Girl Power

Although I’m a teacher, I’m very aware that I never really blog about what I do on a day to day basis in my job. Occasionally, I might describe why I love teaching and how children are absolutely the best people to work with. But – I haven’t ever wanted to write about something specific I’ve done within the classroom.

You can already tell – this blog will be different. Today I’m going to break that self imposed rule and write about something that I’ve done, with my gorgeous class that I’m really proud of and would like to share with the world.

Being a mother of daughters, I feel a huge responsibility to make them feel strong and empowered growing up in the world that we live in. I’ve always felt that strength myself, but I want to ensure that my girls feel that way too.

About a year ago, we were browsing in Waterstones (the Mother ship), when I saw a series of beautifully illustrated and attractive books called, ‘Little People, Big Dreams!’ My daughter and I investigated further and we realised that these little girls with big dreams were biographies of incredible women from different walks of life, different ethnicities, who had made a difference to the world in a number of ways.

We stood around the book stand, unable to move. Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo, Emmeline Pankhurst, Rosa Parks, Ella Fitzgerald, Ada Lovelace, Coco Chanel….the titles went on and on. Of course, I couldn’t resist, so I bought as many books as I could and excitedly we went home.

For hours my girls simply read, not surfacing until eventually they were forced to eat. They loved learning about these incredible, determined women. Excitedly, they chattered about the outrage they felt when Rosa was asked to move from her seat on the bus, the achievements of Marie Curie, how Harriet Tubman was so incredibly brave freeing the slaves through the underground network. And my heart swelled with both satisfaction and pride. They were only 7 and 5 at the time, but listening to their arguments and discussions, they sounded older than their years.

A few months later, it was my turn to do an assembly for Years 1, 2 and 3 in my school. Racking my brains, I wondered what to talk about for 25 minutes. It then hit me. History is always about men. The achievements of men. The mistakes and stupid decisions of men. I spoke to the children in the hall about how much I loved history because it helped to explain why things are the way they are in the present day. I also explained that when they learn about history as they grow up, quite often they will be learning about men – but whenever I would do an assembly, I would teach them about a famous women in history.

I looked at the sea of faces in front of me as I made this statement – no one blinked. No one stirred a muscle. They were ready. The woman I introduced them to that day was Florence Nightingale. The BBC produced some absolutely excellent videos about famous women, and I shared with them the video of Florence, pausing every so often to question, clarify, explain things to the children so that they understood the obstacles and problems that she had had to face and eventually overcome.

The children were absolutely fascinated and I had a number of children (both boys and girls), ask me afterwards, when I would be doing an assembly again because they really enjoyed learning about Florence Nightingale.

Their response made me feel incredibly encouraged. To children it didn’t matter who they were learning about: men, women, black, white – they simple loved learning and being inspired.

The cogs in my brain started whirring. In Year 2, as a part of our history curriculum we needed to teach the children about the lives of significant people from the past. After speaking to my year group partner, we both felt incredibly excited – for 6 weeks, why didn’t we teach our children about significant women from the past?

I tell you, the children were so absolutely gripped and fascinated about learning about these incredible women. I think what touched them all was how all of these women were underdogs and achieved against the odds. They discussed how unfair the world was. How things hadn’t been right. How thankfully things had changed for the better. Once again, my heart swelled with pride and happiness.

Why do we teach? We want the world to be a better place. We want children to go out into the world feeling strong and brave and able to take on the challenges that they will face in the future. So many of the children, both boys and girls, went home and spoke to their families about the books that we had been looking at, about the women that we had been learning about and went home and watched more of the videos about famous women on the BBC teach website. I think there was a surge in the sales of the ‘Little people, big dreams’, series of books, as the children asked their parents at homes to buy those books for them.

I tell the children in my care how they too can become artists, scientists, mathematicians, advocates for equal rights – and that the people that we had been learning about were once little children, with big dreams – just like them.

Everyday, I feel grateful to be in a career that I love. Working with the best people in the world – children. And who knows, as the spark has been ignited, what will these wonderful people go on to achieve – I don’t know. But I tell you something, I can’t wait to find out!