My dad always used to call me lazy. It was not an epithet I particularly enjoyed, but, given my love of staying in bed in the mornings, either sleeping or reading, I can see that I must have driven him potty, him being a morning person and all, and me being a lover of books and all things sendentary.
Laziness is a term we teachers bandy about a lot. Teachers who download plans from the internet – lazy. Teachers who don’t mark books – lazy. Teachers who don’t differentiate their lessons a bajillion ways – lazy. Ones who arrive at school after 7:30 in the morning – definitely lazy. And as well as applying the descriptor to ourselves, we regularly use the term to describe a selection of children in our classes.
You know the ones I mean. You’ve worked with them a while and you feel you have got a rough sort of handle on their capabilities, and, somehow, they aren’t living up to them. When we meet them, they seem just the sort of child who’s going to get on well, but, somehow, they don’t.
After a while we begin to notice things about them. They always seem to be chatting. Or looking out of the window. Fiddling or sharpening pencils. Going to the toilet, or fetching a tissue. Anything, in fact, other than what they are supposed to be doing. We’ve met them many times before. What they need to do is pull their socks up and knuckle down, but they don’t. Lazy. They never make a fuss about not doing any work, they just quietly, consistently don’t seem to do it.
It all seems so simple, when you put it like that. Except, that is, when it is applied to your own child. The first time it happened was when Sam was at primary school. It was in a school report. I was, fairly predictably, cross.
The thing is though, that it never seems worth bringing it up at the end of the year. You forget that teachers talk to each other, that reputations are made in staff rooms and that they cross the years. While I may have ranted away to the kitchen window whilst doing the washing up or muttered under my breath in an irritated way, I never thought to challenge the idea that my Sam, my boy for whom existing in the mainstream environment of a busy primary school was a challenge in itself, was lazy.
Back then, I didn’t realise that my view, my understanding of my child and their learning was worth bringing to the attention of the teacher. I forgot that teachers, even though they know a lot, don’t know it all, and that I, when I am the one standing at the front, am just as bad at jumping to conclusions.
I forgot that, as teacher, I wasn’t witness to all those moments that show you so clearly their attitude to learning. The way that one child was so determined to move under their own steam, to crawl, to walk, to run (off) that there was nothing that was going to get in their way. How a fall and a bump slowed another one down, as the painful consequences of trying that thing that was just beyond their reach became apparent and something to be feared.
As the person at the front of a junior class I never saw the way that some bits of knowledge seem to fly into some heads, and knock on the door for ages before gaining admittance into others, and I certainly didn’t know how they might feel about that, about how these early experiences might affect a child’s willingness to give new learning, new difficult learning, a go.
I think about them, the little ones who didn’t really like trying, peeping like snails from under their shells, and I remind myself of my own children, and the knowledge I have of them, that they might not be lazy so much as scared or tired or frustrated or hungry, and that for each of these barriers to learning there is a different solution, and that it requires some detective work to find it.