19th July 2013 at 01:00

The problem

I teach a number of students who don't always get meals at home. Often they arrive at school late and have not eaten since school lunch the day before. This problem is clearly exacerbated by weekends. As you would expect, they find it difficult to learn as they do not have the energy to focus on their work. They are typically sullen, irritable and potentially aggressive, and they can disrupt the learning of others. Some of these students also have problems with drugs and alcohol. When behaviour is poor, I am consistent and I sanction in the usual way, but I feel guilty for doing so. Short of giving them my lunch (although I confess that I have done this in the past), I don't know what else to do. The school is working more broadly with social services to address the situation of these at-risk young people, but the process can be heartbreakingly slow. I realise that there are whole-school interventions that could be beneficial (and I'm working on that), but is there anything I can do at the chalkface?

What you said

Perhaps the school nurse, if you have one, could have a secret stash of sandwiches for those suffering from distracting levels of hunger?


No way should you be sanctioning these children when you know the root cause of their behaviour is not their fault.


The expert view

This is so hard. You're being asked to deal with situations that you fundamentally have no control over. You're right, their hunger and addictions present huge obstacles to their behaviour. So what do you do? You do what you can. You fix what you can fix, and you put pressure on others to fix what they can fix. Do maintain compassionate boundaries with these children. If you let them do as they please, you're not helping them - you're allowing them to become habituated to patterns from which they will probably never break free. Set boundaries and apply sanctions, as you would with any other child. At the same time, you can assist with their hunger. Press the school to dip into its budgets to supply something to feed them.

Tom Bennett's latest book, Teacher Proof, is out now, published by Routledge.

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