations. My teachers worked extra hours to ensure I was truly involved in all my subjects and so that I would be able to get the best grades possible. They instilled a belief in me that if I worked hard, and wanted to, I could walk into any university or any career that I chose, regardless of my ethnic background or social class. When I did finally graduate, I knew I wanted to instill that same belief in others.
My own experiences of school made me decide to become a trainee teacher in a low-income community. This role - leading and inspiring young people, helping them build their futures - is not without its difficulties. As you have seen I have already come across many tough challenges on my Teach First journey; struggles in managing the workload; constantly marking and planning; dealing with poor behaviour; and overcoming apathy.
Sharing this first challenging year in teaching in a BBC3 documentary may have seemed like a crazy idea to many. And looking back on what I myself experienced in education, it is easy to think that someone like me would be instantly put off a role in teaching. It was exactly for this reason, however, that I chose to be involved in the documentary Tough Young Teachers.
I firmly believe that teaching is one of the most rewarding and gratifying careers, and I saw in this documentary the opportunity to bring to light the many challenges students from more disadvantaged backgrounds can face. I felt it was a chance to express my belief that, with dedicated teachers, and a desire to learn, any student can achieve their potential - and be surprised by the results.
The sad fact is that educational inequality is still a reality in the United Kingdom today;
How much your parents earn still determines how you will do at school and in life. Yet awareness of the issues around this, and all the factors that can help get a child on the right path, is still fundamentally lacking. It is only by listening, first hand, to the stories of young people, such as those in this book, that we can hope to understand and go on to address this inequality, ensuring every child has the chance to succeed in life.
Meryl's blog is taken from new book We Need To Talk About Education- published in hardback on 6 February 2014 by IndieBooks price £16, and is available at bookshops, online, or via Teach First.
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