The busy students in a class often get attention, Bart Heeling knows from experience. It represents a so+ cluster 4 class. His students are between 6 and 12 years old, no longer follow the cluster 4 education and have often been at home. They have serious behavioral and psychiatric problems. “About 80 percent of these children exhibit externalizing behavior,” he explains. “Kick, shout, curse. You can’t avoid reacting to that as a teacher.”
The other 20 percent of children turn inward. They are quiet, withdrawn and discreet. As Bart wrote on LinkedIn: “Students that you would say, “I want a whole class full of that. Nothing to do with it. Always hard at work. You don’t hear it at all. Don’t demand attention.”
But that doesn’t mean these kids don’t deserve attention, according to Bart. “Like busy children, quiet children also feel stress and tension. It builds up in their bodies. They just don’t express it so they don’t lose it. And it can continue into old age.”
Stress in the body
Bart came across a video about this, by Hungarian-Canadian doctor Gabor Maté. He talks in it about children who are not seen at a young age and who are not recognized for who they really are. Then they may begin to doubt. Am I doing it right? They often carry this feeling with them into their adult lives. And they compensate for this in the form of pleasant behavior, never being able to say no, not expressing feelings or working too hard. All these stressors can ultimately lead to physical complaints and illnesses.
“I already see the stress in the body that Maté referred to in so many small, quiet children,” explains Bart. “It prompted me to dedicate a post on my LinkedIn page to it.” On that LinkedIn page, the teacher regularly shares anonymous posts about his students. With this, he wants to show that they are so much more than their behavior. “They are also just children with humor, sadness and fear.”
After his post about silent students, Bart was showered with positive reactions. Other teachers recognize the quiet attitude of their students, but it also brings many people back to their own childhoods. “I was like that,” they say, for example, “I was also a quiet child, and I still struggle with that insecurity and feelings of not being good enough.”
Bart has not had any nasty reactions to the post. One woman indicated that she thinks all this attention for busy students is not necessarily a good thing because it is often negative attention. She is therefore in favor of teachers treating all students better. “Good point,” says Bart. – Of course I completely agree with that.
Also in general education
In his post, he explicitly focuses on all teachers. “In special education, the difference between busy and quiet students is very visible. The behavior is more extreme, on both sides. But in general education you also have very busy and very quiet students.”
Bart himself worked in mainstream education for thirteen years before ending up at this school. Already on one of his first days, he noticed how different students reacted to giving a speech. One enjoys it, the other finds it so exciting that it develops physical discomfort. “Stomach ache, lack of sleep or bad bowel movements.”
Since then, he has been keen to distribute his attention among all students in the class, even children who don’t ask for it. “They need that attention.” Bart is convinced that students who receive more attention in general education are less likely to progress to special education.
But how do you do it, pay attention to all your students when you are already so busy as a teacher? “Let me first state that teachers really do not deliberately forget silent students”, stresses Bart. “And you don’t have to make it big either. It is often only a few silent students. Let them know you see them. On entry, when they leave, but also during the day. Squat down at their table, give them a thumbs up, ask how their weekend was. Acknowledging that they are there is enough. The rest of the class doesn’t have to notice.”
An equal, safe and open atmosphere in the classroom is essential for students. Like fun and confidence. “The moment quiet children feel safe in the classroom, they can also more easily express their feelings and develop healthily. You didn’t create such an atmosphere overnight, but you are aware of it. Maybe instead of a circle conversation you could have the children talk about the weekend in small groups.”
Don’t put it in the spotlight
What you shouldn’t do is spotlight silent students. “Like: Give a presentation in front of the class today. It’s quite counterproductive.” In any case, you shouldn’t expect the same from all children, Bart believes.
But isn’t it your job as a teacher to prepare students for their later professional life? Shouldn’t you occasionally let them do something that they find exciting, so that they become robust? Bart thinks it’s nonsense.
“There are lots of jobs where you don’t have to present yourself. Also, presentation is not the robustness I’m looking for. Making a conscious choice to do something or not – this is also resilience. Dare to say no when a teacher asks you to present. I want to give the students basic confidence in themselves.”
Was he actually a silent student himself? “Not that,” laughs Bart. “But I showed compensatory behavior by always playing the clown. I pretended to be different than I was. Hopefully now as a teacher I can contribute to the students not having to do that. Because they will be seen.”
By: National Education Guide / Bente Schreurs