Allowing children time to simply ‘be’

I worry for our children, particularly those in secondary schools, and I know I am not alone. I have been doing a maternity cover for the last three months and it’s the first time I’ve worked full time since my first teaching job which I left in 2005. I’ve been grateful for the opportunity because it has given me a chance to observe and see what really goes on, which can be difficult when you are doing day to day supply. I am not blaming the teachers, I think they are doing a wonderful job given the circumstances. I suppose I am lucky because I know I am out of there in 6 days so there is no pressure on me to ensure the children reach their target grades. I have no doubt that they would if I were to stay but I would not be doing it the conventional way, oh no.

I am surprised though that some teachers do not seem to understand the correlation between the restlessness in year 7s  in 4th period and the fact that they have been made to sit down for four hours on the trot with only a 20 minute break. Added to that they are hungry and I wonder how many of them even ate a proper breakfast before coming to school. Have the teachers really become that disconnected? Probably because the same is happening to them too.

I teach a group of year 9s, only eight of them now. After a few weeks the group was split in two, the hard-working, compliant children (I am deliberately not using the term ‘well-behaved’ – there is no such thing as good or bad behaviour, just behaviour)  were taken off to work with an LSA while I was left with the more ‘difficult’ ones. I don’t find them difficult at all, in fact my eyes are welling up with tears as I type this, I have so much love for them. These are the children you will constantly find in detention, being excluded, on report, you know the ones. I tried to teach them as a class at first – I had the group settled before the compliant ones were removed. These children are not stupid, they knew why they weren’t picked to be in the other group so I was left with the task of settling them again. A few weeks ago I gave up trying to ‘teach’ them as a class, they were so unsettled there was no point. At the beginning one girl sat for the whole lesson with her coat over her face and her head on the desk. I left her alone and after a few lessons she looked up. I said how lovely it was to see her face and she gave me a beautiful smile. She commented on my necklace, a rose quartz heart, and we had a conversation about crystals. The following day I brought in a larger rose quartz heart from home and she carefully looked after it for me. Another one has recently been diagnosed with ‘ADHD’ and put on Ritalin yet the other day she showed me a picture she had drawn which had taken her about an hour, it was beautiful. She told me she rarely watches TV in the evening because she prefers to do Art.

I wonder how often anyone ever really listens to these children – they are only children, it’s easy to forget that sometimes. I allow them the chance to feel safe. I hear some dreadful stories when they talk about their home life and what other teachers have said to them. At the beginning I would spend half the lesson trying to round them up and would be lucky if they were all there by the middle of the period and did not wander off half way through. Last week they were all there within the first ten minutes of the lesson, the first breakthrough, and they stayed till the end. I gave them the option of doing some maths, some were doing a worksheet – a calculated colouring exercise, or colouring mandalas – very therapeutic or playing a game on the netbooks. They are noticeably calmer now and I know that given a few more weeks with them they would be making more progress with their maths too. I worry what will happen when I am gone but I can only hope that I have restored their faith in humanity slightly and counteracted some of the damage.

I hope if you are a teacher reading this you will have the courage to give your pupils some space. I did this in my first job with a similar group when the year 9s still did SATs and most of them achieved a level 4 or 5.

Read here for more about mandala colouring healing.