Lesson 17 In Meeting Individual Needs
In the bad old days, schools were often discriminating over which pupils they chose to follow up with regard to truancy. School life could be rendered more tolerable and peaceful by overlooking the absence of malingerers.
At AIrport Comprehensive that was certainly the case. Pupils had learnt early on that if you turned up in school for the odd day every now and then, you could avoid the Wag Woman knocking on your front door. I have a vague feeling that there was a certain number of complete weeks of absence that triggered her attention to your case.
“Paul, I don’t know why you bother coming into school!” I overheard a distracted teacher saying to an errant 5th former in the corridor. “You’re nothing but trouble when you’re here!”
But of course both parties knew the score. Paul would take himself off after a couple of days mucking about and catching up with his mates, and relative order would be restored.
In my English examination group, I had a couple of Pauls, but I also had a Glenda. I didn’t see her at all for the first couple of weeks and then she appeared with her book for a class reader lesson. She was quiet, neat and attentive, the image of a perfect pupil in fact. She appeared well respected by her peers and quite friendly with a couple of the other girls.
The next week she returned with her homework completed. When I marked it, her work was thoughtful and well presented.
After another couple of weeks, I managed to talk to her at the end of a lesson.
“Glenda, your work is really promising. If you came more often, I’m sure you can get a good grade at CSE”
Glenda looked me straight in the eye.
“Miss, you’ve been in this place a month. I’ve been here for years.” She looked around the dispiriting classroom with its graffitied desks and its cracked windows.
“I’ve been with them since I was in primary school,” she indicated a couple of the boys grappling noisily with each other in the corridor outside.
“If you were me, Miss, would you come into school once you were old enough to stay at home alone?”
I saw her point.
“But your work – how do you keep up with it?”
“Freda (her best friend) brings work home for me. I don’t bother with the stuff I don’t like.”
I suppose it was a form of personalised learning, but it was clearly necessary to get this organised. English CSE demanded a certain amount of coursework by specific deadlines. Between us we worked out a system. I would keep her informed (via Freda) of key lessons she needed to attend. Freda would act as postman for her written work and I would provide feedback with points for improvement.
Her work was always presented on time. She attended every recommended lesson. She never contributed any comments in class, nor did we ever have another personal conversation.
You know what I am going to say next.
When it came to the exam, she got the top grade.