When I first met you, you were, to put it mildly, difficult to like. Abusive, violent and full of hate. You spent your days under tables or chasing after other children trying to hurt them in any way you could. You didn’t care for your teacher and, as far as you were concerned, I was the big baddie. I knew your name off by heart by the end of the first week. By the second week people had already tired of you.
I read information about you and attended meetings that were about you. It was clear why you were abusive, violent and full of hate. You had no cause to trust a single person and yet your love for a parent who had spent your entire life teetering on the brink of total collapse was, in many ways, incredibly admirable. I knew that you were going to play a big role in my life for years to come.
And so you did.
I saw a lot of you in the beginning. We would, not through either of our choices, spend many of our days together. You, cross that it was deemed necessary for you to be away from others so frequently. Me, trying to understand you; trying to get you to understand the order of the world within the school gates. I never shouted. I never got cross. I even tried to help you to read, write and calculate – when you would permit me.
I put in place as much support as I could for you. But even the professionals would tell me that you weren’t ready for their help. Something I still don’t quite understand. How were you ever going to be ready? I worked with your parent and treated them with the respect many did not.
Gradually I think you and your parent began to trust me. I wasn’t the explicit baddie any more. But I was naïve. I mistook tiny tiptoes forward for indicators of future successes. Over time these giant strides of progress never happened. We just inched on. And there were so many setbacks. So many times when things went wrong. Other parents would meet with me, feigning sympathy for you whilst baying for your blood. I understood their concerns. I shared them. But nobody seemed content with the concept that you were complex and that you couldn’t be fixed.
I remember hearing a story about you. A story that, perhaps, demonstrates how your brain had been programmed from such an early age. You were playing ball in the street with a friend. There was a big container of white paint on the road. You aimed, kicked the ball, and the paint exploded. It went all over someone’s car. Your friend legged it home for safety. You, apparently, stood looking at the scene for a quite a while before walking up to the pool of paint surrounding the car. You stepped into the paint. You walked towards someone else’s door, leaving a trail of white footprints. When you got to the door you slipped your shoes off and ran, barefoot, away from the scene of the crime. That is how you survive.
Luckily for you, and me, the staff understand. They work hard for you. Over time, through a combination of pastoral support, good teaching and bucket loads of patience, you began to enjoy school. You began to make proper friends. You began to learn.
Gradually, I think, you began to like me. It was surprising how important this was for me. Maybe that’s stupid. Maybe that’s wrong. But I took it as a sign that I wasn’t wasting my time. You stopped lying to me. You shared things with me. We even had a laugh. Your armour, occasionally, came off, and it was wonderful to see you as a child.
You still made mistakes. You still upset and hurt people. You still got angry. At school, we could all see this against the context of your progress. Outsiders could not. I had meetings with people who were convinced you were still the same abusive, violent and hateful boy from years gone past. I stood up for you. I never excused you or let you off but I had your back. You will never know the total number of hours I have spent trying to protect you. Sometimes I wish you did. As if that would enable you to change quicker. But I know that’s just me being selfish. You will never know. I will work behind the scenes on your behalf and you will continue to do better and better.
And then events out of my control began to happen. Things happened to you, outside of school, that nobody would be able to cope with. I am in awe of your survival. I cannot begin to imagine getting up and going to work after putting up with what you have had to. And yet you do. You never want to talk about it. You want to put it in box and ignore it. You want to carry on as if nothing has happened.
And yet these experiences seep out of you. You have become more fragile. Not a word many people, who do not know you as well as I do, would use to describe you. But you are. Fragile. Vulnerable. Full of anger.
I can no longer work behind the scenes. I have had to, once again, become a more visible presence in your everyday life. And you hate me for it. I try to explain that if only you embraced the support we are putting around you, you would find it easier to cope at school, but of course, you don’t see it as support. And I understand that.
It is easy for you to hate me. You hate me because I am always there. You hate me because my school and my staff are never letting go. We are persistent and consistent and we will not give up. From where you’re standing we are easy targets. We will absorb all your hate and anger and we will continue to wrap our care around you. I won’t give up and leave a trail of your footprints to someone else’s door. I am not going to change, no matter how much that frustrates you. I will always be your champion because I know, only too well, how much you need one.
It will be hard, but, it won’t be as hard as being you.