Ohhh Darnel. Darnel Darnel Darnel.
I really don’t understand this troubled young man – and not for want of trying.
I first encountered Darnel when he swaggered into my classroom 10 minutes late, quoting expletive filled rap lyrics. His trousers were halfway down his bum. Baseball cap on his belt. Patterns carved in his hair. He did not follow instructions, unless he felt like it.
So far, so standard: Darnel thinks he’s a badman. Get the Head of Year in, get the parents in… bosh. Darnel’s story has complexities, however.
Darnel is in bottom set in every subject. He has complex speech and language difficulties. Digging into Darnel’s SEN history was a nightmare: chock a block of random unsorted attachments including doctor’s appointment slips, scribbled notes, percentage scores for batteries of tests given with no context, and vague, euphemistic filled accounts of past behaviour. It took me a long time to actually figure out his history. He was speech delayed. He still has trouble interpreting multi-step audible instructions. His sentences are often poorly structured and can be hard to understand. He tends to mumble and sometimes stutters.
Darnel is massively embarrassed by his special needs. This means he will often rather pretend to be deliberately defying you than admit he doesn’t know what to do. Darnel will try to make jokes or rap to distract his peers from his incapacities. It took me too long to realise this was what he did sometimes. I thought he was just being deliberately obstructive.
A further complication is Darnel’s parents. Darnel’s mum babies and spoils him. She is protective and defensive. Darnel’s dad is completely the other way. He calls Darnel stupid and weird and a freak. He beats him. Hard. A lot. Threatening to phone dad is the only thing that will get Darnel to sit down and be quiet. (Yes, social services know. No, they’re not doing anything about it).
The inclusion department make a lot of apologies for Darnel. The SENCO feels desperately sorry for him. Talking to form tutors and higher-ups gets the response, “well, that’s Darnel. He’s SEN.” More generally, I feel like we’re basically expected to babysit the very bottom set; concern for productive learning is seen as crazy talk.
These factors all combine and mean I really struggle with dealing with Darnel. All the questions swirling around make my head hurt.
What do high expectations look like in this context?
When is he defying me and when does he genuinely not understand?
Why does Darnel choose to defy clear rules on things like uniform when he knows he will get detention for them?
How much can I allow this individual to disrupt 14 other children’s education before I resort to threatening to phone dad or actually phoning dad?