Never forget we have a duty to care;Opinion;News amp; Opinion

19th November 1999 at 00:00
ONE OF the most interesting things about teaching is the people around you. No matter how fascinating computers and other high-tech gadgets are, there is nothing to beat the human race for sheer intrigue. Take an average class. When the pupil-with-problems eventually snaps it is traumatic. During my early days of teaching, a previously perfect pupil suddenly went off the boil. My response to him was one of perplexity rather than any desire for retribution.

When asked in private to offer an explanation for his behaviour he broke down and the contents of Pandora's box poured out. This 12-year-old was carrying an impossible burden. His father - a police officer - was shortly to appear in court for a serious offence which would see him lose his job and be imprisoned for several years.

As a relatively inexperienced teacher I listened to his torment, probably made murmuring noises about how life doesn't always turn out as badly as we fear and, instinctively, because he was a human being in distress, I put a reassuring arm round his shoulder. Political correctness has now removed that option of comfort from the teacher's repertoire.

But just because we keep our distance does not mean that the problems have gone away. A significant number of kids come from one-parent families with the accompanying difficulties of not seeing both parents, inadequate finance and other disadvantages not of their own making. And, when you consider all the really earth shattering problems of child abuse and real poverty, it's a miracle that some of our young people manage to get up in the morning at all, never mind come to school.

But it's not only children from impoverished backgrounds who suffer emotional blows on a huge scale. Sympathise for a moment with the 17-year-old girl who was enjoying a peaceful drink with her friends in a local wine bar. In barges her irate father who humiliates his daughter by shouting the odds about under-age drinking and instructing the bar staff to throw them all out.

Little wonder that the girl was then unable to function in school because of her father's lack of even basic parenting skills. Such debilitating hardships can make life intolerable for children and adolescents. The wonder, then, is not the challenging behaviour throughout our schools but the fact that there isn't more of it.

I guess, however, that our pupils are just like ourselves. Basically, we all want everyone to think that we are popular and loved rather than sad, lonely victims. So children put on the brave faces which they feel are socially acceptable.

But, as teachers, we have a responsibility to remember that the face we see in front of us is only part of the jigsaw and we have to consider the other hidden pieces. In terms of winners and losers too many kids don't get off the starting blocks and, without adopting sociological-speak, grow up with their problems unresolved.

If you want evidence of this look no further than most staffrooms. Here you will find people who don't so much have a light under their bushel but great flaws which should render them unfit to be teaching children. I am talking here about the wolves in sheep's clothing who appear outwardly charming but, inwardly, are a seething maelstrom of malevolence. They too, have an unfinished history of unresolved trauma and they take it out on their pupils.

Take umbrage if you must but work out why. It might well be a case of protesting over much. For my own part I have never quite forgiven the teacher who belted me at the age of six for painting a black moustache on my face during art.

And, by the way, there's an easy way

to detect these monsters. They never make mistakes.

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