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“Dear Teacher, I Know my Behaviour Makes you Mad, but you Need to Understand what my Life is Like”

Jaz Ampaw-Farr pens a note to her former teacher...

  • “Dear Teacher, I Know my Behaviour Makes you Mad, but you Need to Understand what my Life is Like”

I’m sorry that doing your job is hindered by my behaviour. On good days I just don’t listen to you. On bad days I instigate a full-scale riot. I do see that that makes you unhappy. I totally get that your eyes suspiciously dart straight to me whenever something kicks off in my general vicinity.

Are you interested in some constructive feedback, learner to teacher? The real tragedy is, I actually like you. Crazy, huh?

There are moments, before our lessons descend into their regular chaos, that you seem to actually care, but then when we see each other around school I scan your face and the data confirms what I already suspect: you don’t like me.

When you do speak to me your tone is weary, like you’ve already given up. I’m not sure if you just given up on me or education in general.

I wonder if you’ll ever just smile at me or say hello, or speak my name in a voice that isn’t raised.

We spend time together but have no relationship other than sworn enemies. You once accused me off treating school like some sort of game and got annoyed when I said that that is exactly what it is – and one set up for me to lose.

That’s why I try to change and break the rules. I’m trying to move the goalposts, so that I actually have a chance of winning.

See, your life is different to mine. My stepdad sold my uniform with a load of other stuff down the pub.

This daily dance of you accusing me of not respecting rules is not always something in my control. You start with an assumption, that I believe the same things as you. But I don’t have any evidence of anyone like me ever becoming a success.

Your answer seems to be I simply need to change the way I dress, speak and think in order to become less me and more middle class. I daren’t tell you, but I have this crazy hope of finding a way of being the best me, not pretending to be someone else.

It’s not your fault that your experiences have made you form beliefs about the world that make it impossible for you to understand what I go through at home. But it’s within your control to see me as something other than an unsavoury character or a fly in your soup.

If I thought it would make a difference, I’d tell you that I’m responsible for feeding, clothing and getting my four younger siblings to school every day. I’d explain that I turn up in the morning crabby because there’s no food at home. Being hungry is exhausting.

I’d make you understand how impossible it is for me to blindly hand over my trust to you when you expect me to behave and believe before I get to actually belong. Belonging is what I long for. What you’re asking from me is disproportionate to what I’m able to give. You’re trying to buy a diamond with a moody £10 note.

If you’re really interested in equipping me with an education to help me have a better future, engage me with honest and consistent neutrality; an even tone so I know I’m safe and can stay away from flight or fight mod.

Every time you do that you’re paying into my emotional bank account and one day you’ll have invested enough for me to look on you as a loyal customer. I want to see that you care. I want to believe that you consider me worth the effort.

I get that you see me as a problem. But what if I was an opportunity for you to do what you came into teaching to do: make a difference. I know it means meeting more than halfway, but that would go a long way towards me becoming ‘education-ready’.

I’ve even got a suggestion of how you could start. Those detentions you give me most Fridays? I engineer them. It’s 30 extra minutes I can be away from the danger at home and closer to the hope of school. Maybe we could chat then, if you’re interested. And if you’re not? I’m just really sorry.

Love Jaz

Jaz Ampaw-Farr is a speaker, author and literacy consultant. View her TEDx Talk at jazampawfarr.com/tedxtalk, find her at jazampawfarr.com and follow her on Twitter at @jazampawfarr.

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