The chair flew across the room - followed by a stream of expletives.
“I hate this @$%@#$%$% school!”
Books and papers were swept to the floor.
“I $%@%$#$ hate this place!”
The teacher was surprised. Such outbursts, once common, had become rare and had trailed away to almost never. Until today.
Once such behaviours had been common – almost daily events. “Matty” was known to have issues – but not a diagnosis. His unwillingness to co-operate in the school setting had become legendary and his refusal to co-operate with the school psychologists and support staff had resulted in the lack of even a label to describe his behaviours. His physical issues were also obvious – but he would not co-operate with the optometrists either so the glasses he clearly needed could not be obtained. He was on the case list of many departmental officials – but on the case load of none.
That changed when he met this year’s teacher. She made contact – more than that – she established a relationship with his parents. She tactically ignored the “small stuff”. She differentiated his experiences in the classroom – and ensured that other staff did too. When things went wrong – and they did, frequently – she was unblinking in her defence of him. She disregarded rumours and insisted of facts. When he did wrong he got the same consequence as anyone else – but no worse. She insisted that departmental staff revisit and find other ways to help this child. She did not want a diagnosis, or a label, she just wanted techniques that would help him. She even provided him with food when he was hungry.
Slowly, step by pain staking step, progress was made. “Matty” learned first the letters of his name and then how to write them – a massive step that had not been achieved in the previous years of his schooling. He learnt to recognise the basic numerals and then how they indicated numbers – which he began to learn to manipulate. He learnt to recognise money – and how to use it. He still did not have a meaningful score on any recognised test or assessment – but he was able to demonstrate that he was capable. In fact, he occasionally stunned staff with some of his efforts – such as when he made a cave in the classroom and angled a reflective surface precisely so that it provided natural light inside his cave.
But thoughts of his progress were blown away by this latest unexpected outburst. It was nearly the end of the school year and he had made so much headway – and now this. What had prompted it?
“I’m not going to $%$%@#$% grade 5!” he screamed. “I’m not @$%#@$% going!”
And then the answer became clear.
“Why not mate?” his teacher quietly asked. His answer brought a tear to her eye.
“No-one is going to love me there.”
I would have loved to have been present when he found out who was going to teach him again the following year. A most perceptive principal had recognised the relationship and the two – teacher and student – would again share a classroom the following year. And I don’t know who was happier about it – “Matty” or his teacher.
“Matty” may never learn as much as his peers. He may never even get a score on a formalised test. But it seems to me that he already knows what is truly important in life. I just hope we have the wisdom to learn from him.
Image via Google images - here.