Don't be so quick to judge the kids

11th August 2006 at 01:00
It's an oft-quoted cliche that pupils believe teachers live in cupboards, have no life to speak of and are pretty boring humans anyway. It goes the other way, too - are we not too quick to assume we know how our pupils live?

When mums and dads don't attend parents' nights, we mutter about how uncaring or unsupportive they are without stopping to ask why. When pupils behave badly, we happily denigrate their home life. We criticise the mother who defends her loutish, idolised son, but how many of us know about the two cot deaths which preceded this precious boy of hers? When kids are smelly, do we question the difficulty of washing clothes without a machine?

But there's another side to this. We don't know about the podgy little chap whose uncle owns a riding stable and who regularly rides racehorses. Or the boy who seems very uncared for - but who spends blissful hours out shooting with his dad for rabbit meat to feed the dogs. Not so good for the rabbits, but quality time together for a feckless dad and his not very bright son.

Likewise the 14-year-old lad who helps his dad in the garage, and who is slowly restoring a write-off into what will be his pride and joy. If I had a tenth of his mechanical skills, I'd be dead pleased. And we maybe object to the time kids spend on computers, but do you know which boy is so competent that he will be the next hacker into the government? He's the one who sleeps throughout the computer class because it is so stultifying.

Remember the time when every girl in the class had blond hair? Would you recognise the big lump of gum-chewing-foul-mouthed-adolescence as the one who likes doing hair so did everyone's competently for free?

Nor do we know about the quiet girl in the corner raped by her cousins, brothers, father. Or the kid who ricochets between parents, depending on who wants him least. Or the diligent, hard worker who is trying to do something good enough for her hypercritical mother.

The reality is that teachers live safe lives. We live in warm houses, and eat three meals a day. We have marital problems, we get into debt, we have kids who lose the plot, we look after aged relatives, drink too much and, most of the time, manage to blame the stress on our work. But just as our lives are a mixture of adversity and triumph - so are the lives of the pupils. I don't think any of them think we live in cupboards - but equally I don't think it occurs to them to care very much about what we do anyway.

We as teachers need to see beyond the face in the crowd. We need to know our pupils better, we need to acknowledge and we need to admire.

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