I first knew Marie only by reputation. She was
always outside the headteacher’s office, or standing
somewhere in the playground where she’d been
put because of what she’d done; but I had my first
real encounter with her when she was brought into
a classroom where I was working, because she
was being so difficult in her own class.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a child so physically angry. She was just exploding all over
the place; she was out of control. There was no sense at all that she really knew what
she was doing; she was just hell-bent on destruction, wanting to make as much noise
and create as much chaos as she could. She was throwing tables and chairs, and I
had to restrain her from running out of the classroom, just by leaning against the
door with my arms round her and holding her until she stopped. I still remember the
look on her face: she looked very intense – locked in.
Marie would have been eight then. A couple of months later, I was asked to work
with her as her counsellor. I suppose I was expecting to meet a bolshy, hard, cold,
uncommunicative, resistant person – but she absolutely wasn’t any of those things.
In fact, I was just delighted to see what this child was like, and from day one, she
was incredibly rewarding to work with.
She was with a probationary teacher who was finding Marie very difficult, so it was to
give the teacher a break, as much as anything, that it was decided I should withdraw
her from the classroom. From the beginning I saw her twice a week. She was very
forthcoming, very open; she found it very easy to talk about being angry, and
incredibly easy to talk about the injustice she suffered: she felt strongly that she was
judged before anybody knew what she had done – and that was absolutely what it was
like in school. You only had to mention her name and everyone declared her guilty.
So we talked about her angry feelings and we made a lovely book. About half of it
was about her anger: she drew pictures of things that made her angry, and what she
looked like when she was angry; and then you turned the book over, and it was about
happy feelings, things that made her happy, what she looked like when she was
happy. She wrote, too; it took a long time to make the book, and eventually she took
it back into the class. She presented it to the class, and it was left there.
So it was a funny situation: I had quickly and easily formed a relationship with this
incredibly sensitive, soft, caring child – but all I was hearing from adults and children
was ‘Oh, Marie ... no need to say any more ...’
Pretty quickly after the beginning of the next school year, there was pressure to have
Marie moved to a special unit. Her teacher was very angry herself at the time, and
found it difficult to handle Marie’s anger as well. I was disgusted; in my view, the kind
of move being considered would do Marie far more harm than good, and would lead to
her being labelled a ‘no-hoper’. What she needed was to be taken seriously, accepted
as she was, acknowledged as a very angry person, and supported and accommodated
in the school.
The thought of Marie being moved made me furious, and I told people so. I think
my anger took everyone by surprise. I think they thought of me as a soft and gentle
person, but when I spoke, they knew I meant it. I suppose I was Marie’s voice,
because no-one would ever have listened to her. It was like Marie saying, ‘Can’t
you see? That isn’t what I need, this is what I need.’ It was a real passion –
uncompromising. I was completely, totally clear that she did need to stay in school,
and she didn’t need to be cast out.
I’m not saying she wouldn’t have benefited from being at the special centre, but I
just knew that the most important thing was that she wasn’t got rid of, that she was
accepted; and that, in the end, is what happened.
I just kept being very positive about Marie whenever she was mentioned; and quite
quickly, people were saying that they didn’t hear her name mentioned so much, and
she wasn’t in the playground book so much, and she wasn’t outside the Head’s room
so much. Now, she’s with a very experienced teacher who’s been very understanding
of her, and she’s stayed in the school. She’s been held.
For Marie, the conditions were right. I wish that were true for every child I work with.
I am thinking of a boy who, nine years old when I first met him, had already learned
that schools are places you get expelled from. He too wanted to work on his angry
feelings: he would make detailed drawings of his angry face, asking, ‘What do I look
like? Which bits are red, which bits are white? What does my mouth look like?’ Like
Marie, he was soft, gentle, lovable, but in the end, to me, inaccessible. It was as if
he’d been thrown out before he began.
Not that Marie’s story ends totally happily. She’s going on holiday in a few days’ time,
so she won’t be here for the end of her last term at primary school. She feels upset
and cheated, but she’s not able to tell her parents that, so she brings her feelings into
school. I tried hard, but failed, to find a satisfactory way of saying goodbye: we made
a poster of a road, with a start and a finish. Marie drew pictures of things she
remembered along the road. She said, ‘I could draw me getting bigger and bigger
along this road, so I can see me growing.’
When I first knew Marie, she was totally powerless. I don’t think she could have been
more powerless, because she was prejudged. Her name came first, and as soon as
her name was seen, that was it; she herself never came into the picture. But now,
the change is quite unbelievable. People actually see Marie. They see that she is a
wonderful, rich person who happens to get very angry sometimes. I am going to miss
her terribly, and the school will too.
wrote this article
for the Christian Action Journal
Church and School,