My worst parent - Dennis wasn't really a menace

13th March 2009 at 00:00

Dennis's father was from West Yorkshire and his mother was from Peru. Dennis was 12, with sharply-parted hair gelled into place. His uniform was clean and well-pressed. Dennis always carried a briefcase, and while others spoke fluent "teenager", Dennis fumbled with formal, monotonal English. Academically weak, socially inept, Dennis remained friendless for the three years that I taught him. His fluent reading concealed a total lack of understanding as Dennis stared at books with vacant eyes. Life appeared to confuse Dennis.

When I encountered his parents I began to understand why this might be. Invited in for an informal chat about why Dennis was finding his first term at secondary school difficult, his parents verbally took Dennis apart.

"Eez no good Den-eez. Eez no good. Meester Meels, ee try to elp you. Wassamarra Den-eez? Why you no take care your theengs?"

Dennis looked bemused and opened and closed his mouth, goldfish like, waiting for inspiration to come only to be cut off by his father. "It'll never do, lad. Thas'll avter book yer ideas oop."

Dennis remained mute, but he was certainly not being insolent, just powerless and uncomprehending in the face of the verbal battering he received. Small wonder he didn't have a day off school in all the five years he was with us.

I don't think that Dennis was very bright, maybe even misplaced in a mainstream school. But his parents didn't help. He would have needed an IQ of more than 140 to have survived that combination. Twenty years on, I sometimes wonder if he did.

The writer is an educational psychologist and former teacher in Leeds.

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