An insight into my personal experience of being excluded from school, twice.
I was 8 years old when I began to think school wasn't the place for a black boy like me. Raised in South East LDN for the first 10 years of my life, I attended a Roman Catholic school in Bermondsey. I started my journey there in nursery and was excluded by the time I was in year 5.
My best memory at the school was going into nursery with a cake to celebrate my 4th birthday. Man what a banging party! However, Every other memory is unfortunately a negative one. By the time I was in year 3 it was clear I wasn't liked in the school. Not by the pupils but by the teachers. I remember constantly being moved around the classroom or being told to stand up just to get a rollicking from a teacher towering over me in front of the whole class. I knew I was no angel. A talkative, funny and mischievous little boy but I was never doing something that the other pupils weren't doing too and that's what made it confusing. I was clearly being picked on by a number of class teachers. I could be sitting at a table, in discussion with other pupils, and yet it was my name that would be called out and It was me who'd be getting the detention. At the time, I just believed I was this naughty, terribly behaved boy who was a nuisance to my class .I was too young to notice that the white pupils around me were getting away with the things that I was getting in trouble for but this was my first taste of the inequality that was constant throughout my school experience. As if getting in trouble all the time wasn't bad enough, I also remember being separated from my friends in school. My black friends. There wasn't many of us black boys in the school but we had started nursery together and many of them became close family friends and my best friends. By the time we was in year 4, every single one of us had been separated from each other in a very calculated way. Our parents protested the decision made and they were met with the response " We have to separate these boys as they are badly behaved when grouped together". I often heard my parents arguing with the school about our treatment and it didn't help that I would hear our parents calling the school racist. A racist institution who had a campaign against the black pupils in the school. By this point, I may not have been able to hold a pencil properly but I was clever enough to know that my school was also my antagonist. From the teachers In my classroom to the support staff in the playground, they were just mean, grumpy people who behaved like they hated us children sometimes. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't ALL the staff but when you're young, the majority felt like everybody. It was the school's culture of doing things and I didn't fit into it. Then the day I was excluded finally came. I was in year 5 and throughout the year, I had heard my teacher say "For crying out loud" every time she was upset with someone in the class. One day, I must have made a mistake or answered a question wrong and the teacher singled me out in front of the classroom. I was justifying why I did what I did and out of frustration I said softly [but evidently loud enough for her to hear] "oh for crying out loud". She was stunned. Red faced and livid, she sent me out of the classroom and told me not to come back. I stood outside amazed at how stupid I was to let that slip out of my mouth. I was even more stunned when I had an epiphany of the beating I would receive for ANOTHER bad report home. The teacher suddenly came outside[still visibly annoyed] and ordered me to go to the head-teachers office. I remember trying to fight my case one last time by arguing that I only said it because she said it all the time. I should have kept my mouth shut. She started yelling, and till this day I don't even remember what she said. I was already walking down the stairs to the head teacher's office. Defeated. When I got to the office, there was already another black boy sitting in the office. I had company. I was told to sit on the floor by the head-teacher, before he walked out of the office. When he left, I turned around and asked why the pupil was there. He said he had been talking in the classroom. He was clearly more scared than I was because he didn't want me even talking to him and kept looking back to see if the head was coming back in. I don't even know what came over me but I opened up my big unfiltered mouth and said " This school is racist. The teachers are racist. The headteacher is racist". At that very moment, guess who walked in the office? The headteacher. He walked around the two of us and sat at his desk and told me I was done at the school. He picked up a big black book and started flicking through the pages saying " This school is not going to want you. This school isn't going to want you. That school? No chance". He told me to leave his office and sit outside whilst he called my dad to come in. That was my last official day in the school because I was excluded permanently, despite my parents best efforts to keep me there. The hiding I got that evening truly reflected their frustration.
I still feel the effects of being excluded so early into my school experience. Till today, I have old school friends that see me for the first time and remind ME of how I was kicked out of school and how naughty I was. Because it was so abrupt, I didn't even really get a chance to say bye to many of my friends.The treatment I received in school and my exclusion was the start of the self-fulfilling prophecy that was taking place. I was labelled a a disobedient, troubled young man so that's what I believed, that's how I Identified myself and that's what I'd become. It was obviously very difficult for my parents who didn't know who to blame for their eldest son, A 9 year old being kicked out of school. They were not bad parents. Yes I was a little bit of a chatty, mischievous little boy but I wasn't a deviant. Furthermore, I wasn't so badly behaved compared to other pupils in the school, and my parents knew that. Well I hope so. Nonetheless, It was shameful and embarrassing for them, especially coming from the west african culture that they came from. A culture that prides itself on discipline, honour and respect. So for the friends and family of my parents, it wasn't acceptable . I imagined it was very difficult to get into schools with that reputation so eventually my parents moved me to East LDN in East Ham where I started a new primary school at the beginning of year 6. And I loved it. More importantly I blossomed. The best year of my primary school experience by far. I remember the names of most of the teachers I came into contact with in that short space of time. However, When I look back to my early school experience, all I feel is resentment towards a school who made a young boy feel like he wasn't loved or special. I don't remember the name of one teacher who made me feel appreciated. I don't remember feeling safe and secure and I don't remember feeling like I was giving an opportunity to be great.
One of my favourite artists [Tupac] had a tattoo on his chest that reads "THUG LIFE". It was only up until my late teens that I found out it stood for
"The Hate U Give Little Infants F***S Everyone"
You don't have to like every pupil you come across in the school but we should never hate them and we should definitely treat them equally. This, even today, is still not the experience of many pupils in school. Children are like sponges and absorb everything that is given to them. They are also very clever. Children start exhibiting the knack of discernment from a young age. They can discern when people are genuine in their approach, when people really care and when people are genuinely kind. How do I know this? Well when I ask my mixed class of SEN year 4 & 5 pupils what they like about teachers in the school [including myself], that's what they say. " He's kind" " She helps me when I need it" "you always give us a second chance". The positive impact made on a child's life can go a long way but the negative impact can begin to birth a toxic relationship between the child and the world around him/her. I wish I could tell you this was the last time I was made to feel this way but it wasn't. I was also excluded in Secondary. I'll save that for part 2 of this blog.