A Cure for Attention-Seeking

Parent: ‘Are you victimising my child?’

Teacher: ‘Madam, I confess, I am not. I’m not paid enough to victimise as well as teach. You’ll have to ask someone else.’

Teachers are sometimes accused of victimisation. But never of not victimising. Which is curious, because victimising is really a form of giving the child what he wants – nay, actively seeks. Attention. And giving a child attention is part of education. I mean, it is well known that teachers who do not give attention to their pupils are not good teachers. After all, there is the old saw, children learn teachers, not subjects.

Every teacher is amazed and astounded at how often an ex-pupil, never his or her favourite, often the naughty little ‘who’s-your-father’ who caused endless trouble (and you had to be on his case constantly) deliberately seeks to re-unite warmly with his old teacher. And the teacher thinks: ‘This upright, charming young man who says he loved my class, but was such a … What did I do right?’

Well, you victimised him.

Which brings us to the question of school uniforms. There is no easier way for a child seeking attention than to break school uniform rules. How much more visible, noticeable, in-your-face can you get than wearing a red sweater that boldly claims, ‘Just Do It’ and shows a Nike-tick as a bright green marijuana leaf? Or not wearing socks and shoes? Which is what happened to me.

When I was very young, just after the rinderpest, every kid in our dorpie went barefoot. Until the local school got ideas above its station and demanded that the school uniform should include socks and shoes. The socks were to be grey for boys.

Unlike today, there were no stockists. And so home-knitting grey socks became a ‘thing’. The grannies would gather like a confusion of Guinea fowl to do knitting together. Armed with their sock-making bags, patterns torn from Women’s Own magazines, the noise of clacking needles accompanying the latest ‘skinder’ – and even drowning out the sound of Granny May’s loose dentures – they churned out grey socks.

The product of their labours was not so much ‘one size fits all’ but rather, ‘one large size can be used for all’. Long, saggy, scratchy things, these socks, intended to go right up to the knee, were at the mercy of gravity. ‘Pull up your socks, boy!’ became the teachers despairing mantra.

Like the Flanders fields of WW1, those socks soon acquired shrapnel holes and had to be mended. Every house in our dorpie contained a granny on darning duty, trying to return a heap of grey soldiers back to the frontline. Like the wounded retreating from Russia in Napoleon’s time, there were many knotty, battle-scarred patchups among the bedraggled survivors.

Inevitably, one day, only one sock of a pair was darned. My mother refused to allow me to go to school with one sock full of holes. ‘What will people think? Go barefoot.’ Which is where the trouble started.

Every teacher in every class assumed I was seeking attention, begging to be victimised, by flouting the new shoes and socks rule. It was impossible to explain it was actually my mother not seeking attention. And so I got more than my fair share of attention. And came to quite like it. And sought to get some more. Until I was properly victimised by my mother for a report that contained the comment about my behaviour: ‘Disruptive and attention seeking.’

There is a cure for attention-seeking: victimisation of a no-compromising, take-no-prisoners kind properly delivered by one who loves you.