Children Want to Belong to a Classroom

Kahlil Gibran refers to work as ‘love made visible. When work emanates from our true nature, which I believe to be love, everybody gains. However, when our true nature lies buried under an avalanche of its rejection by others, then we too become agents of threat to the wellbeing of others. My favourite author John O’Donohue eloquently describes this situation: ‘When you forget or repress the truth and depth of your invisible belonging and decide to belong to some system, person or project, you short-circuit your longing and squander your identity.’ What needs to be added to what John says is that you also short-circuit another’s longing and threaten the emergence of his/her true self.

Everybody works though not everyone is in paid employment. The rearing of children is sacred work and one not to be taken lightly without parents and teachers each working on their own interiority. A consciousness is needed of the hidden emotional wounds and ways to heal them, ultimately, by belonging to self. In spite of best intentions, unless parents and teachers recognise these neglected and unseen dimensions of their lives, they cannot enrich and bring balance to their own and to the lives of others, especially to children.

Parenting is such an unselfish profession, once a parent’s gift of life to the child has no strings attached. However, there are few who are in such an unconditional place, and, inevitably, depending on the extent and depth of the neglect experienced and unresolved, history will repeat itself. In these tough economic times there are those who believe that the future of Ireland, and, indeed of Europe and the rest of the world, lies with children. However, what I believe is that the future of society lies always with adults and not with children, because children have to survive the adults whom they rely upon for their overall wellbeing.  When parents are troubled and troubling, children suffer and creatively and wisely repress their individuality and powerful nature in the face of their parents’ unconscious, but, nonetheless, potent defences. When a parent manifests defensive behaviours – impatience, crossness, disappointment, aggression, annoyance, physical violence, passivity, manipulation, criticism, perfectionism ….. each defensive response is an offence to the child’s presence.

If parenting is the most important profession, then teaching is a close second. I recall when I taught both primary and secondary school and, on hindsight, how little I was internally prepared to teach children. I did not even remotely belong to myself and the irony of it was that both students and colleagues thought I was a good teacher! Like all teachers, I did my best, but if examining my own life had been an integral part of my teacher training, I have no doubt I would have enriched the children’s lives far more than I did. Children’s longing to belong to a home, a classroom, a school and a community needs to be recognised as their deepest need and it is the responsibility of their parents and teachers and significant others to meet it. Sadly, many children experience an over-belonging (spoiled) or an under-belonging (dominated) or no belonging (totally neglected) in the places they live, learn, play and pray. It is a responsibility on those who are Heads of teacher training colleges to know themselves and to create opportunities for teachers to belong to themselves so that they can unconditionally relate to their students.  The belonging to self is not optional but is an essential responsibility for everybody, particularly, those who have leadership roles and care of children.

In facing back into classrooms and being challenged by budget deficits, reduced support staff, higher numbers and children with moderate to severe emotional, behavioural and intellectual challenges being placed in mainstream classrooms, it will be even more difficult for each teacher to pursue the responsibility to inhabit his or her own individuality and possess that inner stronghold to affirm the individuality of each child and not confuse any child with achievement or failure or difficult behaviour. Of course, it is equally crucial for teachers not to belong to an educational system, academic achievement, examination results or the opinions of others. Human behaviour is wonderfully paradoxical – the more separate you are in relationships and from what you do, the more mature and effective you are. Children need to be primarily educated for maturity, but this is only possible when teachers themselves have been provided with the opportunities to realise personal maturity. Put in another way, it is personal affectiveness and effectiveness that determine professional effectiveness and this is true for all professions, not just parenting and teaching.

Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Clinical Psychologist/Author/International and National Speaker.