We Moved Schools For Our Son To Find His Tribe
By Carol Duncan - 18th September 2012
I knew from very early on that I had a sensitive child on my hands. Actually it was my mother who commented first but that’s the way it goes when he was my first child and her 7th grandchild. “He’s sensitive, this one.” He was only a few months old but she knew.
And before long I knew that this little boy thought that nowhere was better than tucked under the arm of Mummy or Daddy.
Mr now-10 is an intelligent boy. Warm and loving and polite - unless you happen to be his little brother in which case you might have quite a different opinion on the matter. Mr 9 is, in many ways, a more resilient child, perhaps a braver child, but finds it far easier to shrug off issues that Mr 10 will obsess on and become quite unhappy about.
I can’t remember if it was Mr 10’s Kindergarten year, or Year One, but it was certainly very early on that I remember picking him up from school and him informing me, “Mummy, I’m not like the other children.”
Mr 10 has always loved music, classical music, Cuban music, Gypsy music, but not the raucous Wigglelicious candy that millions of young children have been enthralled by all over the world. One of Mr 10’s first musical loves was the soundtrack of the Buena Vista Social Club, and I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve heard the Gunfight sequence from American composer, Aaron Copland’s, Billy The Kid drift down the stairs from his room. Thankfully, he also shares his mother’s love of rock music. His class had been asked to bring something for news, something they liked to share with the other kids. Mr 10’s choice was a compilation of classical music from his dad’s collection.
The first few years of primary school were perhaps unremarkable other than he has always been a well-behaved boy with a strong sense of right and wrong and a strong appreciation of personal achievement. He’s not competitive (unless you are Mr 9) and he’s not terribly sporty, but he has a deep love of learning and an inquiring mind. Sadly, what this often means for children like him is that your peers don’t quite ‘get’ you.
I was the same. I was always more comfortable in the company of adults and perhaps a bit of a mother-hen to younger children. If this is a genetic trait then Mr 10 has copped a double-dose from his physicist/composer father.
Mr 10 shines in conversation with adults, his teachers have always loved him and he’s the sort of kid who impresses strangers with his manners and beautiful language, but he’s always struggled to make and maintain friendships with children his own age. For your average 10 year old, he must seem incomprehensible.
So ... when a child who loves learning doesn’t want to go to school anymore, it’s obvious that problems are brewing.
The last couple of years at school we’ve seen an increase in teasing and bullying towards Mr 10 - we've seen isolating behaviour - and we’ve watched him become sad. Very, very sad. As an academically-inclined child we thought we would just try to help him hang in there until he sat exams for our local selective high school where he would likely be amongst children more like himself. He would find his tribe.
We are fairly ‘free-range’ parents but it became heartbreakingly clear that we were watching our beautiful boy disappear - together we sought counselling so that all of us could learn some new skills to help him manage.
To cut a very long and difficult story short, we had many discussions with teachers, the school's Principal and various others to try to bring him some relief, to help him feel that school was a safe and (mostly) happy environment, but it finally became clear that there would be no relief for him unless we changed schools. Intervention of a very serious nature was required.
I’d like to make it very clear that the school Mr 10 was at, and that Mr 9 is still at, is a terrific school staffed by passionate and dedicated teachers to whom we owe a great deal. But it's my belief that they simply do not have the resources they need to deal with all of the problems that children of varying needs bring into the school. It is just as unfair to the child with a behaviour problem or health issue as it is to Mr 10 to leave their needs unmet.
I have always been a staunch supporter of public education, and now perhaps even more so, given Mr 10’s experience. We need to do better for all of our children. I hope that the recent review of education by David Gonski will see some of its recommendations implemented in our education system. But I fear that by the time this happens, another generation of children will go through the curent system and not benefit from the changes that Gonski promises.
Ultimately, Mr 10’s father and I felt that we were taking too great a risk with our child to not intervene and move him to another school where he would be offered far greater pastoral and peer support and perhaps appreciation for his beautiful, quirky soul. To this end, we chose a private school. I fear, perhaps, I’ve been guilty of reverse snobbery.
Can we afford it? Well, yes and no, but we will. I realise that many people don’t have the ability to make this choice but it is a choice we have made and that we will find the means to fulfil. I’ve had second jobs before and I’ll happily do it again if that is what it takes to keep my beautiful son feeling happy and strong and appreciated.
Frankly, we became too scared of the consequences for our son to not afford it. Mr 10 was, of course, like us, concerned about making such a big change but we're now three weeks into his new school and new routines. He now understands what ‘happy tears’ are all about when I tell him how happy I am that he's reporting enjoying his new school so much, enjoying his lessons and classmates, feeling that he is appreciated for what he brings to the school. Our beautiful boy has a spring back in his step.
All of which were encapsulated in an image someone put up on their Facebook page
“Don’t stay where you are tolerated. Go where you are celebrated.”
As soon as I read that, the decision was made.