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Editor: Nana Abenia
The charmer, his name says it all. He walks into the tiny ground-floor classroom engulfed with sunshine from the large windows that look out into the playground. The walls are displayed with the usual classroom aesthetics of the alphabet, number lines and children’s pictures. Within this class, there are four desks. One placed right at the back. The Charmer is familiar with this environment. He’s been here once before so he assumes his position as a leader, which with my expertise causes it to last for only a few seconds. His first command is ‘’I’m going out to play.’’ Taken aback by his cheeky confidence my response is ‘’What did you say?’’. He had the audacity to repeat himself. ‘’I’m going to play – I’m going out to play.’’ As if I had not heard the command the first time and my response was ‘’Err, I don’t think so…’’
The first form of assessment is for the child to sit at the back of the class as experience has taught us that this is the best place for a newbie and to protect the safety of others. You will soon find out why. We also use this time to assess if the child is able to do the following: sit on a chair; have an attention span; hold a Pencil; form letters and write their name. This isn’t a classroom for just academics, it’s a classroom that thrives on nurturing the needs and social skills of its pupils, something you may think a boy called ‘’The Charmer’’ would have. The skills we teach are not ABC’s or 1,2,3’s; these skills are skills for life – Survival. Our motto is ‘’Behaviour first and then academics.’’
It was my turn to surprise him and a look of confusion spread across his face as he gathered himself once more and looked at me with his fluttering his long eyelashes, and widening his bright green eyes and lowering his tone. He commanded in a sweet innocent voice ‘’Oh!? Why?’’
I stick to my rules as I’ve been in this far too long to be hit by the second strike and simply rebutted ”‘Cause’ it’s not playtime.’’ in a light tone, quite matter-of-factly. We proceeded to sit in the class and head to the back of his new desk.
In the middle of teaching phonics and having conversations on segmenting and blending. The teacher asks a question. The charmer shoots his hand up and responds ‘’ You know the titanic…’’ He begins to give barrages of information about the sunken ship using the same vocabulary as a marine engineer.
We hand to The Charmer a pencil and a piece of paper to write his name. The pencil flies across the classroom followed by a scrunched-up piece of paper. The table gets flipped and the chair gets kicked across the class. ‘’I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS!’’ He screams. Take note. It’s not that he simply did not want to but he couldn’t…
The suitcase each child carries to this class is a simple binder that dictates their whole life but The Charmer was only 5 years old he wouldn’t even have the strength to carry the suitcase that the so-called professionals had put together to describe him.
When you open the suitcase you would see that The Charmer’s father was known to be an alcoholic to the extent that he would drink so much and be found passed out in his own home. A possessive and jealous man who tried to control every living aspect of The Charmer’s mothers life. The emotional abuse that she went through during pregnancy affected her child before he was born. He is the definition of a victim of circumstance named – adverse childhood experience. When he finally made it to this world he would visit his father often and after his visits, he would go home to his mother and retreat into the wardrobe, shaking, shivering and hiding, he was unable to find the words to express what he had seen or been through. He would meet his father down the road and hide behind his mother out of sheer fear. Eventually, his father committed suicide but the boy to this day has never spoken about his father. The questions behind his trauma and fear have never been answered.
When I first met Charmer’s mother she was in an emotional wreck because he had been kicked out of two nurseries before the age of 5 with no real explanation. A first-time parent going through the unimaginable. The father’s family had completely rejected her child. The system completely let her down, in fact, counselling is a privilege compared to the fact that she had never been sat down and had her struggles listened to until she joined us.
Mainstream schools are not equipped to get to the root causes of these challenging behaviours. All children who enter our school are labeled ‘’unteachables’’. These are not children who fit the square. They are not round or triangular, they are a completely different shape, they are shapeless.
No Work No Play
In the early days when he joined us, The Charmer would refuse to do any work. The class rules were ‘’No work, No play’’ so as the rules instate he had to abide by them. The consequence would be that he must stand out on the playground with a supervised adult by the wall and watch the other children play. If he managed to behave well by the wall he would earn five minutes of play.
The charmer was having none of this. He scorned ‘’What do you mean no play?’’ and I simply repeated our rules ‘’No Work, No Play.’’ Due to the nature of our school, we sometimes have to resort to restraining children for their own safety and the safety of others. In response to our rules, I soon had a 5-year-old boy wrestling with me like a full-grown man and screaming profanities. Over the many years of my experience, I have never heard some of the words he said to come out of any child’s mouth. He insulted me and the children who had their freedom to play from top to bottom. Which was worse because I knew that if he could get through, he would have spat, hit and thrown objects at children and staff.
This was the first time that The Charmer had been told ‘’no’’ and had to face his consequences for his actions. This was just one rollercoaster ride out of many. I have a plethora of tickets.
The Price of Rejection
Despite his charms, The charmer, from the womb had been rejected. His father’s family wanted nothing to do with him, the two nurseries kicked him out, the system neglected him and society could never understand him. His own mother could not take him out due to his frequent tantrums and challenging needs. Now, children who felt constantly rejected usually go the route of unknowingly causing chaos and testing boundaries to see if they are truly loved. Anything at any time could result in an outburst.
He would be playing Lego and would suddenly be triggered. He would throw the lego up in the air, the chair would be flung across the classroom and the table would follow, missing the other children by a centimeter. Mum had always been called to collect him in the past. She would drop him off at school and be called back 10 minutes later to pick him up and take him home until he ended up going to school part-time.
There was no reason for his outburst except he felt unsafe and unwanted in that environment. We worked differently, we made him accountable for his actions but we never ever sent him home and we never gave up on him. That’s when we begin to see the change…
The third story takes place during the time I noticed a foul smell (an understatement) coming from The Charmers mouth. Normally, all children brush their teeth before coming to school.
However, the charmer has used this as a weapon towards his mother. Meaning, if he doesn’t wanna do it – He ain’t gonna do it but at school, I had to face the consequences of this! ‘’Have you brushed your teeth?’’ I asked. He was unable to think of any witty tactics to get out of this one and hesitated. We got a toothbrush and toothpaste, I gave him the toothbrush and toothpaste for him to do his duty. He stood and stared at me. I soon realized that with all his charm he did not know how to brush his teeth.
I took him to the toilets and proceeded to show him how to brush his teeth for three days in a row. After three days I stopped and gave him the responsibility. He soon began to do it himself, it became a new game where he would spend up to 5 minutes in the bathroom so my next tactic was the longer you take the more it goes to your play but you know what? He’s fine now. Brushes his teeth before he comes to school, independently too.
He was finally able to write his name without anything flying across the classroom, he knew the boundaries within the school and his personal hygiene is no longer a problem.
The charmer is one of the kindest boys I’ve ever met. He is always willing to share what he has with others. He learned to genuinely say ‘’please and thank you’s’’. Within the midst of all his trauma, he has an amazing sense of humour! He causes everyone to like him automatically because he knows exactly what to say to brighten your day charming us all with those big green eyes. He could even charm the birds out of a tree. Accompanied with a mathematical brain and Marine Biologist vocabulary. He’s a different boy from the first day I met him. He truly is The Charmer.
If you want more life experiences about ‘’The shapeless Children’’ let us know in the comments or DM on Instagram!
Solihull Approach: Solihull Approach | Understanding your child (solihullapproachparenting.com)
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