My final 7 days blog isn’t on a particularly high profile kid. In fact, she’s pretty well hidden. I’m writing her story last for precisely that reason.
Fawsia goes to school day-in, day-out without attracting much attention.
Fawsia was a casual admission to our school half a year ago. She spoke no English. After a short induction programme, she was whisked into the mainstream classroom. After a few weeks of the silent period, she started to speak a little in class, but she will rarely volunteer answers and her English is still very broken.
There are two main reasons I want to talk about Fawsia. The first relates to my experience of trying to teach her maths. Fawsia was placed in the second from bottom set. I remember her coming into my class on that late November afternoon with her pristine timetable clutched to her chest. She looked terrified. This set contained some of the rowdiest characters in school, and a clueless and exhausted Teach Firster trying to control them. It wasn’t going well. I looked at her face and felt intensely guilty. I knew I wouldn’t be able to give her the maths education she deserved.
Patience is a virtue that this class lack distinctly. Though I can now get them to sit up, listen, and do some work, a tantrum or drama or fight is mere moments away. Misbehaviour is most of the pupils’ main preoccupation. CONSTANT VIGILANCE is the teachers’ survival tactic for the class. The idea that I could set students off on a task, go over to Fawsia and spend an extended time helping her understand is a pipe dream. I’ve tried. I get 3 words in and it’s “Donnel, sit down”. Back to square numbers when “Shanice, it helps if your book is open. Sorry Fawsia. So if you multiply.. Donnel, your choice is to sit down or to get 15 minutes after school. Where was I? JAYDON, hands to yourself”.
The rowdy kids in the class are actually doing really well now. My lessons are engineered to manage that mass of disruptive pupils. An extremely firm, fast paced approach works for them: they’re not bored, and they don’t try it on. But students like Fawsia get pushed to the sidelines. My pedagogical decisions are forced upon me by my concern for behavioural issues rather than anything else. Again, I feel guilty, but at the moment I see little alternative.
The second reason I want to talk about Fawsia is because of her background. Fawsia has come to the UK from Sudan. She has lived a tragic and conflict-ridden life. She is a victim of female genital mutilation. Her life in Sudan was one of great poverty. She watched her mother die. She was sent over to the UK to live with an aunt and uncle she had never met before.
I don’t want to get into judging and ranking the tragicness of childhoods, but I’d say Fawsia’s early life seems difficult to say the least.
Despite this, it would never cross Fawsia’s mind to misbehave. She tries her hardest every day. She does what she’s told. She would certainly never talk back to a teacher. She goes to lesson after lesson seeming unremarkable to one teacher after another.
The allocation of resources to students in schools is basically based on how loud you shout, how badly behaved you are, how many problems you cause. I’m sure Fawsia could do with some counselling: she’d probably actually turn up to the sessions unlike a lot of the kids who do get that privilege. But Fawsia stays in the background, hidden.
Every time someone tells you a student can’t help but misbehave because of their tragic circumstances, think of Fawsia.
Every time someone rewards badly behaved students with school trips or even just personal attention, think of Fawsia.
Every time someone advocates including all the Ariannes in your classroom, think of Fawsia, sitting in the corner, having another hour of her education wasted.
Every time you’re planning or teaching or reflecting, try to think of Fawsia. Amongst the cacophony of the inner city school, you may be one of the only people that remembers to.