Lesson 73 on Relationships – sad and happy
Miss Maverick worked on the far side of the activity area shared with Mr TopJuniors. Although there were folding room dividers that could be closed between the area and the classrooms, these were almost always kept partially open. In fact none of the classrooms in Owen’s school were regarded as private. Doors and partitions were left open. The generous spaces between areas meant that classes rarely disturbed one another.
Miss Maverick preferred not to have other adults in her class. She had her own ways of working and another person disturbed the delicate balance she had established within her difficult group. The class contained some very troubled children. Any change easily triggered a meltdown, but Miss Maverick recognised the warning signals and implemented a range of strategies for defusing trouble at an early stage. Other adults got in the way.
The only time I was called across from Mr TopJuniors was when she needed somebody to temporarily supervise the group, while she dealt with a sudden blow up. Danny had simply had enough. He had got through the morning, but by afternoon he was beside himself with tiredness and distress. There had been a major incident at home the previous night.
When I was in teacher training I used to remind my students that children are sent to school in circumstances which would have adults signed off sick or given compassionate leave. Pupils experienced bereavement and parental desertion. They witnessed domestic violence, drug overdoses, drunken fights and quarrels, but the next day they would be back in school. Often the adults needed the children out of the way, while they tried to cope themselves.
Danny fell into that category. On this particular afternoon he stormed around the classroom, refusing to sit down. Fighting back tears he yelled defiance at Miss Maverick. What he really wanted was her whole attention for himself. He wanted to be hugged and comforted. Yet he couldn’t lose face so he had to be bad.
Miss Maverick manoeuvred him into the activity area, and waved me into the classroom. Then she set about talking him down. It was hard. She had to get him to see that he couldn’t do this here. In school there were other people who needed attention too. However he felt, the class couldn’t function if people went into meltdown.
In the end he calmed down sufficiently to sit at a table scowling. The class were remarkably tolerant of outbursts provided they knew Miss Maverick had everything under control. They settled down to work.
Miss Maverick was firm and unflappable, even in such fraught and heart-rending situations. The class had to be a place where every pupil’s right to learn was respected. Nobody could claim a monopoly on attention.
However Miss Maverick sought to balance out her pupils’ dark, difficult times with stacks of happiness. Her class had a whole repertoire of favourite songs, which they sang with gusto. They wrote silly poems. They decorated the walls. One morning they disturbed us next door by singing Happy Birthday to Miss Maverick’s mother on her mobile phone.
When the weather permitted they grabbed every opportunity to play games outside. They were given the chance to enjoy things. They read exciting stories and made up their own. They told jokes.
My clearest memory of Miss Maverick was of her sitting on a bench at the edge of the school field one playtime. She had one child on her lap, two others leaning on her on either side and another behind her, arms draped round her neck. They were all laughing.
She caught me looking and called out.
“Now Mrs Wise, isn’t this the best job in the world? Where else could you get so many hugs?”
I smiled back.
Those were innocent times.