Today has been one of those thought provoking days. From a video clip in assembly this morning, to an INSET on working memory, today has been a day of realisation of what our children have to deal with.
The clip this morning, of a blind boy using echolocation to help him to play basketball, was a fairly extreme but incredible example, but it did make me think about what our children have to deal with before they even come into a classroom. We see children with sick parents, sick siblings, children having to deal with alcohol or substance abuse in the home. Children who have to deal with bereavement. Children who see their parents struggling to pay for new uniform and who are horrified when they accidentally damage the uniform they do have. Children who tell us they don’t want to go on trips because they don’t want to ask their parents for the money. We see children who are having to deal with parents who are going through a divorce, or who don’t want to be together any more but still share a home. Children who come into school having had no breakfast, or who come in with a packed lunch full of sweets and junk as there is no real food in the house. Some children have shared residency, spending two days at one parent’s and then moving to the other. Health issues, confidence issues, relationship issues. All of this baggage comes through the door with them in the morning, and weighs down on them all day.
So what to do we do to alleviate the stresses of these children? We pile on more. We give them targets, with a focus on them succeeding and moving on. We throw spellings at them, sentence types, ridiculous grammatical phrases for them to learn, and we politely criticise when they get it wrong. They have number bonds and times tables to learn, which are tested every week, with “successes” displayed for all to see. We throw facts at them for them to remember in science or history or geography: we can dress it up in fun, interactive, exploratory lessons all we like, but what it all boils down to is remembering stuff. But not only must they remember it, they must show off all they have learned from their spellings and sentence types and ridiculous grammatical phrases in their writing about the facts they have(n’t) remembered.
What must all of this be doing to our children? Many of them will thrive on it: those who are succeeding have their successes celebrated. But for those children who come through the door with the weight of the world on their shoulders, and who can’t remember their spellings or number bonds, surely we are just dragging their shoulders down further? For the child who moves from house to house, do we give them a reading record for each place so that they perhaps have one less thing to worry about taking between homes? Or do we moan at them for forgetting it when they’ve spent an unexpected night at Dad’s instead of Mum’s? The child with really poor working memory: do we support them by breaking down instructions so they can process them? Or do we get exasperated when they wander round the classroom because they have no idea what they should be doing or how to do it?
I’ve always considered myself to be an inclusive teacher, but today really has made me think. It’s really not possible to meet every need of every child, even with a huge team of Pastoral Support Workers or Learning Mentors. We would never actually get any teaching done if we tried to meet all of the social and emotional needs in our classroom. But we can at least consider them. We must do whatever we can. Not at the expense of other children, of course, but all we can to help them and to benefit the whole class.
Lucas Murray, the boy from assembly this morning, had a huge obstacle to overcome in his blindness. What he needed was someone to help him face his challenges. And that’s what he got in Daniel Kish, the man who taught him to click at objects to identify them. The children in my class don’t have obstacles quite like Lucas to overcome, and many of them have supportive parents to help them face the challenges they are given at school every day. But they all have obstacles all the same, and after today, I’m going to try to be the one to help lift the weight from their shoulders, even if it’s just a little bit.