“What do you want to be when you’re older?” is a question that kids are asked from a young age. As I discussed briefly in my first blog post, when I was younger, the jobs that I dreamed of having when I was a ‘grown-up’ included becoming a famous singer or an actress. I later realised that as well as these jobs being unrealistically attainable professions, my singing and acting abilities were nowhere near good enough and despite being able to sing my heart out at while listening to “Don’t stop movin’” on my Walkman cassette player, this was sadly a ‘talent’ that I was unable to share with the rest of the world outside of my home, due to being overcome with crippling stage fright when I was in front of an audience. I sadly realised this was the case during an audition to play the Artful Dodger in my primary school’s Year 6 production of ‘Oliver’. Anyway, I digress.
As I got older, before settling on biomedical science, I also considered medicine and nursing. However, I really struggled to find a career that I wanted to do. It wasn’t until I was in my final year that I decided I would give teaching a go. Even now, although I am enjoying teaching, I am unsure how long I will stay in the job after finishing Teach First.
Yet children are asked this “What do you want to be when you’re older?” question and already in school, are expected to be thinking about what they would like to do. They should have an idea of the path they want to take in life, so that they can select the right GCSEs to study, then later A-levels, then the degree or job for after school.
There was a programme shown on BBC2 this week, ‘Generation Gifted’, about several teenagers from around the UK who are considered ‘gifted’ in one subject, yet due to having challenging home lives and being from a disadvantaged background, are statistically less likely to succeed in school and therefore after school, than their more affluent peers. In this episode, one boy who had already decided that he wanted to become a chef when he was older, was being encouraged by his science teacher to consider a career in medicine instead. This was despite the boy not particularly enjoying science as a subject.
This got me thinking about the role of teachers and parents in supporting children to follow their dreams. This boy had clearly wanted to be a chef for a long time, so although the teacher was doing his job by opening his eyes to a world that he may not have even considered or been told about before, is it so wrong for the boy to still aspire to be a chef, despite being a talented scientist?
This also made me think about the children in my own classes and their hopes and aspirations for the future. One year 9 boy in my class is dead-set on becoming a professional boxer. Any attempt to get him to do work will result in him going off on a ten-minute rant about how he doesn’t need his GCSEs because he is going to be making more money than I will ever make because he is really good at boxing and haven’t I heard of X, Y and Z boxers and celebrities who left school with no qualifications yet are still amazingly successful?
He’s of course right and I know there are endless success stories about celebrities and entrepreneurs who left school with no GCSEs. But is it really healthy that his Mum is encouraging this attitude towards school, to the extent that she is echoing the same argument her son uses, when teachers are phoning home about his behaviour? Of course we should be encouraging children to follow their dreams, but should this be at the expense of their education? Shouldn’t we, as responsible adults, be making sure they are making educated and sensible decisions about their future? And just because a student flourishes in a particular subject, does this mean we should make it our mission to encourage them to pursue this as a career, rather than their true passion?
These are all rhetorical questions and I definitely don’t know the right answers. As a teacher, I will just continue to be supportive of all my students and do what I can to make sure that they are given the skills they need to succeed in whatever they choose to do. I will just make sure to also keep a close eye on YouTube over the next few years, in case one of my Year 10s actually does make it as the big YouTuber he tells me he is going to become.