Jay is returning to the farm and I am curious how he has progressed so much. His teacher says he is transformed. He is no longer on the edge of getting excluded. He is a caring, sociable, energetic and lovely boy. Now aged 15, I want to ask him his perspective on what made the difference for him. He is happy and willing to share his view of school and teachers. After all, the child is the consumer of this educational system. Should we not get their views and feedback?
Asking Jay what has changed, he says it his behaviour. Previously he could not sit still in a lesson for an hour – especially if it was a silent classroom. Jay is not untypical. He was an energetic young man who bubbled with enthusiasm when with his friends. School was the contrast to home, where he could let go and not be overwhelmed by the family dynamic. When at school, he felt freer and less burdened. His friendships were his sustenance and approval by peers left him vulnerable to the infection of jokes and jostle.
But, understandably, he annoyed some teachers who felt he was disrespectful to their need for him to be calm and cooperative and quiet. On a bad day, a stressed teacher wants to control every aspect of the class. Yet not all teenagers are controllable in every moment, as they seek to gain greater independence. Do we set ourselves and children up to fail if we have expectations of levels of behaviour that some individuals might find impossible to sustain, particularly if they are trying to hold it together at school because life at home is so hard? The current educational system is creating a lot of pressure on teachers for measurable results, their own performance being inspected to be up to the mark as well as children’s. Performance anxiety leads to stress both ways, child to teacher, and vice versa. That stress can bubble up, and lead to frustration and anger exuded in both directions.
Jay often felt like a failure and failing leads to shame and shame leads to avoidance. He stopped even trying. His 13-year-old self was constantly in trouble. Occasionally he had a teacher who lost the plot with him and ended up shouting: telling him he was a pain to teach; that he would end up failing; berating him in the ways his over anxious and stressed mother would. Behind a mask of, “do you think I care,” Jay admitted he would slide into his own depression and believe he was a failure, believe he was a pain.
His 15-year-old self has built some confidence on success. He has met some good teachers along the way, come to and been successful at Jamie’s Farm, been liked and enjoyed as a person. His older brother is now a good role model and life has a point – it’s not about giving up and being a failure. Exclusion is referred to by children as being “kicked out”. His remaining in school means he has not been rejected.
Jay tells us kids yearn for respect. What does that look like, I ask? It’s simple, says Jay. “Adults should treat us like they like being treated themselves. They don’t want to be gossiped about, nor do we. They don’t like being shouted at, nor do we. They don’t like being bossed around, nor do we.” Jay tells me he does like clarity, he likes to know where he stands. He likes a teacher who has self respect and does not try too hard to be liked. He wants the adult to be calm, reasonable, not shouting, possibly strict, but fair. The boys like to feel known as an individual, to be able to have a bit of fun with a teacher, but with boundaries in place enabling them to feel safe, liked and ready to learn. I understood what he was saying. I like to feel that way too.
Written by Tish Feilden, Lead Therapist