Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Every time someone like Miley Cyrus gets it wrong the media go on about the importance of good role models. Who are the real role models for foster children?

Foster parents share a lot of that responsibility.

But here's the thing. Assuming a foster child goes to school, then during the week their time in care sees them spend about 5 or 6 hours a day awake in their foster home, and the same amount, if not a bit more, at school. Across a typical week the teachers in our foster children's school provide them with almost as much influence as role models as we can.

If you have a looked-after child at Primary school they are largely in the company of one adult - their class teacher - almost as much as they are with you, their foster carer. They get bits of other teachers too, but the Primary school child is very much under the wing of one adult teacher. She (for it is usually a she) better be good.

If your child is ill at ease with their class teacher, they've got a problem, and so have you. And foster children can often present a teacher with issues that can lead to complications. Your foster child might even transfer fear or hostility onto an unsuspecting teacher, no fault of the teacher.

See, we foster carers are trained to understand these things, teachers aren't. Teachers are up to their necks in academic requirements, they don't go to lectures about social problems in children, or have regular one-on-ones with social workers about individual children's needs.

We do.

The Head of our local Primary school says the biggest change in education over the last 20 years has been the arrival of social issues in the classroom which teachers aren't trained to understand or deal with.

Things improve at Secondary school from the standpoint of adult role models because the youngsters get a different teacher for every subject. This is where and how our young people discover that adults are all different. They learn by experience that adults can be nice or not nice, welcoming or remote, comfortable or brittle, positive or negative, likeable or dislikable. Most teachers are somewhere in the middle. A handful are out on the edge.

Children find out at secondary school how to spot adults who are on side with children and adults who are not on side. Some teachers walk into the class and light up. Other teachers march in making it clear they'd rather be somewhere else. Children learn about the different types of adult and how to manage their feelings about different adults. 

For my part, I have never forgiven a few teachers I had who made it clear they didn't like us even though we'd done nothing wrong. I can still see them in my mind's eye. I still want to ask them why.  At least they prepared us for the real world by showing us at an early age that there will be people who'll behave unfairly. For me, their misbehaviour was more a negative role model than Miley Cyrus at her daftest.

Most of us had our favourite teachers at school. They shape many people's lives. You meet adults who have ended up with a desk job handling spreadsheets because they liked their maths teacher best. Or university students who are studying for a geography degree and you ask them why geography and they say it's down to the fact that they "liked their geography teacher"

The other side of the coin are the young adults who didn't click with any teachers. They haven't read a book since they tried once when they were 15, because their English teacher was indifferent, or even discouraging. They have body image problems caused by their PE sessions.

I now realise that by watching teachers I learned that adults are all different. I learned to tell from the general behaviour of each of them which ones I could trust. Which ones I wanted to grow up to be like. I learned that important staff members namely the Head and her deputies acted remote. I noticed that younger, more confident teachers were often more at ease with us. I noticed that the caretaker and the dinner ladies didn't seem to like children much. They seemed to like the idea that we were one rung below them in the pecking order. 

I learned how to read adult's facial expressions, their tone of voice. I learned how to try to deal with them.

I could do you a list now of my favourite teachers in order, and if ever get therapy I bet I'd discover there are times when I act a bit like some of them. Trouble is there may be times when I also act a bit like some of the teachers I didn't like.

The collection of adults that our children meet in their school life are a miniature of the outside world that lies ahead. Not quite the full spectrum because adults in school are drawn into acting like each other (it's called "Role Engulfment". Guess where I learned about that? Yep Blue Sky training). 

I'm pretty sure teachers, helpers, classroom assistants, office staff and mealtime supervisors are vaguely aware of their role model responsibility, but are required from on high to be more focussed on success with professional targets than subsidiary social duties.

Just like Miley Cyrus really.


Post a Comment