Not so long ago I was reminded of a time when I was working with a group of excluded 14-year-olds. As an outsider, I often find that children and young people will open up to me more readily than someone working inside the system. Although it breaks my heart when they look to me for solutions I am powerless to provide.
What I can do is act as an intermediary, to help get the children’s voices heard without risking them confronting authority and making the situation worse. Every encounter of this kind teaches me something fresh. The girl who had sprung into my head, let’s call her Sarah, had been complaining that even though she wasn’t exactly the best behaved girl in class, she didn’t deserve to be excluded and her punishment should have been less severe. I asked her why she thought the staff had resorted to this extreme measure and her answer rather surprised me.
She told me she thought they were ‘bored’ with trying to sort her out. What she’d felt from them wasn’t anger or frustration so much as weariness. As far as she was concerned, they’d taken the easiest option and just got rid of her, rather than trying to work on her issues.
Now I know every story has two sides, and I know how difficult it can be to cope with a disruptive presence in your classroom, especially under the enormous pressure teachers have to contend with, but I was so saddened by this response. Sarah was left having to come to the conclusion that she wasn’t worth the teacher’s efforts.
Further discussion revealed that Sarah had little understanding of the overall purpose of school. This might seem ridiculous, but we adults forget that children sometimes need this explaining to them. It is not as obvious as it may first seem. When children and young people feel at odds with the authority that dictates their day to day school life, it can cloud their vision of why they are there - that it’s actually for them, rather than some kind of cruel societal processing machine that they simply have to endure until they are old enough to leave.
Stripping back to the very basics, checking in that children understand the foundations that underpin their experiences, can only ever be beneficial. If they are clear as to the why’s and wherefore’s, all well and good, but it’s at this fundamental level that the roots of many problems can lie.
In the world of conference speaking, people often use the phrase ‘The Big Take Home’ or ‘The Big Take Away’, and almost any guide to public speaking will tell you that all presentations should have one. It’s a perfectly valid piece of advice and I always find it useful to decide on the main point I want people to leave with, even before I start writing a speech.
Here is another in my series of articles based on conversations with children, first published in Teach Early Years magazine. In each piece, I focus on one prominent theme. For this one, it’s ANGER. My thanks to editor Mark Hayhurst for allowing reproduction, and if you want to know more, details of this and their other magazines and resources are available at: https://www.teachwire.net
- What lesson would you like grown-ups to learn about how to treat children?
- What I want them to learn… to let the children let all the anger… learn that children… just be able to let all the angers out. (M - female)
Crumbs! This little girl was very determined to make her point, even though she struggled to find the words. It was one of those occasions when a recent event had made quite the impact, and was colouring the child’s responses. However, what she was communicating struck me as very important indeed.
Things are starting to edge slowly towards something that feels akin to a kind of normality. The kids have been back in school and the adult population is gradually receiving vaccinations. But beneath the tentative positivity, many of us are wondering what the long term effects will be, especially on our children.
Those that I’ve spoken to over the last twelve months, through various stages of lockdown, have been doing their best to cope. They have mostly risen to the challenge, feeling strong sense of responsibility to support their parents and families through desperate times. But like all of us, they’ve also had the odd meltdown.