Updated: Oct 15
I’ve always wondered if the experience I had at #primaryschool led to my running a company that supports children with low #confidence and #anxiety or was it simply my destiny?
Weed Of The Week
I was about 7 years old when my form tutor, Mr Walker took great pleasure in telling us about a new ‘game’ he had created to help us learn our times tables called ‘Weed of the week’. “If this game doesn’t help you remember them then nothing will” he said to us all with a sly grin on his face.
My instincts told me that whatever he had planned would not be ‘fun’, but I didn’t quite imagine how traumatic the experience would be, and how long it would stay with me after.
“Ok kids stand on your chairs at your desks please. I’m going to shout out random times table questions and whoever shouts out the correct answer first gets to sit down. The last one standing is ‘weed of the week’ and will keep that title for an entire week until we play it again.”
My heart started to race immediately and the feeling of utter dread at being exposed in this cruel way consumed my entire body. I wanted to run out of the classroom and into my mother’s arms and never let go. My hands became clammy and my mouth dry. I could feel the tears begin to fill up in my eyes but was desperate not exposed my anxiety.
The silence filled the room as children’s knees began to shake and twitch. The anticipation of the first question was unbearable and the support we once had for each other as friends was now no more as we stood there alone in our own private fear. It was ‘every man for themselves’ while we prepared to compete against each other for a chair to avoid mass humiliation and a week of bullying.
Maths had never been my strong point. I was more of an English, music, art, and drama kinda girl. I inherited the creative gene from my parents rather than the academic one and needed a little more coaching when it came to multiplications and formulas.
These days #teachers use various different teaching styles to support children’s mixed learning abilities and there is definitely a greater understanding that we don’t all learn and contain information the same way. However, when I was in school the teaching methods were much more ridged and came with a dose of corporal punishment for the particularly naughty ones.
But Mr Walkers methods of discipline and order were definitely quite unique and personally I would have preferred the ruler across my hand than experience this barbaric treatment every week.
Even if I knew the answers, the fear gripped me so tight that I was unable to speak, so each week I stood on my chair and waited for the inevitable moment when the rest of the class would point at me and scream “Weed of the week, weed of the week, weed of the week”!
The taunting didn’t end there as the rest of the class were actively encouraged by Mr Walker to continue inflicting the humiliating agony on me for the entire week.
There was nowhere to hide and even my friends at times would join in with the name calling because that’s how peer pressure manifests in these environments.
If you didn’t taunt the child with this impressive title, you too would fall victim to bullying and ostracization.
I remember going through a whirlwind of emotions at that time from shock and pain, shame and embarrassment, loneliness, and isolation to rage and frustration. But underneath all the negative, destructive emotions I experienced at that time, I knew Mr Walkers behaviour was wrong.
I’ve always had strong sense of justice about what’s right and wrong and I knew what he was doing was not only unprofessional but a cruel injustice and sick technique to cause pain and suffering. Unfortunately, I didn’t tell my parents about Weed of the week for a while, perhaps even months because I was ashamed. I didn’t want to let them down because they had already spent money they didn’t have on extra maths tuition for me at home. So I suffered in silence until one day I begged my mother to let me stay at home and eventually I cracked and told her what had been happening. At that very moment I felt an overwhelming sense of relief that my secret was out. I no longer had to lie that I had another ‘good day’ at school when it was nothing more than a complete nightmare. My mother was and has always been a very loving, nurturing mother with strong morals around honesty and justice and I will never forget her face when I told her why I dreaded going to school that day. I don’t remember what she said but it was clear that she was in utter disbelief that such a man, responsible for teaching and supporting young children could act in such a cruel and inappropriate way. Within seconds she had marched me out of the door and straight up the road towards my school. The rage in her eyes was scary but tinged with the slim hope that my nightmare might soon be over. To my amazement, she then marched straight into my classroom and announced in a very firm authoritative voice “Mr Walker, I would like a word with you now please”. I stood mouth open in disbelief at the way she had spoken to him. I felt sure he would punish me for embarrassing him like that and instantly regretted telling her anything at all. “Mr Walker I just learnt what has been going on in your class room for weeks and I am in complete shock and disbelief that you could think your actions are anything but cruel and unprofessional. How dare you humiliate my daughter like that. I want you to apologise to her right now and give her your word that you will never play that monstrous game in this school again”.
Apologise, to me? I couldn’t believe she was suggesting that my teacher who scared the life out of me would even consider apologising to the likes of me.
As I waiting for the backlash of complaints about how useless I was and unwilling to learn, I was dumfounded to hear a very meek Mr Walker speak up “I’m so sorry Mrs Streeter, I had no idea that the game was causing Rachel such distress. She didn’t say anything to me about how it was upsetting her”. “Do you really expect a child who has been traumatised by your actions to come to you and ask for help? You have been encouraging all the other children to bully her and she cried her eyes out this morning, begging me to keep her at home. Now, again Mr Walker I would like you to apologise to Rachel. And I will be taking this up with the Headmaster also”. For a brief moment, I managed eye contact with him and noticed that he looked much smaller than he usually does and quite frail. His whole-body language had changed, and he looked quite pathetic really, not scary at all. He looked at me with shame in his eyes and said “Rachel I’m sorry. I was wrong to make you feel so sad. I didn’t realise the impact it was having on you. I just thought it was a fun game. I wont play that game again, I’m sorry”. And it was over. Just like that. Things quickly returned to normal in the classroom and I generally had a much happier experience at school after that. If only I had told my mum earlier rather than go through that unnecessary agony each week. Mr Walkers ‘fun’ had been brought to an abrupt ending and he had a verbal warning from the Headmaster. Of course these days he would have been sacked and reported but hey ho. So, has Weed of the week affected me later in life? I would be lying if I said no. Even to this day I get a gut wrenching feeling when someone asks me a maths question. I’ve never admitted it before because I have felt embarrassed but I’m admitting it now because I want to highlight how primary school experiences can imprint so heavily on our ability to learn and develop later in life. Trauma and shock in childhood can literally mould part of our personality and PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) can revisit us in many ways without even knowing it.
I’m now a qualified Counsellor and Hypnotherapist but I still can’t completely move on from that experience in my primary school. I cannot sit down with my 9-year-old daughter and help her with her maths homework because I’m immediately taken back to Mr Walkers classroom and my mind empties of all information. She now knows to go to her dad with the maths homework and me for the other subjects which is quite funny. She’ll say, “mum when will dad be here, I have some maths homework I need help with”? Worryingly I fear she has my maths gene but she’s a brilliant young artist and she can cry on demand when she wants something so I’m sure she’ll be a great little actress one day if she chooses that path. It is so fundamental that we make our children’s school experience pleasurable, nurturing, and safe as the impact of stress, anxiety and trauma could completely change the direction they take into secondary school, college as well as socially and emotionally. Most families lay the foundations for a feeling of security. At its best, the family is the base from which the child learns to face and cope with the anxieties of life. Apart from home, school is the single most important place in the lives of most children. Their experience of school will play a vital part in their lives and will determine their academic, social and, probably, their occupational future. The reception year is crucial. Research shows that there is a continuous link between the progress that children make in their first year of secondary school and the GCSE grades they will eventually achieve at the age of 16. This is why the moments leading up to secondary school is critical in building confidence, educating awareness about staying safe and making healthy decisions, risks of bullying and cyber bullying, coping with changes and being resilient and being mindful and accepting of difference and diversity among the communities we live in. But most importantly children need to have fun and feel safe. I have designed our ‘Remarkable Me’ programme to cover all the essential themes each week to help every child transition to secondary school safely and confidently. If I have anything to be grateful for now, it is to Mr Walker for being one of the main inspirations behind this programme. Thank You We’d love to hear some of your primary school stories that have impacted your life and why. If you feel brave enough to share, we’re all ears. Thank you Rachel Streeter Director Remarkable Me www.remarkableme.uk