Lifelong Learning Programme

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Teachers Experiences

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Second Chance
Maria da Conceição Vasconcelos
Primary education
Private school
Identification of students’ at risk
This experience took place between the year 1995 and 1999, in Portalegre. The main actors involved were two primary teachers, the students, the social workers, and CAT (a temporary shelter for needed individuals), as well as the school board. The student had some cognitive problems, as well as some behavioral and emotional issues. Basic competences such as daily hygiene routines or table manners were inexistent. However, she easily memorized songs and lyrics.
This 8-year-old student, Joana (fictional name), had been sexually abused, the case had been brought to justice and Joana had been taken to a temporary shelter (CAT). She had lived in a small village and her worldview and experiences were very different from those of her peers. However, she was welcomed by all.
In the student’s school file, there was a psychological evaluation, which recommended she should take a spoonful of coffee in the morning, in order to keep calmer. After some meetings with the social workers that had been involved in Joana’s case, I realized how dysfunctional her living environment had been, who, at that time still kept monthly contact with her mother.
After having met Joana’s mother, I suggested a visit to her home. This visit allowed me to get to know her better, her problems with alcoholic beverages and her inconsequent speech. Her husband was in jail. She analysed all situations in a very immature and unreflexive way that verged on carelessness. Although she was a mother of four children, all much older than Joana, she had very few parental skills, and showed no affection for her children. She seemed to have little sense of personal hygiene and her house was filthy. She seemed 15 years older than she really was.
I decided to eat lunch at school with Joana and just a few days later, Joana began to eat correctly and learnt to use the fork and the knife. She learnt to say “excuse me” and “please”. As time went by, her cognitive deficit became more evident, but she became more stable emotionally, she acquired new skills and manners and attitudes. She interacted well with her peers.
At the beginning, the students’ parents advised her children to avoid Joana; she was not invited to birthday parties, or outings…
However, as Joana sang so well, both at school and at the shelter she lived in, she was given the responsibility to sing at celebrations. Her voice was captivating. Since the shelter was directed by some nuns, Joana became a soloist at the main churches of the city. She progressed in her studies till grade 12 and now she is part of a music band. She is invited to sing at weddings and christenings. She is also a catechist and does voluntary work at the Red Cross. Currently she works at a child day care centre and she is an excellent care taker.
As I currently work with some kids at the child day care center where Joana works it was a pleasure to meet her again.
One of the negative points of this experience was the lack of psychological support, the fact that I did not take extensive notes on all the contacts I established at that time, and the fact that Joana could only remain at the shelter until the age of 18.
Fortunately, she has managed to live on her own, and she has met some good friends. She maintains no contact with her family.

Comments on this Teachers Experience

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Date: 2014.08.19

Posted by Safa Eroğlu (Turkey)

Message: From the viewpoint of mine, this story best describes what kind of place and effect a teacher can have in a student’s life. We see a girl who had a bad experience. Furthermore, she has a bad couple of parents one of whom is in prison and the other one of whom is a mother who didn’t care her house, her manners and even doesn’t show any passion to her children, which affected the girl in many respects. For example, she couldn’t use any forks. Because her parents didn’t teach many things to her, some parents believed that she was not a good person for their children to be friend. Other children used to escape from her. They used to exclude her from many activities, which resulted in many psychological disorders on his soul. So we can understand what responsibilities parents have in their children’s normal education. Sometimes, in fact, rarely, the parents need to be removed from the life of the children in order that the problem can be solved successfully as is mentioned by my colleague. By doing this, the children can feel relaxed enough to communicate with the community as a normal person. As to the teacher, I personally believe that this teacher is a great example of the ideal teacher. He is a perfect model. He treats her more than a teacher. He taught her many things ranging from keeping a fork to saying “excuse me” and “please”. I think that a teacher has the possibility to educate a person like that with the help of his/her peers such as classmates or roommates. All the teacher should do is to encourage them to accept their friend as he/she is and to believe that they can change him/her into a normal person all together successfully. I believe that as teachers or would-be teachers, those kind of students should not be left to live their destiny because, in fact, it is not a destiny to live under bad circumstances. Teachers can change their fate as we see in this story. We do not need to have a magical stick!

Date: 2014.05.26

Posted by Ana Luisa Pinho (Portugal)

Message: This teacher’s sensitivity led her to lay out her own private time in order to fight for the student Joana’s success. The latter lacked basic living skills, such as proper hygiene routines or table manners.
The teacher kept attentive to Joana’s record information; she talked to social helpers who were on Joana’s case and she went with Joana to her mother’s house. She therefore understood what was lacking and why Joana could barely survive healthily: her mother had no affection to offer her child, she was sloppy and did neither pay attention to herself or the house. She was emotionally very frail and had almost no skill to talk to others.
The teacher not only supported the child in school, but also outsider school. Her aim was to help her get the cognitive and emotional skills she needed. All educators should contribute to every child’s emotional growth, as this teacher did. To take a child away from a careless home is many times the first step towards success. Working with the child in interdisciplinary teams is the second step.

Date: 2014.05.26

Posted by MARIA JOSÉ D. MARTINS (Portugal)

Message: This story helps to understand the role that school can play to compensate for a bad family: how the attention of teachers and the acceptation by peers can help a girl to build the resilience that allowed her to overpass her condition of maltreated and suffering child. Several teachers decide to take several educational measures; one of them was to highlight her skills (she was a good singer) among peers and to mobilize her peers so that they don’t reject and exclude her. So, in helping a child, teachers should intervene with the whole class and use the other children as a resource to solve a problem. The acceptation of peers is very important for the social adjustment of children at school and can make the difference for the learning and well-being of children, but it is necessary that teachers intervene in this direction. This was the case. I was touched by this story and I am going to use it in my master class about education and children/youth at risk, as an example of resilience that can be built with the support of teachers, social workers and especially peer support.

Date: 2014.05.23

Posted by Francis MAKA (Belgium)

Message: - From the beginning we can see that the story concerns a maximum of actors, and that is what must be done…. facing the difficulties together, helping each other, interacting.
- Again, a difficult family background and a child who already “drags a heavy suitcase”.
- The family education must prevail…. It is not the task of the school to teach a child how to eat, to have good table manners…
- When reading the experience, I wonder if specialized schools exist in Portugal or if it is a class of integration?
- In this kind of case, either the other children of the class avoid the child “who is not like us”, either they protect her/him.
- Obviously, she has been able to evolve and we could get the best of herself.

Date: 2014.05.04

Posted by Paraskevi Gouda (Greece)

Message: The family is very important in the normal development of a child.
In some cases, rare, as with the little Joana, her family should be removed from the child in order to find her calmness.
This calmness gave the opportunity to Joana to join smoothly to the community and to develop her talent in music.

20 December 2014

Final Partners’ meeting

The fourth partners’ meeting took place in Florence (IT) on 15 December 2014. The meeting had the objective to check the activities carried out since the third meeting of the project and share and assess the in progress results. A special focus has been dedicated to the presentation of the strategies to solve the case scenarios.