Life

All the Things Teachers Wish They Could Teach Their Students

"A lesson on the word ‘cunt’ to explain the inequality and power of language."
08 May 2020, 8:45am
Things You Should Know That They Don't Teach in Secondary School

Between the ages of 11 to 16, you were more than likely an insufferable little shit, and yet your secondary school teachers managed to pull you through to the other side. They taught you about Pythagoras’ theorem, the many ways to over-analyse a novel and how to put a condom on a banana. You taught yourself how to make a substitute teacher cry and to use the word “thus” 12 times in a single English essay.

You might have left school thinking you knew everything (a lie: you are now 27 and still have your mum do your laundry because you keep shrinking your good tops), but there are huge gaps in the UK's state education. Earlier this year, a group of sixth formers protested over the lack of teaching on the atrocities of British colonialism, and the sex and relationships curriculum was only reformed last year – after nearly 20 years since its last update. You probably have a whole list of things you think you should have been taught at school.

Clearly, Britain's classroom curriculums leave a lot to be desired. We spoke to some secondary school teachers about what they wish they could teach their students.


LISTEN: "School's Out, What Now" – a podcast about UK education from the VENT Documentaries series, produced by VICE UK and the young people of Brent.

BEING COOL ISN'T IMPORTANT

"Everyone is far too self-absorbed at 13 to remember whichever outfit you wore because you didn’t have the 'right' clothes, or the time you cried because your hair looked rubbish. Even if you think you look cool now, you’ll probably laugh about what you looked like in years to come, so focus on being kind to people. That’s what people will remember down the line.

Students also never learn how much life will actually cost them. I’d love to teach students what a savings account is or how mortgages and taxes work." Daisy, drama teacher.

INSTEAD OF FIGHTING, LEARN FROM YOUR DIFFERENCES

"My school’s demographic was mainly white and middle-class but over the past few years, our intake has become much more representative of Bristol. While the cohorts were changing, the school, curriculum and staff were not. Right now, there is nothing in the secondary curriculum that helps the kids understand where their peers are coming from. There was a massive focus on attainment and grades, but not the kids themselves. There was a rise in fighting and behaviour became a real problem. Although there were many other factors, the constant drive to get GCSE maths and English meant that there was little time for the pupils to get to know each other, or develop trust with the teachers.

I’ve always prided myself on telling my students how it really is. So far, it hasn’t gotten me into too much trouble but I’ve definitely pissed a few parents and senior leadership staff off in the past. Some of my lessons are purposefully offensive. I run the odd lesson on the word ‘cunt’ to explain the inequality and power of language." Sam, drama and acting teacher.

THERE'S MORE TO BLACK HISTORY THAN SLAVERY

"I don’t think we teach enough about ethnic minorities throughout history in a positive light. So much of their history is told is in a negative way – like slavery and genocide – but we very rarely get to show them what’s behind these histories, so that they can learn more about these groups. Aside from that, I want students to learn more about gender and fluidity. We’re moving away from just femininity and masculinity as a society. It would be good for all students to learn about the way toxic masculinity affects men, especially." Chloe, history teacher.

YOUR MENTAL HEALTH SHOULD TAKE PRIORITY OVER YOUR GRADES

"One thing I’d love to teach students is that there’s so much more to life than securing grades. They’re important, obviously, but a student’s mental health should take a much higher priority. I’ve seen so many young people obsess over their grades to the point that their mental health deteriorates in the process. Since we don’t generally talk about mental health too often, it makes it appear to be a taboo and when they are struggling, they’re even less likely to talk about it." Augusta-Mary, religious education and philosophy and ethics teacher.

UNDERSTAND WHERE POWER COMES FROM SO YOU CAN CHALLENGE IT

"The most important thing that's missing from teaching in schools is an understanding of how power works. Political, cultural, racial and gender power structures are things all of the students will come up against, but they aren't really taught the tools to analyse them in a way that makes them challenge where that power comes from. Politics isn't compulsory and is only an option at A-Level, so only a tiny fraction of students will ever touch on these subjects. But the way that power is wielded and perpetuated affects all of them.

I think it's a huge shame that the majority of students will come out of secondary education without any real understanding of the way our society works. Almost every student I've encountered has had something about the world they'd like to change, but I worry education doesn't always give them the practical tools to challenge the injustices they can see." Natasha, history and politics teacher.

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