Yesterday, I used some of the questions in the previous post when getting a report at the end of the lesson from a student who had struggled to engage in any way and was clearly "locked up" in their own emotions. The report itself was good enough, basically 2s with the occasional 1. The first question went brilliantly... "What was your best lesson of the day?", "(kissed teeth) NONE, they were all jarring man". Huh, evidently I'm a behaviour guru... but perseverance pays off. Second question: "OK, what was your worst lesson of the day?", "Dunno man, no wait English, that was just JARRING". "So how did you cope?" (long pause and then...) "I just shut down man, just aired the teacher when she tried to speak to me. I mean if you don't leave me alone then you get what's coming to you right, me and her would have had problems..."
Tactically ignoring the veiled threat, I empathised instead. "I know that feeling. It's like... I just want my own space, everyone needs to leave me alone and mind their own business". Suddenly everything shifted and the student just opened up in her own difficult way about having a wall and not wanting anyone ever to try and get inside it.
The next day, I picked her up and put her in a room by herself with some reading. Poems, written by an ex-student and used with her permission; raw, angry, sad, blunt, "front", loneliness and vulnerability. By herself, she sat and read every one of them and then stared into space for a long while. She then wandered round the room, collected a piece of paper and began to write (reproduced with permission):
"I'm never going to open up fully. So people shouldn't expect to much from me. I don't care what nobody says but trouble always starts with family. It went from arguments every week to arguments everyday. I went weeks without talking to my parents or brother for that fact. People dont understand people like me. Ive got a increasing number of exclusions to my name and it feels shit. teachers think there doing the right thing by telling you your not gonna make it no where but realisticly there digging you your own hole that your going to struggle getting out off in the future.
I grew up in south east london where you cant walk down a street without finding a bag of green. Kids below the age of 13 standing round a street corner screaming "who wants weed". Just so they could get some money to eat. So it agrivates me when teachers start talking shit about how "when they were younger they listend". The worst thing someone could do to me is compare me to other people my age when they haven't been through my experiences. They havent had to stand in my position and make decisions based on the situation there in at a young age. So excuse me if I dont want to talk about it and the way I act. But Im never going to break my mental wall down so the sooner people realize that the better".
Kids like this want to be found. I didn't push her to read what she had written, she gave it to me. The power of reflection and writing is incredible and the space and time enabled her to think more clearly and say things that she wouldn't have expressed verbally. It was triggered by the honesty of another young person who showed the sadness, frustration, anger and loneliness that she needed to relate to. And the following conversation started the process of changing that perspective.