This post is about a boy who was not called Billy. I am, however, going to call him Billy, at least for a bit.
When I first met Billy at the start of Y10 he was, for want of a better word, a bit of an idiot, at least behaviorially – I don’t know what he was like socially, of course, but in class and around the school he was particularly disruptive. ‘Oh, you teach Billy, do you? Poor thing – that’s you, not Billy.’ ‘Billy? Oh god, sit him away from everyone. Preferably outside.’ ‘Yeah, you’ll want to get him onside pretty quickly. But you probably won’t, so don’t sweat it.’
Billy had a load of mates in the class, all with ludicrously high targets (No! Really?) and a love for war, which is why they’d picked a subject that studied the Cold War (not really much fighting), the Vietnam War (two-thirds about the politics, to be fair), Nazi Germany (1918-39, sorry chaps) and War and the Transformation of British Society, 1900-28 (a bit of war, but also lots of suffrage, strikes and liberal reforms). The lack of war was a real disappointment, despite me previously making it very clear. Ah, boys.
Despite me starting by treating him exactly the same as everyone else, Billy soon found himself sat on his own at the front. I gave him the chances to move back with the others but each time he blew it, and so there he sat for the entirety of Y10, predicted a D, then an E.
I found it very difficult to build a relationship with him. If you’ve known a child since Y7 or Y8 it’s much easier later on to get that buy-in: there are years of trust built up to support those drier parts of a course alongside the potential (though never quite as widespread as I’d imagined) troublesome hormonal years. Building the relationship with Billy was also difficult because I was telling him off so much. No, I wasn’t shouting and bawling, but it was difficult to persevere with positives when every action of his seemed designed to disrupt.
At least, that’s what I thought.
In the September of Y11 I noticed a tiny, seemingly insignificant, change. He didn’t mention this, but he’d rubbed out ‘Billy’ on his exercise book and replaced it with ‘William’. I asked his other teachers and he’d done the same with some of them. Hmm.
In response I didn’t mention anything to him, but I did start to call him William. He was suddenly focused. His book was neater, his homework was complete (and improving in quality) and he came to me at break to ask how to improve further. His test results improved.
The moment I realised that he could end up with at least a C was when he managed to give an event, idea or action for every single Cold War date, from 1943 to 1991. When his classmates asked how he’d done it, he just said, ‘I learned them.’
I asked if he’d like to move back to sit with the others. ‘I’m alright here, thanks.’ OK. Cool.
Billy, William, ended up with a B. He managed an A in the Cold War exam, the one which he’d paid no attention to in Y10.
At some point during a revision session I overheard him saying something to a group of nailed-on A-grade girls, something which I’d been saying for nearly two years: ‘The more I learned the more I wanted to learn and the more it made sense – that’s how I remember it all.’