Under the Radar…

I just had the opportunity to visit a reception class in a school. As I arrived while the children were still in assembly after lunch, I introduced myself to the TA who was in the classroom reading with 5 children. Trying not to disrupt them too much, I settled across the other side of the room in a chair, albeit a very tiny one – and was grateful for my 5’4” only-ness!

I was then asked to help out and do the outside of the ‘space jigsaw’ before the class came back. It had wibbly wobbly edges all the same colour, that the children apparently found hard, so my instruction was to do just the outside and they would fill in the space inside. I love my job!

The class returned as I put the last piece in place, and before long the TA was trying to introduce me to the child I was trying to anonymously observe for the afternoon. Hey ho… think I managed to stop her before too much of my cover was blown.

So I settled into my “I’m just a visitor in your school – I have come to see what happens here” role … and I watched. I watched using all the skills I have developed in the Jedi art of paying attention to a child’s behaviour, facial expression, posture,  nuance, interactions and everything else with laser focus, whilst blending in with what is going on and making it clear they are not under scrutiny…

He sat with the rest of the class on the carpet, leaning against a table leg, at times kneeling up and licking the corner of the table, then biting it and holding it in his mouth…while still clearly listening to what his teacher was talking about, and stopping now and again to disengage from the table to answer her questions.

Later they were changing reading books in the library… he found a particular page in his book and burst with excitement at a funny picture…bursting the same way, over and over again as he showed anyone and everyone he could. Delight!

He did what he was asked… he mostly played by himself during the free-choice afternoon. He did interact a bit with other children, but mostly played alongside them rather than with them. If too many children gathered round an activity he would get up and move away. He spoke when spoken to …. and when I got him into conversation he asked ‘why?’… a LOT.

He wasn’t causing any trouble, never needed to be ‘spoken to’ by any of the staff and his teacher told me “he used to be much more disruptive, but he has really settled now and he is absolutely no problem.”

So,  the question is… does ‘being no problem mean there is no problem?’

She was a very caring teacher, but still was a teacher of 30 x 5 year olds. She had never had the luxury I did of being able to spend time focusing on just 1 child. My sense of him is very different.

The background; he is a child who has already lived in multiple homes – most recently cramped flats with dubious neighbours, he has witnessed domestic abuse, and now lives with only his mother, while Dad does ‘on-the-scene-off-the-scene’ and … the list goes on.

It is amazing he is ‘doing so well’ in school, and granted, he is currently not drawing attention to himself. My sense from being around him for a few hours though, is that all is not so well on the inside. He has an air of isolation, he prefers being on his own and has a deep wistful look on his face at times when he is playing. He responds to excitement and conversation like a toddler, and is still using his mouth and body to feel connected, stimulated, safe. All of these possibly indicating a level of trauma and developmental delay from the plentiful experiences he has had over his short 5 years.

His teacher hadn’t noticed any of this (apart from the repetitive ‘whys?’ which she admitted were starting to drive her mad). She didn’t have any understanding of how these things could be part of him still reeling from his traumatic experiences. I don’t blame her – why would she? Teachers don’t have that kind of training… (although I find it sad, as so many children in our schools today are living through post traumatic stress, but that’s for another day and another blog!)   Thankfully she was open, she agreed he was flying ‘under the radar’ and was grateful for my suggestions of things to watch for and things she could do to help him.

It is not often I am asked to get involved with children who are ‘under the radar’ and I know it is not because they aren’t out there – there are so many who are blatantly on and all over it. It is a classic case of ‘he who shouts loudest…’ Literally.