Are We There Yet?
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.