'What to do about the ghost child? The kid who does everything right but stays in the shadows'

15th February 2017 at 13:00
In the second of an occasional series, a 'travelling teacher' revels in the moment one “shadow pupil” suddenly came out of himself

The fog clears and here we are.

We’re in Year Four and it’s all kicking off.

You see, the children have created their own island, named it Fortune and essentially decided they are going to live in a utopian vision of peace and harmony with each other. All the laws are fair and people who are naughty will be sent to the volcano in the centre of  Fortune and lobbed in. So that’s all ace.

Then, after playtime, it emerges (via an overheard conversation I’ve made up) that the ruthless King of a neighbouring island has decided to invade Fortune and claim it as his own.

Authentic footage of the King announcing the decision is played to the people of Fortune.

And that’s when it kicks right off.

Oliver suggests a covert assassination attempt which I value by nodding my head whilst pointing at Darcy desperately hoping for a more reasoned response to the news from her.

She doesn’t disappoint.

“We need to travel to their island and see if we can sort it out”.

Good girl.

Brandon, an epiphany child if ever there was one, launches his hand in the air and chunters, as epiphany children do, and offers his services. He’s more than happy to travel to the island which we name Moist – their idea, not mine (apparently it rains a lot which is why the King is a grumpy git – my idea, not theirs) – and so preparations for Brandon to travel are made. We are all satisfied that Brandon’s spontaneous and often unexpected enthusiasm will be enough to win the nasty King over.

Hang on. What’s he going to say to the King? What is the right thing to say to a difficult King? How should we approach such a tyrant?

The class decide on taking along a variety of things to the audience with the King – an inventory of diplomacy. We reject Oliver’s suggestion of poison, but take on board Darcy’s suggestion that Brandon shouldn’t go on his own. We’re all going. And we’re all wrapped up in this playful fiction that is the avenue we’re running up to get to some quality writing. Well, I think we all are.

I can see there’s a boy who’s not really joining in. He’s a quiet one. A shadow kid. A ghost child. The kid who comes along and does everything right but stays in the shadows.

In the tumult of what we’re doing I quickly ask his name.

“Ben,” he whispers.

“Ben,” I whisper back, “would you be able to announce us all to the King in his chamber?”

“I don’t really want to say anything,” he responds.

“That’s okay. Just announce us without saying anything. I’ll be the King. Just do what you want to get my attention to tell me they are all here.”

The children are now gathered in one corner of the classroom. They have safely arrived on Moist. They struggle carrying the imaginary diplomatic gifts and their mouths are full of arguments yet to be heard.

Ben stands next to me. I can sense his uncertainty. I can hear him thinking about how to announce Fortune’s arrival without using words. I play with my cruel nails plotting an invasion.

Without warning, yet wholly appropriately, Ben raises an invisible trumpet to his lips and sings a piercing yet flourishing fanfare. He sings it. It’s spot on and ace in equal measure.

Everyone, including twelve observing adults and Ben himself, crack up laughing. The fanfare is so brilliant, we make him sing it three times.

The fog descends.

The quiet little boy found his voice and it was truly fit for a King. The spotlight-avoider had his moment and it was beautiful.

Hywel Roberts is a travelling teacher and curriculum imaginer. He tweets as @hywel_roberts. For his earlier writing, please visit his back-catalogue

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