When Behaviour Makes an Otherwise Equal Education Unequal Can Psychology Help?
We met in junior school. I lived in another town, but I had been enrolled away from home due to the bad reputation of the local school which was situated on a council estate, and would likely be detrimental to my educational achievement. I worked hard at school, but the estate and my parents’ divorce made me unmanageable at home. Feeling helpless, my mother requested that I have an appointment with the school psychiatrist, however, owing to my good behaviour and academic performance they thought she was in fact out of touch and declined.
Around the same time, one of my best friends was sent to the school psychiatrist, through no choice of his own or parental request, as he was not well behaved either. The school speculated that the root of his disruptive behaviour was a psychiatric disorder, however, the diagnosis was intellectual boredom. It transpired that he was an intelligent child who had not been intellectually challenged enough in the classroom. The school’s solution to this was to put him on the ‘top-table’, which was consequently where I and the other teacher favourite pupils sat.
He thoroughly enjoyed sitting at that table, since he was now amongst peers of a similar intellectual level. This brought him more academic satisfaction, provided him motivation and a sense of pride. We were also grateful for his presence, as he was always fun and entertaining, which we exploited. Unfortunately, after several weeks he was removed. Our teacher had decided that he was a disruptive influence, without realising it was often me and others disrupting him by encouraging his silly behaviour. After one particularly disruptive incident, the teacher stormed over to our table, affirming his own bias by giving us, as nine-year-olds, excuses that would recuse us from any involvement in the incident, pointing the finger unjustly solely at our friend. Thus, he removed an under challenged child from the intellectual environment he needed to grow.
A similar scenario was repeated in secondary school. We were mostly in different (unset) classes but were in the same sets for English, Maths and Science. We often sat on the same table, if anyone misbehaved he would be blamed, which was prejudicial and unwarranted from the reputation he had from primary. An incident which has stuck with me, was when a teacher caught me hitting him so hard with a meter ruler that it snapped. I was caught mid-swing yet it was he who was immediately sent out and served a detention without any investigation. As a young teenager, I felt that such occurrences were funny, now older, I know there is no comedy in unequal treatment. More pertinently, such inequalities are unfair and detrimental to the educational progress of an individual. It would seem that the problem was he had created a bad reputation for himself, making him a scapegoat, while I and others had earned a good reputation that made us victims. Eventually, at the start of year eleven, he was moved out of top sets and put into a set with all the naughty boys in our year group. A class which was mayhem and ultimately made his core subject grades suffer.
Now he’s a tattoo artist while I have a PhD. He’s perfectly happy albeit a little bored now and looking for something new. He takes full responsibility for his poorer grades and feels that his behaviour was ultimately at blame, however, as I said to him, we were kids looking for fun and didn’t know any better.
Now I ask myself the question, why should a child’s future career and life be determined by the behavioural characteristics they bring to school? How can we as teachers and schools do more to ensure that we engage the mischievous children rather than condemn them?
I wonder if the use of psychology and personality type testing would help, something widely employed by the corporate world so why not in schools? I believe such testing could allow, both us and students themselves to better understand their needs and reactions to certain situations. In fact, during my own experience and practise I have found that my basic appreciation of psychology has helped me to engage students who entered the classroom ready to misbehave; similarly, it has also helped me engage better-behaved students who were unmotivated. I am, however, limited by both my knowledge and understanding (plus the time of course). Perhaps teacher training should include more psychology that could be complemented within schools by a Personalised Education Plan (PEP) containing psychological analysis for each student, as one size will never fit all equally.
This article was originally published in the August 2017 edition of UKEdChat Magazine. Click here to view.
Scott is a Doctor of Chemistry who having grown up himself in an area blighted by economic deprivation and is concerned that education perpetuates rather than reduces class divides. Read his blog on The Huffington Post Online and check out his website, scottcharlesworth.com, you can also find him on twitter @DrSCharlesworth.