Adam is late for school again.
He arrives angry and disorganised. His clothes are dirty and his hair unwashed. He doesn’t have his school bag and he has forgotten his PE kit again. He sits out in the activity area, stewing in his frustration; I poke my head in and give him a smile and say good morning. Then I leave him alone, at least for the moment. Adam will need time to be ready to enter the classroom; he will miss the input to the first lesson, but I will help him catch up and make sure he knows what to do.
You see, Adam has ADHD, and he hasn’t had his medication again. I can tell, I know the signs well enough now and if I were to expect him to come straight into the classroom and join in as if everything were normal then it would be a disaster, for him and me. Adam’s mum is an addict and I suspect she is selling his medication. I regularly attend meetings with social services and Adam’s family, we are attempting to support the family and keep the children safe. Adam’s step dad is a kind and caring man who has managed to defeat his own demons but he has left, he couldn’t take the stress and arguments anymore. Social services are aware of my suspicions about Adam’s medication but until they have proof they are fairly powerless to do anything about it.
During the last holiday Adam was lucky enough to go and stay with his grandparents. They love him and care for him, they give him structure and consistency. They make sure he gets his medication and help him manage his ADHD brilliantly. When he returns to school at the end of the holiday it is like he is a different child; he is calmer and more focused, he is clean and happy, he doesn’t look like he wants to hit the next person that looks at him. Unfortunately, they aren’t able to look after him full time, and anyway, it would mean moving away from his friends and familiarity. Besides this, his mum doesn’t want to lose him, or her other children and social services still have hope they can make it work.
If I could, I would adopt Adam. I would take him to a home that would show him love and compassion, that would treat him with consistency and fairness. He is a mixed up, angry boy, whose life chances are limited by his circumstances. What I see when I look at him is a bright, funny child who has so much potential. I see him show incredible kindness and love when he plays with his little sister. I see the spark of intelligence and the quick wit when he is engaged in the classroom.
Adam is one of many children I have wanted to adopt over the years. Children who through no fault of their own have been born into circumstances that mean their chances in life are severely limited. Almost every child I have ever taught has had parents who love them, and do their best; it’s just the circumstances of their lives that conspire against them and make it extremely difficult to fight their way to a better future.
This is our nations shame-that we should allow people to live in such poverty and dire situations whilst the rich and privileged sneer and call them lazy and stupid, lacking any self awareness of how their privilege has opened doors for them and made their lives so much easier in comparison.
In the time that Adam was in my class, we managed to help him deal with his emotions more. We arranged it so his medication was held at school and he could take it when he arrived in the morning, which made things easier for him. I had spare PE kit in the classroom, just for him. We bought him new shoes when he needed them and made sure he was fed. Social services got his mum support for managing her addictions and she was trying, really trying, to be better.
At the end of the school year, I had to say goodbye to Adam and the rest of the class, they were all moving on to the next stage of their education, taking the big leap away from Primary School. Adam had been to visit his new school on many occasions and I had talked to his new teachers to explain the things I thought he would need, to help him manage, to give him the best chance of settling in and being successful. It was scary for me because at his new school he would have to move to different classrooms and get to know lots of different teachers which I knew he would find challenging as it takes him a long time to build a relationship and trust people and he can very easily go into fight or flight mode when he doesn’t know what to expect.
I kept in regular touch with the transition lead at his new school and it was reassuring to me when I met his tutor the following October as part of our regular transition schedule, and she was able to tell me that he was settling in well (although he had had a few bumps in the road). She felt the same way about him that I did, I could tell she cared and knew what a great kid he was. I felt reassured that there was someone looking out for him.
I taught Adam about 15 years ago now. Adam isn’t his real name, I’ve changed it for the purposes of anonymity. I don’t know how many children I’ve taught in the last 20 years, I haven’t stopped to count but in every class, in every school that I have taught there are children like Adam. He wasn’t the only one in that particular class, there were many other little lost souls that life was conspiring against; children that I just wanted to adopt and protect. Sadly Adam isn’t unique in that respect, although every child I have taught has been unique and special in their own way. They have all had their own stories, their own challenges.
This is the life of a teacher; we care deeply about the children that are in our care. When they come into our care we become another parent for them. A lot of the children I have taught are now adults themselves, they have navigated their way through childhood and adolescence and some even have their own children. I think on my previous classes fondly (and sometimes with rose tinted glasses as some of them were very challenging classes to teach). The little lost souls from those classes will always hold a special place in my heart and I still worry about them from time to time and wonder where life has deemed to take them.
Schools are places that are full of compassion, I am no different to anyone else who works in them. Teaching is a profession that requires sacrifice. We serve our community and are proud to do so. We do what it takes to give the people of our community the best chance we can. Those that criticise us from their positions of privilege do so in ignorance of the reality that many people have to struggle with on a daily basis.
I have told Adam’s story today to give him a voice; he is one of the millions who are beneath the notice of the privileged, one of the many whose stories deserve to be told-if only those in power and privilege could have more compassion, maybe we could start to do something about the growing inequality that is our country’s shame.