Friday, June 26, 2009

Isolates within a school

In primary if a child is isolated, with few if any friends, teachers are relatively quick to pair them up with students of like interests or with similarly few friends. There is a process that happens with new students and other for socialising kids with new friends.

It's pretty easy to spot when it happens and it's a fairly major issue in primary years.

In high school it's completely different. It's not uncommon for a group of students (normally girls) to ostracise a student over some perceived misdemeanour, whether it be based on appearance (cheap clothing, lazy eye, red hair, braces), socioeconomic background, race, perceived intelligence, jealousy, personality... Forms of bullying often manifest in this sort of behaviour where physical violence carries a heavier penalty. It's humourous in a sad sort of way that in our school, there is pride in being a misfit and the 'normal' kids tend to be the ones that may find it difficult to fit in.

Isolates can be completely miserable in the playground and find the classroom a haven, as it removes some of the pressure to find, create and maintain friendship groups (at least until the first group activity). A classroom environment doesn't remove the loneliness. Some students can remain in this state for all five years of school.

What can we do as teachers to assist these students? Typically these students erect barriers that make it very difficult to assist them. They truant, gain attention through misbehaviour and defiance, become introverted, lack purpose and direction, lack social skills, can be depressive and generally unpleasant to be around. These are protections to hide their remaining self esteem.

It's easy to overlook them in amongst TEE preparation, programming, testing, assisting the students that 'need' our help. Typically they would have dropped out of school at year ten and found their way (I'm not sure what happens to them after school..).

It rankles to know that there are a number of kids in the yard that only get spoken to when I walk past and say hello as I rush to my next class. You see them every day, walking around on their own, waiting for the bell to go back into class and away from the hell of the playground. Any attempt that I've made in the classroom to assist has been ineffective, maybe as I am only one teacher who sees them for four hours a week.

On a priority basis, do you deal with the violent kid, the kid stealing from bags, the truant or the kid who is lonely in the yard and not causing any trouble? I've seen schools deal with this issue as a primary purpose of pastoral care... but they were green leafy schools.

Do we have the resources to examine the issue in state high schools?

Probably not. ... but we should anyway.

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