Many adults seem to think children are an open book, that you can look at a child and tell what they are about and where they are coming from however I remember being a child and know the assumptions adults made about me were often wrong and the ones they made about my peers were different from the child I knew.
These assumptions can damage children or leave them alone in the wilderness when they need support. If adults were just to keep an open mind, look at bit closer, take a little time to build a relationship with children in their care they might be surprised at what they would come to understand.
To give an example of this their was a boy in my class at middle school (when I was growing up middle schools were still fairly common in the uk) who was the joker, the naughty one, the trouble maker at least in the eyes of the teachers. You could tell not one of our teachers thought he would ever amount to anything and wished he was not in our class. This boy’s name was Paul and although, we were not friends in the sense that we didn’t know where each other lived or play together, my view of Paul was the complete opposite of what the teachers saw.
Paul was bright, kind and funny, he was s my hero.
You see in the final year of middle school I was put in the same class as Paul. I was selectively mute, rather shy and awkward and as a result was bullied, Paul was popular as the class joker often is but when he saw how I was treated he stepped in. He said ‘leave her alone, she’s alright, she hasn’t done anything to you’. Paul, was tough by reputation because of talking back to teachers, although I never saw him in a fight, so they listened and I was left in peace. Another day during maths a teacher was shouting at me as he wanted me to resight the times tables (and I was selectively mute so that wasn’t happening) Paul said ‘leave her alone sir, can’t you see she is nearly crying?’and so got detention. I thanked Paul afterwards and we had a conversation, he was warm, clever, funny and caring and shrugged it off as something any one would do.
Throughout the rest of the year Paul continued to be written off by teachers as a trouble maker and was ridiculed publicly by them and told he would never amount to anything. At the end of the year we went to different secondary schools and that would of been the end of the story if it wasn’t for the fact a year or so later I bumped into him. He was on his way to the see his probation officer.
He told me he had fallen in with a group of lads who wanted to rob the local radio station, they had needed someone small to get in through the window. When the police had come he was left not able to get out and was charged with the whole theft. He didn’t blame anyone but himself, how stupid he had been, he didn’t know why he had agreed to it. On looking at his friends reunited page some years later I saw that had been a spiral for him but that he had eventually sorted himself out and was now working in youth support to stop kids going the same way as him.
Perhaps if he hadn’t been told by adults that he was heading for prison and written off at just 11 years old, if those adults instead could of seen what I saw, maybe his future would of taken a different path from the start.
In contrast my son, like so many *PDAers was a master masker and blended in at school, skilfully slipping under the teachers radar. If he was flagged up it was for being lazy or not trying hard enough because his intelligence was obvious to even the most casual observer where as his anxiety and sensory struggles were not. Teachers simply had no idea how much effort it took him to just be in the school environment and pushed him to do more with no support until he couldn’t take it any more and started breaking down in class and refusing school. Then he did get some support in the form of a TA but by then adults had proven themselves to be untrustworthy by shouting at him for crying, telling him he wasn’t trying.
So he gave up, agreed he was stupid and worthless and left feeling that it would be better for all of he didn’t exist anymore more.
The only reason that my son coped for so long at school was from support at home and being lucky enough to have a supportive friend who knew he was secretly anxious and help him through. Ultimately however, this wasn’t enough for him to continue at school. Fortunately I was able to home educate him and undo some of the damage done by building on our relationship, creating an atmosphere of trust and understanding of one another but so many children do not have this option.
I understand it is hard for teachers with ever growing class sizes to get to know the children in their care and have an individual relationship with each.
It was hard enough in my day with average class sizes of 25 so now they are 35 plus it must be near impossible. What is possible is to keep an open mind,give children the benefit of the doubt, listen to children (and parents) and use kind nurturing words when speaking to them. In short look for the good and bring that out, as if you look for the bad that equally is what you will promote.
*PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) is a presentation of autism characterised by the seeming the inability to comply with everyday demands even when they are beneficial to the individual themselves due to an anxiety led need for control. For more information on PDA visit The PDA Society