Drawing In The Disengaged Student

Part 1

Teachers have so much demand placed on them in today’s education, I wonder if sometimes it takes away the joy of teaching. Although we do need teaching standards, the issue remains meeting the level of demand, verses having time to be creative and enjoy the process.

Children can be unpredictable, and as varied and unique as our fingerprints. In all of this it’s not easy to cater for each students’ individual educational and emotional needs.

A volunteer teacher’s (VT) role is slightly different to that of the classroom teacher. It almost feels like the VT is the grandmother who can spoil rather than the parent who needs to discipline.

It is not uncommon for teachers not to have the required skill set to manage and teach students who have experienced trauma to some degree. A trauma can be caused by something as simple as a parent who doesn’t have time, for their child, because their time and responsibility is divided between other children.

There are more severe cases ranging from a child who may be neglected because the primary carer, who is often the mother, is going through post-natal depression, or is alone in raising a demanding baby. There are many more common circumstances as well as severe cases where a child is traumatised.

For a therapist the signs that indicate there has been a trauma would be easier to notice. However to most educators this is not as obvious, and even in cases when it is obvious, rarely would a teacher have the knowledge and skill to know how to manage it.

Allow me to share a true case. It was when it became more apparent to me the need for educators to have basic training in psychology so they are better able to help such students.

Joe (not his real name) was in kindergarten. At the start of the year it was obvious Joe was struggling with being in school but in a passive way. Where most children would cry after their parent Joe was untalkative. He did not follow instructions, he did not interact with other children. He just wanted to be left alone at the back of the classroom.

On this particular day Joe was lying on the floor at the back of the classroom, looking blankly at the books on the shelf. When the volunteer teacher Ms K (who happened to be a therapist) calls out the roll, Joe does not respond. Ms K, in a playful way, asks if he is in the room. The children answer yes, but she is more interested in Joe’s response, so she asks “Joe, are you here?” to which he eventually replies “Here”.

In the next week’s lesson Joe begins drawing on the pages of his exercise book, which he isn’t suppose to. As the teacher looks she notices he is quite an artist. He had drawn a human figure which is walking away. Joe is six years old at the time. The figure he draws not as a normal six year old would draw it, he had talent! The teacher expresses how impressed she is with his drawing and what a good artist he is.

As weeks pass the Ms K utilises every opportunity to include Joe in the class conversations, by asking him specifically about his thoughts. Sometimes she receives a reply but often he remains silent.

One day in the second term Ms K is advised it has been decided Joe would need to sit with the rest of the class and he would need to participate in the class activities. Ms K could see the sense of powerlessness in Joes eyes. He seemed to have given up against his will doing what he enjoyed doing the most – to be left alone to draw.

The only choice Ms K could think of giving him is to choose where in the group he wants to sit. She believes this will give Joe at least some choice over what he needs to do. To her surprise Joe decides to sit at the very front where Ms K is sitting.

To be continued…