I am an orphan.
But not in the typical way we think of an orphan. I mean, I have a mother and a brother. I had a father. I grew up with them, spent time with them, and we spoke often on the phone once I moved away from home. I’ve never lived close enough to drop by whenever I wanted to. And, maybe that was the point
Yet, I feel like an orphan.
I am Matilda.
How many times have I read Matilda by Roald Dahl with my children and/or seen the move? Yet, it was only during a recent viewing that a bell went off in my head, loud and clear: I am Matilda. And, like Matilda, I was born into the wrong family. Is that even possible? I mean, after all, Matilda is a creation of Roald Dahl’s very amazing imagination. Yet, every time I think about it, I can’t help but confirm this fact.
I am an orphan.
Maybe that’s why I never felt comfortable or accepted in my own family. I was never treated as carelessly by my family as Matilda is treated by hers, but I never felt understood or supported. Isn’t this the gripe of many children about their families? Maybe, but I feel differently about mine. I don’t belong.
Harsh? Perhaps, but now that I’ve accepted this (although I tried to fight against it my entire life, I’m ready to lay down my weapons). I can move on and work on the side effects of this toxic relationship. This doesn’t mean I’ve disowned my family. On the contrary. It means I’m ready to accept them and myself and, like Matilda, be happy in other ways.
Do I sound cruel? Selfish? Crazy, even? I don’t know but I feel liberated.
It’s time to move on.
When a child is misbehaving, not learning (at the rate and manner determined by the adults), or appears sullen and unhappy, what do you do? Do you blame the child?
“It’s because he’s lazy, spoiled, insolent?”
Or, do you blame the parents?
“They’re spoiling her.”
“They don’t set limits.”
“They let him do whatever he wants.”
“They aren’t supporting her learning at home. “
Blah, blah, blah.
Sound familiar? No? Really?
Come on, don’t tell me you’ve never participated in staff room conversations that blame the child or the parents for the child’s performance? No? Really? Well, let me try to jar your memory.
Have you ever been in the staff room on a bad day and you just need to vent, so you start venting about a particular child in your classroom or his parents? You start slowly because, in your heart of hearts, you’re not sure this is an ethical conversation to be having with your colleagues. But, slowly, as people start cheering you on, you get stronger in your convictions and your rant reaches a crescendo level. Finally, you’ve gotten it of your chest. And by this time, everyone is nodding in sympathy and someone has gotten up to close the door – in case there’s a parent lurking somewhere. Then, later, after you’ve cooled off, you may regret what you’ve said and wish you could take it back. Or, maybe you don’t regret what you’ve said. Darn it! That’s how you really feel!
Either way, I doubt any teacher is exempt from having participated in this kind of discussion at some point in their career. We’ve all been there, done that.
Why am I insisting on this? Because I want us to consider the damage these conversations, large and small, have on us as educators, and by extension our profession, and our students. They focus on the negative and don’t solve any problems. In fact, they may create feelings of inadequacy and impotence. And, you still have to figure out what to do to teach this child who is challenging you to be your best.
Instead, we need to ask ourselves the following questions:
- What can I do to help this child learn?
- What angle or interest does this child have that can I use to attract his attention towards learning?
- What haven’t I tried?