The following comments relate to my experiences, which is primarily with EAL learners but applies to many of the most disadvantaged students. Supporting aspirations is important for social mobility and more positive outcomes.
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Teachers: are you concerned about pupils with low aspirations?
Parents: are you expecting your child’s schooling to broaden their horizons and ensure they get a “good” job when they are older?
Do you have gifted, talented young people in your care with an abundance of intelligence but no desire to capitalize on it?
Consider in whose interest you are acting when you tell them what to aspire to. Does your recommendation reflect their intelligence or their skills and interests? Are you pushing them to aim for a better paid career or a less competitive career?
The Education Endowment Foundation says interventions aimed at raising aspirations “have very little or no impact for a moderate cost.”
That means that we are doing it totally wrong.
The EEF also says evidence suggests where children underachieve, it is because of “a gap between their aspirations and the skills, knowledge and characteristics required to achieve them.”
In other words, stop telling kids what they should want to be and help them become whatever THEY want to be.
I let my teachers dictate my level of aspiration. With the best of intentions, they said I should go to University so I could get a good job. If I got a good job, I could buy a house and support my family.
What they actually were saying was that I should take the low risk road to mediocrity, and that is what I achieved in the following years. Mediocrity. I take full responsibility for that. I should have realised sooner.
I love my job 90% of the time, but it has taken me almost 12 years to find that level of happiness in my work. Some of you may have taken even longer, or maybe you have not yet found happiness in your work. How does that feel? Is that a feeling you want for your pupils, or your child?
In future, I want teachers and parents to change that conversation and support their children in meeting their goals by providing opportunities to develop the skills, knowledge and characteristics they need to find their happiness in their career.
Remember that a person’s intelligence is one aspect of them. Not everybody who is intelligent enough to become a doctor will find happiness in being one.
As a teacher I have spent a lot of time showing young people they can do things when they believe they can’t.
Why would a teacher add to the negativity? What effect does that have? Kids can figure out what they are unable to do by themselves.
Think about the opportunity you have as an educator:
You can be the one who inspires the kid who wants to work in a restaurant. With the right skills, knowledge and characteristics, one day they might open their own restaurant. Encourage them to find out everything there is to know about the restaurant business and all the opportunities within.
You can be the one who believes in the kid who wants to be a footballer, an actor or a singer when others tell them it is a stupid dream. Encourage them to be healthy, join teams or clubs and develop their skills. With the right skills, knowledge and characteristics, one day they might get there.
Or you could be the one who encourages them to never scratch the itch in case it’s difficult, and they might fail.
If that’s you, then why on earth are you a teacher?
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