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Teacher - leave those kids alone!


I was more shocked than I believed I could still be at my age by a story recounted to me recently by a close friend. This friend, in her middle years, having brought up three children of her own, decided to adopt a sibling group of five brothers and sisters - the youngest only a baby and the oldest just five. My friend and her brilliant partner did an amazing job of providing a loving, nurturing home for these five little ones, who had come from a profoundly impoverished background, while at the same time battling the doubtless well-intentioned, but highly intrusive, attentions of social services. (Let me say at this point that my friend doesn’t live in the UK.)

The children grew up into delightful youngsters, interested in everything, passionate about football (both boys and one of the girls), about wildlife (the youngest) and swimming (another of the girls). Last year, the youngest went to the local primary school, following in the footsteps of his older siblings.

For whatever reason, and it’s very hard to understand because this little boy is quite delightful and no more or less mischievous than any other five year-old, his teacher seems to have taken an instant dislike to him. This didn’t become apparent to his parents until the following incident occurred. The child had committed some childish offence along the lines of not carrying out the task set for that particular lesson. The teacher bore down on him and demanded:

“Why, (child’s name) do you think you are here?”

The child replied, “Because my mummy wants me to come to school and learn things”.

“Oh no,” replied the teacher, “You come here because your mummy is paid to send you here. She is paid to look after you.”

It is hard to imagine how anyone in a position of authority vis-à-vis a child could say anything quite so cruel (wicked) in 2017 when, as professionals, we all know so much about the psychology of early childhood and are, one would have thought, so focused on sensitive interactions with very young children.

It seems to me that the teacher’s unutterably callous and damaging comments must have emerged from some dark, unexplored and very painful part of herself. Perhaps she was struggling with childhood unhappiness which she had never had the chance to talk through with a good listener.

I think the burden of un-reflected on previous experiences is too rarely considered in relation to health and social care professionals who perhaps, more than any other workers, have the capacity to make a difference for better or for worse in the lives of the people they meet. There is a need to ensure that basic training for students who are going to work in the public sector, providing services to highly vulnerable people – the sick, the disadvantaged, women in labour, children – includes multiple opportunities for them to look at themselves and examine what ‘buttons’ might be pushed intentionally or unintentionally by the people in their care.

I have been advocating for this to happen in the training of midwives for many years. Students need to understand why they feel as they do about pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, sex, etc etc if they are to be truly able to respect the choices of women and their families. My own training as a birth and parent educator did include such opportunities for personal reflection and for supported examination of my own life experiences, and such opportunities, although they have been fewer as I have advanced through my career, have underpinned my practice.

Fortunately, the child who was on the receiving end of this damaged teacher’s remarks went home to a wonderful, warm family composed of a mother and father who adored him and four siblings who would stand up for him at all times. He’s fine and will almost certainly continue to be fine. Maybe another child wouldn’t have been so lucky. The last word goes to Pink Floyd:

We don't need no thought control

No dark sarcasm in the classroom -

Teachers leave those kids alone!

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