The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Friday, April 02, 2004

It's been a long, hard term. Staggered into work today with a hangover, trying to refresh my optimism from its continued battery of wee Chelsea's assaults on my patience.
She's not a bad kid, but she is a very very very naughty kid, with no real family guidance, and a history of finding it easy to make people reject her.

Yadda yadda, needs attention and understanding, blah blah blah, hippie crap.

Sure she does. She does. But not being superbloodyhuman, I only have so much patience. I believe the unwashed yoghurt knitting nonsense, but really, it must have been dreamt up by a theorist in an ivory tower somewhere far away from actual deprived children, or teaching staff would actually get some sort of debriefing after dealing with situations that can veer day after day into emotionally raw territory.

It's not easy to watch little kids in such pain. It's not hippie or PC to have to be even a warm version of the authority figure that they so desperately need.

The penultimate day of term. I was concerned to include Chelsey in the class after she'd been repeatedly removed from class in previous weeks, for behaving violently towards other kids. Concerned to include her, but not about to sacrifice another kid's black eye.

The lesson started badly for Chelsey. After she'd spent twenty minutes standing half in the door, half out, yelling 'I'm not coming in!', I was reassured that 28 weeks of hard graft on the rest of the class was beginning to succeed. They were no longer taking Chelsey's truculence as a twenty four carat reason to run riot, and in fact, apart from occasionally taking off to the door to try to drag the poor girl into the room, warmly extolling the virtues of 'be good', they mostly sat still and tried hard to do a test. For this group, that's an unrecognisable level of co-operation, and one that was hard fought.
Deprived of an audience, Chelsey eventually wandered in and sat near a table, proceeding to throw pens at the slightly naughty kid's eyes, shout intermittently, and to insist the girls near her passed obscene notes. Bless their little hearts, they co-operated and did their tests.
She wouldn't remove her jacket even when a deputy head wandered in and asked her to, but as she wasn't screaming abuse at me or the kids, for once, I let it slide, and tried to be encouraging. "Why don't you have a go at the test, Chelsey? Just try it sweetheart."
The response was to set off a constant refrain of muttering - not even directed at me, more under her breath - 'keepawayfrommewhyareyoulookingatmedontbenearmeidontlikeyougoawayicanseeyourenearmewhatareyoulookingat'
It sounded, to my untutored ears to be a pretty awful thing for a 12 year old girl to be muttering.
Whatever was going on in Chelsey's head, I didn't envy her right that moment.

One kid asked why I didn't send Chelsey out when she was throwing things at people in a test? I noticed that Chelsey paused her muttering to listen to my reply.
"Chelsey's behaving in odd ways on purpose because she wants to see if I'll send her out, sweetheart. But I'm not ever going to send Chelsey out, no matter what she does in here. So we're all going to help Chelsey by ignoring what she does unless something hits us. Okay?"
This seemed to satisfy the other kids. Chelsey returned to her mumbled protests.

Really, there's little choice - if I speak to Chelsey in private, she'll scream abuse and run off, if I send her to another member of staff, she'll run off, if I try to solve her problems I'll merely be passing her on to the educational welfare officer who will find that her family are sending her mad at a heart breakingly young age. Nothing serious will conclude from any of these actions, except that she'll have succeeded in another adult giving up on her and sacrificing her for the many.

Yadda yadda yadda. Needs attention and understanding. Blah blah blah.

All of which hippie bullshit still doesn't feel right, however staunchly you practise it. The other kids still have to be coached for 28 weeks into wanting to sit quietly and try in a test, despite the swearing, noise and the missiles. And Chelsey still shows increasing signs of a mental collapse.

Whatever happens, you end up going home feeling drained and a failure.

So, anyway, today, the last day of term, still worn out by my once weekly brush with the sadness that is a little girl called Chelsey, I bought cream cakes for my sixth form on the way to work. We spent a happy three hours playing all the revision games that we'd spent 14 weeks slowly and painstakingly putting together. At the end of the session, they gave me an Easter egg and a card that they'd all signed.

Somehow term ends are so emotional. It was hard not to cry.

See you in two weeks.