Social work is an academic discipline and profession that concerns itself with individuals, families, groups and communities in an effort to enhance social functioning and overall well-being.
Teachers facilitate student learning, often in a school or academy or perhaps in another environment such as outdoors. The objective is typically accomplished through either an informal or formal approach to learning, including a course of study and lesson plan that teaches skills, knowledge or thinking skills.
Ah, straight from the good old Wikipedia. But let these broad definitions hold, for story’s sake.
Today, for the unknown (but very high) number of times, I tried to understand a kid whose background, and that of his family, would not want to wish to anyone. This kid landed in my workshop, a student-friendly but potentially very dangerous place, out of nowhere with little heads up on what we are dealing with. Within an hour, I put the foot wrong, apparently. Swearing, banging, open hostility followed (no, not from me). Tomorrow, I’m offering this fragile, broken young man who seemingly can’t stand me, a way for him not to see me as a ‘wanker’ and a way for me not to feel on edge in his presence in a dangerous environment, surrounded by 20 other kids, some of whom are similarly ‘tricky’ and in need of support. I recognised a traumatised kid and a further chat with his Advisory teacher who had been privy to more information confirmed the suspicion, plus more. This poor kid, as much as a hard work he is to many at our school, can’t help but ripple (his) trauma further. He doesn’t and can’t know better, yet perhaps. No winners here, just triage of behaviour management plans, offers and deals like mine tomorrow, and multiple trips to the front office, suspensions and meetings, usually the crisis type.
This kid is of a more acute nature than others. But he is far from being extreme or only one like that at our school. We have plenty! We, a school in the rough end of town, in a mid 80’s brown brick school, parts of which are falling apart, and getting news of further funding cuts. The Big Picture design, embedded in our school’s DNA, is our blessing and our curse. Blessing because we come close to the relational school where every kid is truly known, cared for. We do some amazing things for and with our kids that may not be possible in a more ‘mainstream’ school. Curse because this shows how much more is needed for so many of our kids to function, let alone learn well. I often debrief after days like this with my wife, an experienced trauma counsellor. Not once, she listened to my stories and remarked how a particular kid or family would, ideally, need hours, weeks, years even of trauma counselling to function well. We have a part time psych, part time nurse, and teaching, support staff that are worth their weight in gold. But hey, what we lack in counselling, social work, mental health, sociology even, skills and understanding – we make up for with best intentions and copious amount of motivational posters and speeches that for some kids do hit the mark. Now, imagine a doctor working from that angle. The good intentions and affirmations. Would you visit them? Thought so…
No, this is not teacher bashing. Quite the opposite. As my dear friend Corinne Campbell tweeted in reply to my exasperated tweet tonight: … reminds me of a conversation I had the other day – we are filling the void left by inadequate health and social services. Schools paying for speech and hearing, teachers like yourself doing social work and mental health work not education.” Yep.
This poor, traumatised, bounced-around kid that pisses off most people he comes in contact with (trust anyone?) and with whom I am trying to (re)build bridges with tomorrow needs A LOT more than I or the school can provide. For all my skill and, again, best intentions, I am a teacher, not a social worker (see definition above) and a dozen other highly skilled professionals rolled into one, ready to be deployed at moment’s notice. Of course I do and should sometimes cross boundaries, overlap and borrow from these fields but I also don’t know at what point I might be possibly doing some serious damage, with all good intentions. And no, I am not some kind of ‘hero’ for doing this – I voluntarily signed the contract to do a (tough) job, I get paid to do it. But that job is increasingly wearing. Noble and necessary sure, but I am getting tired of doing social and other work before what most people would consider teaching work…years and years of it. There, I said it.
And I am just one of thousands of teachers doing this, day in day out. Let’s see how tomorrow goes, literally so.