Have you ever had an experience when a student’s behaviour was difficult to understand and then someone filled you in with an explanation about their personal circumstances and suddenly it all made sense?
Have you ever had an experience when you had a piece of information about a student’s personal circumstances but it wasn’t enough to give you a complete picture? Have you felt embarrassed to ask because you won’t want to appear nosey or gossipy?
Have you ever had an experience when you heard teachers talking amongst themselves about a student’s personal circumstances and you felt uncomfortable about whether the information was really necessary to share?
Privacy of personal information
I can answer yes to all these questions and I think this is one of the tensions of teaching today in a society which values (and sometimes over-values) privacy of personal information. On one hand people feel comfortable sharing quite intimate details on social media sites but on the other hand institutions such as banks and insurance companies have policies which prevent even close family members from accessing someone’s information.
This makes sense in theory but have we taken our need for political correctness and privacy of information too far so that even the people who could provide a better service if they were in possession of certain information are not given access to it?
Understanding students’ behaviour
Here are a couple of examples:
- “Jack” who was totally unengaged in the SOSE unit on a particular country. Afterwards his mother told me that he had visited that country several times and knew a lot about the country and its culture. The reason he knew so much was that his parents were divorced and his father had remarried to a woman from that country. Jack still resented his father leaving the family and resented his step-mother’s presence in his life and resisted anything to do with her or her country.
- “Simon” and “Jacob” – two boys I supervised/taught briefly on separate occasions. I found Simon a little loud and disruptive and Jacob a little sullen but neither seemed anything out of the ordinary. Afterwards I found that both were “famous” for their problem behaviour, Jacob’s attributed to ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome.
- “Tim’s” father had passed away but I had no idea how long ago or under what circumstances and didn’t like to ask. Tim didn’t talk about his dad and didn’t present with any obvious social or emotional issues…unlike “Alice”.
“Alice’s” mother had also passed away and I did know the circumstances and that knowledge was the key to understanding Alice. Alice was 6 when I taught her and her mother had been murdered when Alice was 3.
At 6 Alice was now old enough to understand more about what had happened and was trying to come to terms with it. She would often write about it in her journal. One day I showed her how to correctly spell the surname of the murderer and 20 years later I’m still wondering if I should have done that. On one level I was teaching her a new spelling pattern but on another level I felt that it was empowering her a bit.
Teachers as professionals
Teachers need to be careful guardians of sensitive information that has been entrusted to them as do doctors, lawyers, psychologists, priests and other professionals.
School leaders and administrators need to trust teachers to be professional. If there is information to be share about a child in our care, we don’t want it for the sake of gossip.
We want it so that we can understand that child and try to meet their needs.