The Invisible Middle

teen girl invisible schoolToday was just… one of those days.

One of those days where you’re exhausted and frustrated from trying to advocate for your child.

Why can’t schools seem to understand that not all kids are the same?

It seems to me that schools today are built for a specific sort of student. Or maybe it’s two sorts of student.

First, there are the extrovert kids who love the school environment, who thrive on competition, and can mix easily in any new community. They’re the first to volunteer for new activities, they’re easily identified by teachers because they’re vocal,  enthusiastic and positive. They’re the kids who are always selected for activities, teams, school roles and so on.

Then there are the kids with challenging behaviours. The ones who truant or sell drugs or talk back to teachers.

With these kids, teachers have processes and systems designed to intervene and support them. They’re recognised and highly visible because they DEMAND to be noticed.

Then somewhere in the middle are the other kids.

They’re the quieter kids. They’re polite and amenable and do well enough academically not to raise any red flags. They are sociable but they are thoughtful, maybe a bit self-conscious. They’re the sort of kids that make teachers say, “Oh, she’s never any trouble,” and “He’s such a lovely young man.”

But they’re basically invisible.

They don’t push themselves forward for opportunities – but they’re rarely asked to take on those opportunities, either.

They don’t want to compete with other kids – but they’re not necessarily encouraged to see how well they could do if they pushed a bit harder. They’re doing perfectly well without anyone paying too much attention, after all.

If your child is in the invisible middle, they’re probably quite happy. They’ve got friends and they get decent marks.

But so many of the opportunities of school are just passing them by.

What breaks your heart, just a little, is that you can’t do anything. You can drop your child at the school gate and try to pour the words of encouragement into them, praying that they’re absorbing what you’re saying.

You know – you really, truly do – that they need to find their own way. They WILL find their own way.

But for right now, you just wish that there was someone at school who really NOTICED them.

You wish there was a teacher pushing your child to see what they might achieve if they just tried a bit harder. Someone giving them a new opportunity – even though they didn’t raise their hand in class to volunteer. Someone to give them a (kindly) shove once in a while, to get them out of their comfort zone. Even just someone to say, “What about you? Why don’t you give this a try?” 

As parents, we advocate for our kids, no matter what. Because that’s our job. We’re the ones who annoy the teachers with our unreasonable requests for special treatment, even while we know it’s impossible to treat every child like an individual in a busy school packed with kids.

But still. It’s hard to accept that you’ve been banging your head against the same brick wall for months, to no avail.

Schools these days love to talk about how inclusive they are, I think. But inclusivity isn’t just a slogan for a website or a box on a form that says “open to all”.

Inclusivity is about understanding why some members of a community aren’t taking part in something, or being represented. It’s about giving them just a little extra support to overcome those barriers, or making changes to remove them altogether. If you aren’t doing that, then you’re NOT truly being inclusive.

At least, that’s how inclusivity works in my job. Marketing might be different to education in lots of ways, but in this respect I’m not so sure. Because it’s really all about making sure nobody is invisible. Isn’t it?

I think all we can do, really, is focus on the positives.

I’m lucky that there are many, many positive things to focus on at my daughter’s school. And as for the other stuff? We will focus on giving her experiences and opportunities outside of school that make up for some of those blind spots.

 

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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14 Comments

  1. 28th March 2019 / 8:20 pm

    Oh I can relate. I have three of them. Middle one caught on to it very quickly, he didn’t understand why kids who misbehaved got rewarded all the time when they did behave. He said, “maybe I should start throwing desks or not doing my homework as such and such gets golden time or to play for the team when he them behaves. I behave all the time and get nothing. “ He told me this at 8. What could I say other than this is done to help those learn to behave. I hear you on this, they miss out on so much. Xx

    • Sally
      Author
      28th March 2019 / 10:58 pm

      What I take from it is that Flea is learning that life isn’t fair, that people in authority are fallible, and that you sometimes have to respect their actions and decisions regardless – those are all good, important life lessons.

      And part of me hopes that eventually something will come along that she wants so much that she will battle for it – after having so many years of missing out on things because she doesn’t like to push herself forward. The challenge with Flea has always been that she’s a happy soul who is usually very content with her life, and doesn’t need to compete or battle for things very often.

    • 30th March 2019 / 8:04 am

      When I was 8 we had to write our ‘news’ in a daily journal first thing in the morning. I quickly learned to write two lines for about a week and a half an then to write a whole page or even two! Every time I wrote the longer piece I got a star. In this way I filled up my line on the star chart to a respectable level. Children learn how to work the system and take advantage of unfair situations. I’m not saying this is necessarily good and definitely not the ideal but it’s the way we survive and sometimes get ahead.

      • Sally
        Author
        1st April 2019 / 9:34 am

        Clever!

  2. 28th March 2019 / 9:14 pm

    This is totally my son. It would have been me too if I’d not been musical and into sport so at least I was seen as good within those – but I got passed over for things like being prefect because it was just assumed I’d get it by some teachers, but then got overlooked by those actually choosing.

    My son is the ‘nice easy child’. He’s a people pleaser so will do as asked and gets frustrated when others don’t, but he’d never speak up. He plays tennis out of school, and he’s doing ok in that – he’s one of those seen as committed (and I am too) so I’m hoping that stands for a lot with the coaches. But school is frustrating because he won’t do anything that needs to be voted for. School council he’d love to do but they had to do a speech – he wrote it, but like all except the one girl in the class who does stagecoach and is precocious, didn’t want to read it out as a hustings. So she got in. Eco team, he was keen to try and get onto, but again it involved putting forward an idea (which we did struggle with) and having an interview. But he could be brilliant at that team because he’s absorbed so much about sustainability from my talking about my job, and if they’d just give some kids a chance.

    Maybe it would encourage them to try and speak out and volunteer in future if they knew they were valued. It doesn’t help that things like VIP and Star of the week are given out to a lot of the kids who don’t behave much and struggle a lot more with work.

    He’s happy enough, but he refuses to try a musical instrument, although he does do choir. I think joining clubs and trying things where a lot of other introverts sometimes thrive could give him a different perspective on how those personalities can be more stand out to teachers.

    Luckily his school is tiny (90) so there’s not much hiding day to day. But secondary will be totally different with our catchment school being nearly 1800 kids, and he will get lost unless he can really motivate himself to work hard (it’s not really his thing at the moment – he just gets away with what he does do).

    Hope all the middle kids get a bit of a boost that will help them in future.

    • Sally
      Author
      28th March 2019 / 11:18 pm

      Oh yes, yes, yes!

      Flea is so easy-going and happy with her lot that she’s never really felt the need to push herself forward. Add a bit of teen self-consciousness to the mix and a few hormones, and you have someone who half the time doesn’t want to make a scene by pushing for something and half the time forgets that it’s even happening, much less getting around to getting involved in it.

      I have to be a bit careful what I say, really, but I’m starting to think that what matters is that Flea has the experiences and opportunities she needs to grow and develop – and if those things happen outside of school, then so be it. What matters is the experience, not where or how it comes about.

  3. 29th March 2019 / 10:11 am

    At my son’s infant school as part of the Christmas ‘play’ there was always a montage of photos of the kids from the year gone by. It was always a lovely montage. And for three years running there was never a photo of my son, except as part of a group shot. In a school of only about 60 kids that’s pretty good going to be that invisible to the teachers.
    The same is now true to some extent at secondary school and I recognise your description of Flea as applying to my son. However what they seem to do well at this school is a rewards card scheme. It seems to be a version of a ‘star chart’ crossed with a coffee shop loyalty scheme, but they make a specific attempt to reward things such as “working quietly in class”. My son doesn’t get picked for stuff much, but he powers through those cards and he’s proud of himself for that and recognises that he is recognised for that.

    • Sally
      Author
      1st April 2019 / 9:35 am

      Oh I relate to that – Flea was very much the same at junior school! Despite attending stage school all the way through primary school she was never picked for any sort of role in a school production once, until her final year when I became THAT MOTHER and went in and complained.

  4. 29th March 2019 / 10:02 pm

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the vast majority of parents feel like their child fits into this middle ground…. especially true for those who have a polite, quiet child who is no good at sport and who lacks any kind of self-confidence. I guess we just live in hope that any teacher, at least one, could have the time to care and do something to help develop potential rather than their time be taken up with marking books and writing records :/
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    • Sally
      Author
      1st April 2019 / 9:36 am

      Flea has an outstanding English teacher, and I’m so relieved for that, because she quietly gets these little distinctions every now and then from her, which is lovely 🙂

  5. 30th March 2019 / 8:40 am

    Sally, I’m sure you have nothing to worry about but I understand fully where you are coming from. This is a gripe I had with my kid’s previous school (primary.) Each week they would give out awards, and each week it was the same kids, either the really clever and outgoing ones who pushed themselves into the limelight, or the naughty kids who’d found their way into the limelight for different reasons but managed to behave for a few days and were rewarded for it. My kids never got rewards.
    I have a girl just like yours, normal and practically invisible, but I’m still incredibly proud of her.
    The other one is invisible because she spends half her time doing her work in the SEND classrooms, and the youngest has found a way to get attention by being naughty all the time.
    Those middle kids are a blessing 🙂
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    • Sally
      Author
      1st April 2019 / 9:38 am

      I think what frustrates me is that Flea’s quieter than normal as she’s moved schools and I wish the school would make more efforts to help her feel confident and get involved in school life. Especially because it’s a fee-paying school and part of me wants to stamp my foot and say aren’t we spending enough for you to pay a little attention to a child who would benefit from it?

      But as you say, she’s a blessing just as she is, and we’re lucky that she’s able to have amazing out-of-school experiences so if school is simply somewhere she does lessons between 9 and 4, then comes home and lives the rest of her life, that’s not the end of the world.

  6. 1st April 2019 / 8:15 am

    I can totally relate! I have one of these kids and two of the high achieving kids. It’s hard for kids (and parents) when they are good enough to get reasonable marks, but not good enough to get noticed and definitely not bad enough to be noticed! My son chose to move to a girls’ school for 6th form (obviously this is a pretty niche thing which isn’t a solution for many people) and it has worked wonders for him. Boys at girls’ schools get noticed – there’s nowhere for them to hide. He went through a phase of being the ‘bad kid’ at his new school. I think he needed to do that, but now everything is working out really well for him. The school is giving him the support he needs and he is starting to really thrive and get good marks just in time for A Levels. He’s also taken part in drama and played for rugby and football teams along the way, which he could never have done at his old school.
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    • Sally
      Author
      1st April 2019 / 9:41 am

      That’s so brilliant. Flea’s primary school didn’t have a great record for being especially inclusive and so that’s largely why we moved her in Year 7 to a really inclusive school.

      Unfortunately that school didn’t work out personally OR academically, so we moved back to her original school. Although Year 7 didn’t work out, I am SO grateful that in the year she was at a different school she got the opportunity to try out sport, and be part of a really supportive, inclusive school team, and that’s at least given her the confidence to play sport outside of school. Which is now her main opportunity to get involved in sport, now she’s back in a more competitive environment.