I remember my first ever Maths lesson, 6 years ago now. I had the top set in Year 4; a group of very bright children, which included a ‘difficult’ child. At first glance, they were all very well behaved, listening to my instruction to come and sit on the carpet. The ‘difficult’ child, however, completely ignored the request and sat at a table instead. The children watched him and then their eyes fixated on me, expectantly. I ignored him and started the lesson. I was an NQT and I wanted to teach! Their silent bewilderment told me that they were not expecting this new tact. But they had made the choice to listen, so I made the choice to teach. I trusted the fact that when he was ready, he would join in. I wanted to engage him in his learning, not indulge him with attention he did not need.
It turned out that he was a fantastic mathematician. His best friend became a lot more confident in lessons and regularly responded to questions. It almost became cool to be clever, but only in Maths, I was told. At the end of Year 4, when we still had levels, they both achieved a 4c!
During my first year of teaching, like many NQTs, I was given a plethora of advice about many things. "Their silent bewilderment told me that they were not expecting this new tact."I had one child who was ‘notorious’ for misbehaving. The ‘behavioural’ advice I had bestowed upon me was to ‘treat him like a dog’. I ignored that! In my second year, the same teacher ‘could not teach’ one child, so she would send him up to me.
In many ways, this teacher was fab. She had amazing subject knowledge and was inspiring. But her Achilles heel was behaviour management of difficult children. Considering she had 10 years of experience, compared to my one, I never quite understood how I ended up with the difficult child. On reflection though, I was kinder. I cared about the child as well as their learning. She seemed to care about the learning and data.
I remember one of the girls saying to me that she did not like it when ‘he’ came in to the class. I could understand why - the atmosphere did change. I decided I needed to integrate him socially, through play. The children needed time to see for themselves that he could socialise. It wasn’t his fault that he was unkempt, antisocial or that he couldn’t always articulate his thoughts!
What concerned me most was that he was very aware that he wasn’t liked, not just by the children but by some staff members. No wonder he was angry and would lash out. If you feed negativity, what do you expect? When he came into my class for the first time, he was angry. He had been uprooted, adding further instability. He did, to a certain degree, become my main priority, but for the greater good. Inevitably, throughout the day, he was going to be sent up. I needed to make sure that this wouldn’t cause any disruption to my class. Throughout the year, he was invited to play and work in groups with my class, where he was listened to. I expected my class to be kind to him because I was being kind to him. They recognised kindness is reciprocal!
Maybe those of you reading this are thinking that I didn’t deal with the misbehaviour. You would be right, but he wasn’t misbehaving when he was with me and my class. He was angry the first time he entered my classroom and that affected my class. I wasn’t going to let that happen again.
Now into my third year, the same child seemed to be the reason behind me moving up with the year group, as well as why the classes were mixed. Unfortunately, some of the children in the year group (and now in my new class) still disliked him. One boy in particular could not stand him. They were complete opposites. He was a high-ability child, very articulate and came from a completely different background. To me, he could become a role model in the class, a mini teacher (even though he was taller than me, but then most UKS2 tend to be). But first, I needed to be a role model. Indirectly, thinking about it now, they were lessons in kindness. Everyone needed to be aware that I expect everyone to be kind, regardless of the past or their perceptions about someone. There were a few blow ups. The worst being when I had a left a supply teacher with the class, came back and it was trashed. I didn’t shout, but I made sure they both knew I was disappointed with them. It had the desired effect because they became self-aware.
By the end of the Autumn term... progress! The higher attainer offered his trainers to his once arch nemesis - clearly unhygienic, but what a kind act! I was so proud of him. Academically, he was ace, but to see him grow into a mature child was fab. I could tell he was proud of himself too. Looking back now, they didn’t understand each other. They were completely different and didn’t know how to interact with each other. Over time, they learnt to get on and, most importantly, be kind to each other. That was the lesson: you can always be kind, regardless of differences or difficulties. You can always be kind.
Before leaving my first school, I was very proud of the fact that I had ‘rebranded’ the ‘evil’ child as the ‘unique’ child. I was told the ‘evil’ child had a black book and would scare his peers by putting their name in it. Strange, I know! This black book was obviously the source of all his powers and influence over the other boys. Thankfully, I was quite a popular teacher. I liked to hula hoop quite a bit in the playground (competitively, I might add) and my golden time choice was the limbo. I could kick a ball in four-inch heels AND made daisy chains. The playground is the opportune place to get to know the children, across the school, and show them you are a human too!
I got to know my new class very well before starting in September. The ‘evil’ child could see that I wasn’t a teacher he could defeat, so he decided to join in. It became very obvious he wasn’t an active child. He enjoyed his books and that was it. He loved books and wanted the other children to share this passion. So, BE KIND and share your passion, don’t use it to scare them! Within the first few weeks of the Autumn term, he and his motley crew of hula hoopers (I’m proud that I managed to get more boys into hula than the girls, actually) were now collaborating, writing a book about Marvel characters. He was ‘unique’. His dream was to get it published. I didn’t know any other child of that age who aspired to be a published author. I hopefully made him realise that kindness was worth so much more than power. Wish a few more politicians would see this too to be honest!
I will always remember three other children. Two girls and how their confidence soared once they realised by being kind to themselves was the key to their success. They were only to think kind thoughts about themselves. In turn, they became kinder to each other and their friendships were based on respect."The ‘evil’ child could see that I wasn’t a teacher he could defeat, so he decided to join in." Importantly, the fact that they were comfortable with self-respect made it easier for them to be respectful rather than envious of each other.
The third child was a treasure. He was in my literacy set. I’d just finished explaining the task and he began crying. He was in the middle of the room and all eyes fixated on him. I’m not sure what he was expecting, but I knew I was just going to be kind, so we went to the table conveniently just outside my classroom. It turned out his parents were going to get divorced. Incredibly, he just let it all out. It was obvious that’s all he had been thinking about. He felt out of control, so it was important to make him aware he was in control, especially at school. He was in control of his learning. I explained lots of things would happen in his life that would be out of his control, but he was always in control of what he could do. After that, he became a star pupil. He was so into his learning, listening, engaging and questioning. He was a star pupil.
During my third year, I felt it was time to move on.
Very quickly, my reputation for being a caring, kind, nurturing teacher was cemented at my second school. I was supposed to be in Year 4 but they asked me to teach Year 6 instead. Thankfully, everything went well. The one child who I was told would be ‘trouble’ was a role model for care, kindness and perseverance in that lesson. She did herself very proud.
Two years in, having taught four different classes, leading four subjects, the hour drive there and back became taxing. I loved the children at this school but something had to give, and I did miss working in Brum. When you leave a school, you realise how much of an impact it has had on you. Because I got in at a ridiculous hour, to avoid traffic, I got to know the the cleaners very well. We’d hula hoop, share stories, and they’d always offer to help me with certain bits, which they didn’t have to do.
The caretaker was brilliant. I learnt from my previous school the quicker you get the caretaker on side, the easier your life becomes. For the two years I was there I would always get him hand cream as a way of saying thank you. A practical yet holistic gift. You should be kind to everyone.
How do you bring kindness into the classroom? Let us know below!