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Charlene

September 6, 2008

Charlene was at The Metropolitan School long before I was. I met her in my first term here when she was in year 10. She came into my classroom, refused to sit where I asked, swore at me and walked out. I can’t remember what she said exactly as she has done this about fifteen times over the last year. I suppose that isn’t that many times, but as a perpetual internal truant (i.e. she’d be in school but wouldn’t attend lessons) she probably only attended twenty of my lessons in the four terms I was her teacher.

She is one of the first students to have had an incident recorded in the schools’ behaviour database. Most of what follows comes from that source.

In January of year 9 she was excluded for physical assault. Two months later she was excluded for refusal to follow rules. A month later she was excluded for further refusal plus a number of incidents of verbal abuse to both staff and students. The following month (still only in year 9) she was found in possession of drugs.

Unfortunately, all of this in five months of year 9 (plus whatever incidents had occurred before the current behaviour database started) was not enough to get a permanent exclusion and before she’d finished year 9 she’d had another exclusion for aggressive behaviour to another student.

I can only assume that efforts were made to find alternative provision at this point because there is nothing recorded for the first term of year 10. By February, she was back in school and getting excluded for having a frankly ridiculous number of detentions. A month later she was excluded for verbal abuse to staff and defiance. The same happened the following month. Her exclusions for the next two months (April and May if you haven’t been keeping count) were both for violent behaviour. There were no more exclusions in year 10. However, as we have now reached the point where I was teaching her I know it clearly wasn’t because her behaviour had improved.

She started year 11 with an exclusion for verbal abuse and truancy. I’d like to think that was connected to the abuse she threw at me. She thought I was a terrible teacher and loved to tell me that. And I smell too. By this point she was hardly in any lessons. This arrangement seemed to improve her behaviour but she was out again for verbal abuse and threats against members of staff in December and again in January.

At this point the database entries end. This is because within a month or two Charlene was sent on early study leave (a euphemism for being chucked out but told she could come back for exams). Now I cannot be sure about the details of the final incident that got her out. Communication is never good on these matters and everything I heard was second or third hand. What I do know is that one afternoon as I left school I saw a police car outside the school and several members of senior management. The following day it was announced that after an incident involving several members of her family she and one of her siblings were leaving the school. The word amongst the staff was that the incident had involved a fight with another family and knives were used. It had taken two years of incidents but she was out.

So why am I mentioning this now? Well partly the fact that her sibling (the one who was involved in this final incident) is back in school, but my main reason is this: I saw the register for the sixth form resit class for my subject. She’s been let back into the sixth form and is studying my subject.

Some people claim that the reason teenagers act as if their actions have no consequences is because they are young and impetuous. Consider the case of Charlene. She has committed what would be considered to be criminal offences in the adult world. Yet she is seen as a perfectly suitable candidate to learn a subject she has actively resisted learning for several years, in an institution she has continually harmed. It is not hard to see that in our education system the actions of teenagers genuinely don’t have consequences for them, only for those who want to learn and those who want to teach them.

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7 comments

  1. We have a similar – if not so drastic – problem in Australian schools. I presume the problem is universal throughout “western” schools. The problem is so-called “social advancement” where graduation (and thus access to advanced grades) is based not on achievement, but attendance (or in the case you describe, age). A student who has failed in any core subject should not be considered for promotion until the deficiency is remedied; to do otherwise is harmful to the student, other students and the institution as a whole.

    Far too many students find themselves unable to partake of or even comprehend the curriculum content at their current academic level because they have not mastered prior levels. This results in “disengagement” and frequently students conceal their lack of ability by disruptive shenanigans which deny other students the opportunity to take full advantage of the education provided.

    I do not place the full blame for this phenomenon on the student however; it is the institution (the local school and the relevant government authorities) who have allowed this to come to pass by failure to support teachers’ assessments of student preparedness for future study. In Australian state-run (government funded or “public”) schools, the school has no authority to “hold a student back” and it is frequently alleged (without any valid evidence or research in my experience) that failure to promote a student to the next year level is socially and emotionally damaging. The school may recommend that a student not advance to the following year level, but it is parental choice as to whether or not this advice is followed, and student protestations of “I’ll work harder next year” as frequently heeded, rather than dismissed.

    This is not to say that the students in this situation are blameless victims; they have frequently made the choice not to work, seeing no consequence of significance for this choice. But this failure to see consequence is not the fault of the student; it is not that the consequences are invisible – it is that no one (teachers, curriculum coordinators, parents, principals or government authorities) actually enforces them. So when there is no (apparent) consequence of significance to the child, why should they not act in the way that returns the most “benefits”?

    As a teacher and a professional, I can see the consequences, but it is apparent that other individuals of importance in the child’s life and education do not make them apparent. I sympathise with the predicament over “Charlene” – but it is not a story of just one child – it is a story of sick system that no-one wishes to acknowledge is failing.


  2. Yes dear Andrew. I have just written something similar on my blog. It is just extraordinary. The answer is so simple but we won’t do it.


  3. Yes! Yes! Yes! In my six years of UK teaching to date, I have experienced literally dozens of very similar examples. And of course I expect several more to be added to the list before the end of this academic year. The reasons for this are as simple as they are ridiculous: People in fancy suits who could not cope with even the most tame of students, yet have a powerful say in education policies, bang on incessantly about two things: Inclusion and Students’ Rights.


  4. If you take the trouble to follow these incidents up and ask the person responsible for behaviour or inclusion, chances are you’ll get a hissed “Issues!” and that’ll be that. I can think of ten kids a year at our school whom your blog article could be describing. When they do come in they wear what they want and attend only those lessons they fancy, and for only as long as they wish.
    And why not.


  5. […] committed what would be considered to be criminal offences in the adult world, writes Old Andrew at Scenes From the Battleground. Yet she is seen as a perfectly suitable candidate to learn a subject she has actively resisted […]

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The comment’s server IP (74.50.11.50) doesn’t match the comment’s URL host IP () and so is spam.


  6. It seems like we aren’t making students accept responsibility for their actions. We had a student assault a new teacher and the school didn’t do anything except suspend him for a couple of days because he was special ed. He had other fights as well as other behavior incidents. Then he decided to assault me because I wanted to take away his cell phone that he was using against the school rules. I did press charges and we went to court. Because he was still underage, he got 90 days in juvie and was right back at our school. Hopefully he learned his lesson but I’m not sure he did. If the school had pressed charges at the beginning, maybe he wouldn’t have assaulted me. They weren’t happy whe I pressed charges because it makes the school look “unsafe.” It’s time for teachers to stand up for their rights and not let students get away with unlawful behavior if the school won’t push it.


  7. “Yet she is seen as a perfectly suitable candidate to learn a subject she has actively resisted learning for several years, in an institution she has continually harmed.”
    Oh, but sixth form students bring in more money than those lower down the school!
    /cynicism



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