Who are the Tough Kids?
Snapshot, "My mum doesn't tuck me into bed at night anymore."
Snapshot, "You can't help me mum. I'm never going to learn to read."
Snapshot, "My life has been about me and my mum surviving it."
Snapshot, "No wonder I hated school so much."
Snapshot, "I love Aidan very much, but he is a struggle every day."
Snapshot, "This was one of the times where I hated my Cerebral Palsy and myself."
Snapshot, "He has been emotionally scarred by our family life."
Why place a spotlight on the Tough Kids?
Who are the Tough Kids? These are the kids whose lives are compromised by the unpredictability of their functioning, or by the capricious nature of their home life, or by both. As a result they find life much tougher than most and in the process make life tougher for those who care for them and educate them. They comprise a worrying and growing population of students in schools (Russell, 2008).
These are the kids we take home in our thoughts most days, over weekends and on holiday breaks. They are complex kids living complex lives who present us with great challenges. Many, often boys, are inclined to explode and let their hot headed feelings run away for all to witness. When things don't go their way they overreact, refuse, disrupt, avoid, threaten and clash with peers and authority figures. In contrast, there are those who deal with their feelings inwardly. They learn to mask feelings of worry, shyness, shame, sadness, isolation, despair or inadequacy. They struggle, but hold their very private feelings inside and do their utmost to keep them invisible. What we often see at school is just the tip of the iceberg. They teeter on the brink of unraveling, imploding or giving up. Sadly, a few quietly slide into anxiety, introversion and depression before our very eyes. Yet, they are also inspiring kids to teach. They compel us to confront what we do and why we do it, and whether our actions are truly helpful. As they take our patience, persistence and endurance to the outer limits they prompt both our personal and professional growth. And, in those moments when something clicks for them, or a few years later when we hear about their success, it reminds us that we are all in this together. They teach us about the value of connectedness and the depth of human spirit.
This book is written to enrich the ways we think about the tough kids and fortify the work we do with them in our schools. It celebrates the real heroes in schools; educators who dig deep everyday to regenerate the spirit within kids so they can stay connected to school, to learning and to their dreams. Teaching Tough Kids is a collection of ingenious understandings and ideas, inspired by the resourceful practices of my colleagues aimed at maintaining the buoyancy of students with diverse abilities.
So, how is a tough kid best defined? No one description adequately tells all. Perhaps the best way to explore this is to offer a series of personal snapshots that may bring you closer to understanding the complex lives many of the tough kids live. As you will discover unpredictable home lives, disability, misfortune, ridicule, tragedy and disadvantage often feature in the lives of these kids.
Snapshot of a tough kid, "You can't help me mum. I'm never going to learn to read".
Our Timothy had been very flat for most of the summer holidays, but the last couple of weeks were particularly hard for him. He had cried a lot about having to go back to school. A day did not pass without him questioning why he had to go. With a week of holidays left the tantruming subsided, but the tears continued. It seemed he had resigned himself to return to school.
His younger brother and sister were asleep, Timmy was watching the television and I was in the kitchen.
'Thud.' A couple of seconds passed. 'Thud.' A few more seconds passed. 'Thud' is the only way to explain the sound. It was deep and powerful like nothing I'd heard before and recalling it makes my heart jump to my throat.
'Thud.' It got the better of me, so as good mothers do, I went to investigate. Not often did I need to check on Timmy, we had been blessed with a calm, thoughtful child. I made my way into the lounge, stepped inside and looked. There I saw Timmy doing a tall hand stand on the couch.
"Timothy how many times have I told you and your brother?"
"No. No. No. No. Stop!"
It all hit home. He was lifting himself up as high as he could with his hands on the back of the couch, and then jerked his hands away so his head crunched into the couch seat below. The 'thud' was his feet hitting against the wall helping to propel him with all the more force into the seat.
I grabbed him and pulled him onto my lap.
"You could break your bloody neck if you keep doing this!" I screamed.
"I know," he calmly responded.
"If you know why on earth are you doing it?"
"I don't want to be here."
Innocently, I said, "That's fine. If you're bored don't stay here. Go and do something else."
"No. I don't want to be here. I want to die," he said staring up into my eyes.
He continued, "I don't want to feel this way anymore and if I am dead I won't have to go to school."
"You can't help me mum. I'm never going to learn to read".
I hugged him and sobbed. I couldn't let him go.
Timothy had spent eighteen months in preschool, eighteen months in reception and twelve months in year 1. After four years of formal education he had stalled on the readers from the orange box. Each of them had just a word or two to a page. His best friends were beginning to read the Harry Potter books. A few months later Timothy was identified with a learning difficulty, dyslexia. That helped to explain why he has such confusions, but it hasn't changed the way he feels about it.
I love our son. I hate our lounge. I still can't think of our beautiful desperate little boy bouncing on his neck because he didn't think there was anything else he could do. Timothy was seven and half when he tried to escape the world because he couldn't read.
Suzie, Timothy's mother…
Plus single $20 postage and handling fee