Friday, 16 November 2012

Relational Beings #1

NB: There's a lot here that deserves more attention and explanation than I can currently spare but I just had to get stuff off my chest/out of my head.

Two unexpected things happened at work today.

The first was lovely: I had one of those happenings where your thoughts all suddenly click together and suddenly over half the puzzle is sitting there before you when moments ago there were only jumbled pieces. Various topics (ranging from gay marriage through to Rousseau's DPE & TSC) all came together and harmony of it all was delightful. I'll probably blog about some of those things in days to come.

The second was a whole lot less lovely: I discovered some part of the real reason I got off the teaching train.

For a while now I've been telling people that I basically got out of teaching because it was getting in the road of my education, because I was sick to death of the Department of Education before I even came under their employ, and because I realised that blacksmithing was becoming more and more attractive by the day. All this is true, but the real reason--the heart of it all--was a tangled mix of thought, theory, hard-to-identify-let-alone-express emotions and an uncomfortable feeling that something about the whole business was feeding Winston (even if I hadn't named him at that point).

While collecting a discarded lounge and mattress from a block of housing commission flats Rob (my boss) and I encountered a kid who was locked out of his apartment. I climbed onto the balcony and was able to break into the apartment (without, you know, actually breaking anything). Afterwards,  while we were headed for the tip with our trailer full of junk, Rob told me a little about the kid. He told how the kid was always there when Rob went to clean the stairwells; how he suspected that Mum was no longer a part of the picture; how a couple of the more 'upstanding' residents in the area didn't think much of him; how how one time, after the kid had once helped him load the trailer and rope it down, Rob had given him 5$ and ever since the kid had been really helpful in pointing out the things that were going on around the place--where people had dumped a tv behind a bush or where a window had been broken, etc.

He then asked me, because I've studied developmental psych and all that teachery goodness, what my impression of the boy was: "He's a nice kid, but I sometimes wonder whether he's playing with a full set, you know what I mean?"

Truth be told there's not a lot you can pick up from 30 seconds of interaction with someone when most of that time is spent trying not to fall off a handrail 20ft up; but going off first impressions (taken when the kid was probably more worried about getting inside than what kind of face he was presenting) and Rob's anecdotes I offered a quick appraisal:

"Well, I don't think he's slow, mentally speaking, but his appearance, demeanor, vocab, dialectic code and apparent SES background all suggest that he's probably not very academic and also probably what would be considered a 'negative social element' at school--which is only made more likely in my mind by the fact that he's always here whenever you clean.
   Also considering that he took such an overt shine to you when you showed some interest in him, and that whenever you're here he's always with you, rather than off playing with friends or watching tv, and the whole disconnection-with-school thingy it seems to me that he's probably starved for adult attention/social interaction.
   If I had to guess I'd say that low SES plus a lack of natural academic talent mixed with troubles at home has led to him being labeled in the teacher's staff room as a 'problem child' which has (as is often the case) become a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Apart from a "Huh" from Rob, that was then end of the conversation; but as the rest of the day rolled by I kept coming back to that kid and his (guessed at) predicament.

There were lot of things from that afternoon I'd probably like to write about some day--when it's not going on midnight and all that--but one thing stands out above everything else:


I honestly have no idea whether my guesswork was anywhere near the mark, but the fact that even if I'm not 100% correct on this kid there are a plethora of other children for whom much of the picture would fit tears at my insides.

But why you ask? It's not like the worlds a perfect place you chide me; surely I'm not naïve enough to think that every child has a life filled with hugs and puppies you wonder?

It's not and I'm not; but why I feel this churning in my stomach is because I know that there's very little hope for such kids, that many who get set on that path will wind up living lives fractured by all the crap they were forced to wade through before it was their time, that the ones who don't end up dead or serving a long loooong prison sentence will probably wind up having kids who get the same crappy start to life that their parents did.

And the part that gets me most (the part where I realise that that is why I abandoned the idea of teaching in this country) is the part where I realise that even if I was that kid's, these kids', teacher I probably couldn't have done a damn thing to help--not really help in a way that would matter. For every competent teacher out there there are a dozen things about how we run education in this country that will bind and constrict--teacher and student--to the point where neither can really give or receive what's really needed.

To work in a system where you see children get caught and crushed in the cogs of a machine that's supposed to be giving them the stuff they need for getting through life? To see little people's lives start to smoke and burn before they're even off the runway and not be able to step in and help? To constantly run up against bars and strictures that serve not children's education but the interests of those shadowy-types administering things from behind the scenes?

No can do, Captain.


So yes, that's why I got out of teaching before I ever really got into it; even if I couldn't articulate it at the time and am still having trouble now.

It's late and this post hasn't even reached the point I was referring to in the title--apparently there was more to unpack than I'd orinignally envisioned--therefore I'll post the other half of this tomorrow. I realise that much of what I've written probably comes across as extremely hyperbolic and slightly non-nonsensical, but I guess that's the result of having a rolling broil of negative emotions all afternoon and no one to talk it over with.


  1. You can just as easily paint the picture at the other end of the spectrum - the bright child. In the interest of no child left behind, we retard growth and hurt our society by keeping the brightest from excelling. Teachers are forced to spend so much to lift up the bottom rung, the the middle rungs go lacking and the top rungs get starved. The kindest thing we do is to let the top kids go off and teach themselves. The worst is we crush them ("No, you may not borrow that library book, it is four years beyond your grade.") or bore them ("Sit through algebra. Yes, I realize you are doing calculus, but be a good kid and sit.") to the point that they go off to become hackers, or TV program creators.

    Basically, wondering if there is any part of the demographic that is well-served.


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