One of the loveliest things about working with young people in the performing arts is the change that happens to them. We take all comers and to be frank a small number of them don’t want to be there when they start. It usually comes across in their behaviour.
We had one such pupil not so long ago in the 6–9-year-old’s group who was going to be asked to leave after their second week. She clearly didn’t want to be there, was spiteful to others and didn’t want to listen. So of course, a staff member gently sat her down and talked to her about the kind of behaviour they expected to see – as well as firmly saying what wouldn’t be tolerated.
In the following weeks, she would cry when she came in because she wanted to be at home with her mum. So, it wasn’t easy. The idea of joining a group can feel threatening to some kids especially if it is, as it was here, accompanied by a diagnosed condition like ADHD. But the staff and the pupil persevered. You can probably see this story coming but now months later she is transformed. She’s won Star of the Week awards so much that the teachers had to tell her that they love how hard she works in class and how she is with others, but they must look at others as well. Even though fairly young she’s been instrumental in backstage work at a show, helping the younger ones, and is regularly praised for her attitude. These days she comes to class with a smile on her face and has totally changed her point of view.
This is where a weekly class can be such a boon for a parent. What I think happened here was that a strong dislike was turned around by staff having faith that she could be a leader. And didn’t she just run with it? There must be many children who feel unhappy, who if push came to shove, would take this out on others, bully and intimidate when they just need space to think and to be believed in.
I often say it, but the theatre space can be a real refuge for some people. It gives them a chance to be someone else, to explore an alternative to the anger and upset they feel inside. Often young people who go through this process turn out later to be the best students because once they have pushed on to a more positive mindset they can look around and see those trapped where they used to be – and they can empathise with them. They just need a chance. I wish we could help more.
In a 50-year teaching career, I can only remember one pupil who was totally unteachable and that was a very disturbed child. I could see it in his eyes. Sometimes I think of him years later and wonder if he could have been turned around.