A few years ago I had a boy in my class who was not very able. He really struggled with reading and consequently his self-confidence was low. He and his brother lived with mum, who had mental health issues and was unable to work. Money was pretty much non-existent and yet, for all that, he was one of the nicest boys I have ever taught. He got heavily involved in an enterprise project I was running and got to the point where he stood up in front of an invited audience and gave a presentation. It was a real struggle for him but the patience of the audience and their gentle encouragement helped him through and at the end his face beamed with the sense of achievement he gained from the experience.
Over those months I got to know him quite well but as his class tutor I had to take him to task over his punctuality and attendance. He was also prone to nodding off in class. We built up a trusting relationship and eventually he told me why he was having problems.
It turned out that he and his brother were taking it in turns to stay up all night and keep a watchful eye on their mother. They were terrified that she was going to attempt suicide and so had made a pact to never leave her unaccompanied, day and night.
I have been in the position many times of nagging those who don’t work in class or display poor behaviour. I’ve dished out sanctions by the bucketload. I have referred young people to other staff and, on occasions, outside agencies. I have also seen and heard other staff shouting and ranting at some pupils for a variety of reasons.
How many of those teachers would have treated those pupils differently had they known the reasons why? Sometimes it is what we don’t see that has the biggest impact on our young.