Today I needed to put my Teacher’s Hat on and write about something that is close to my heart. No it isn’t anything innovative or ground breaking, and millions of academics have written on the topic. It’s about the power of friendships and how this human need for acceptance can make a huge difference in the paths we take. I only hope that my own boys are blessed with beautiful encounters and always look for the talents in others…no matter how hard they are hiding. It is also my hope that the people they come across also take the time to uncover theirs!
Ben had arrived at our school in the later part of Year 4. Friendship groups had long been established and attending a school with a heavy focus on athleticism when you can’t kick a ball means you are instantly on the ‘outer’. He quickly became the class clown, going out of his way to distract the class meaning he would miss large chunks of learning as he was being sent to the office on a daily basis. He was offensive, rude, and soon became a royal pain in the ass, even in the eyes of the other children, who are usually slower to catch on to these pests.
By the time he reached my year five class, his attention seeking behaviours had alienated him from everyone in his year. He had no friends, no one wanted to sit next to him and he was certainly going no where fast…he did not pick up on social cues easily and had become the class bully. (…according to his other teachers) How sad that other teachers had already labelled this child. Yes it does happen, and when it does, it is hard to shake. That is why I would prefer not to listen to what past teachers have to say about my students….I will form my own opinion, and allow them the chance to start over.
After spending the very first hour of the new school year pissing off every other student, there was no where left to seat him but right next to my desk. It was in the hours that followed, with him purposely trying to chew my ear off talking dribble that the ‘Real Ben’ was uncovered..but only to me. He was in actual fact a bright, friendly and loving boy whose reputation had preceded him. He also had amazing artistic ability and to this day I believe he was on the Austism Spectrum. On that first day of Year five he was the last one to leave the room.The other kids couldn’t wait to get out of the room and run home to their families. I called out ‘Have you forgotten something Ben?” He said ‘no‘, I replied with ‘ well what are you still doing hanging around here, you must be excited to get home‘ He turned and looked at me and said ‘ I hate going home‘.
I later found out this was because his parents worked late in the city, both high achievers and he really didn’t get a look in at home. Here was a boy overlooked at home, overlooked at school…so made big noises to get noticed, he was just going about it in the wrong way. After several parent-teacher meetings it was clear that his parents were disappointed that he wasn’t following their mathematical pathway, and did not react when told how fabulous he was at Art. The consideration of Asperger’s was also blanked.
I am a big believer in ‘Circle Time’, particularly with the older children. It isn’t a lesson, it is a tool used to tackle the ‘big issues’ in your class. It is an open forum, where the students are made to feel safe and secure in their participation. I believe you must build a culture of trust in your classroom. I constantly talk the kids about being part of a family for the year. We as a class, will spend more ‘awake’ time together than with our own blood relatives, therefore should be looking out for each other.
Ben loved the honesty of Circle Time, he felt safe. He had become a bit of a try- hard and the kids knew it. He would tell huge airy fairy lies about his achievements in order to fit in and the kids would laugh at him. One day in our Circle Time, one of the kids raised the issue of Ben’s behaviour. We decided to discuss it as a Circle Time topic. Instead of it being negative, I asked the children to articulate what Ben was doing to upset them. It turned out that he didn’t know he was upsetting people. He said he had seen other popular boys also calling out and being rude, so thought that was what he should do..it took a while to explain that this was not the only reason they were popular (another example of missing the social cues! ) he just wanted to get some friends and make people laugh, what he didn’t realize was that the kids hated it. One student even said ‘ If you didn’t do those things, you’d be all right to hang around with…and you’re really great at art’
We then went around the circle taking turns telling Ben one thing that we loved about him. He was grinning ear to ear…..he loved being accepted and for the first time felt ‘part of it’. For the first time it didn’t matter that he wasn’t any good at footy….his talent was his drawing.
It just goes to show that some people just need feedback. They just need to hear how great they are, even if it is just the once. They may never, ever have been told, and their talent may stay hidden under self doubt for the rest of their years.
In the following weeks things got better. Yes he was still a little pest, but a loveable one. People had discovered Ben’s wonderful talent for drawing, and other students wanted to sit near him to learn how to do it. For the first time, he had something to offer. We reserved a wall in the room for Ben’s artwork and called it the ‘Wall of Fame’. Later in the term, Ben came up to me in the yard and handed me a note. He said ‘ read it later when I’m not here‘.
Dear Mrs B,
Thanks for having circle time about me the other week and thanks for making the wall of fame. Liam is my mate now, I don’t have to sit on my own any more.
Up until him leaving the school, he was still great mates with Liam and as Liam was quite popular, this opened the doors of acceptance from others. He left for High School with confidence and hope. He was still a pest, but he felt valued and he was no longer a bully.
I saw him at the school late last year whilst he was collecting his younger brother….and the proudest moment for any teacher is when past students actually want to come back and say hello! He said hello, quickly filled me in on his new school and how it was way better than ours, looked at my pregnant belly and said in true Ben style ‘Are you having a baby or are you just fat?’
‘ Just fat Ben‘ I replied. He laughed and walked off.
Great info on Circle Time for those who are interested.