The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Thursday, March 03, 2005

It was a surprise to see Aliye, snorting a damp fag heavily as she mooched alongside her bad-girl friends, anywhere near the school.

A permanent fixture in the school's mock mini 'prison' area, she'd been told never to come back around six months ago. Been enrolled - against her better judgement - on a vocational course at the local trades college. LAsted four weeks before they threw her out also.

I have a soft spot for Aliye, since she was fourteen and used to wander into my form class to pointlessly scream abuse at me two times daily. Not the abuse, although, that's merely lessened, switched to different perpetrators, now - but the regularity of her visits, the clear indication that she felt she had nowhere else she felt like she needed to go.

When she was placed into my exam class at fifteen, I feared the worst. Yet, actually, as long as I allowed her to wander off rather than beat some provocative boy to a bloodied pulp, we coexisted happily. Her sendings out were always a perfunctory affair - a sad, wistful, 'okay Aliye, I think we've reached our limit now' was enough to have her mooch to the girls' toilets and smoke for the rest of the lesson. The difference between her behaviour and that of other troubled students, I think was that where they just wanted attention, and saw confrontation as a means to that end, she felt genuine disaffection. Aliye wasn't really concerned if you shouted at her or not. She wasn't really concerned if you noticed she was in the room or not.

Her sole contribution to lessons was an occasional "will you shut up, Miss, you been talking for thirty minutes now, and it's jarring me." Like all teachers, I hear the sound of my own voice a little too warmly, and I - unexpectedly - I found I appreciated the honesty. Her written work was competent, sometimes verging on good. anything else nonexistent.

I might have let her slip beneath the radar, left it at that, if I hadn't taught her brother, Haydar. He'd been a difficult person to place in the right tier of examinations, and his incredibly bolshymother had given me hell for underestimating him.

She'd been exactly right: Haydar secured himself an A. I learnt my lesson - teach to their potential, not to their performance.

So Aliye's disaffected grumpy slouch confused me. I didn't push the issue, but quietly, continually made it clear I thought her capable fo the top grades.

Until she was disappeared.

Nowadays, Aliye mooches around sitting on walls and smoking, getting up in the afternoons and waiting for her friends to finish school to mooch some more. She's sixteen and has no hope of gaining any qualifications at all.

Chatting to her in the street tonight, I point out that an appeal from her father to the DfES or to the local council would probably gain her access to the school just to take her examinations. Why didn't she appeal? There was still time.
For that matter, why hadn't mum said anything? Mum would have raised merry hell if Haydar had been treated like this.

But Alliye is Turkish. And a girl. Culturally unimportant. Aliye's mum is not at home any more, and nor is her brother. Aliye's dad isn't confident with authorities. "He gets confused," she says. "He doesn't know what to say or who to ask."

Social engineering. I can see it's behind the brilliant results reached by this year's crop of sixteen year olds, but it hurts when you see the kids it leaves behind. If Aliye were middle class, she'd be getting A grades right now, not skulking around council estates counting the days till she's pregnant.

I made her promise to ghost write a letter to the local borough of education. Get her dad to sign it. Conscripted her friends to make sure she got reminded. Promised to take up her case with the head.

But with a heavy heart. Kids like Aliye don't fall into the 'matters' bracket. Whateer we do now, we've told her that very very clearly. And that's the sort of lesson it's especially hard to unlearn.