Education & Family

What happened when teacher moved in?

A wayward schoolgirl gets the shock of her life when her mother hands over control of the family home to her teacher for a week to improve her behaviour. The experience was recorded for a BBC Three TV documentary, as executive producer, Fiona O'Sullivan explains.

You could have heard a pin drop in the head teacher's office when Loretta Cook was told the news that her 29-year-old technology teacher, Hannah Dudley, would be moving in.

There was a pause and then Loretta's response. "Does this mean you're going to see me without any make-up?" A funny knee-jerk response but one that completely summed up the boundary that Loretta's teacher was about to cross.

And for 14-year-old Loretta, being seen without make-up is a sore point indeed.

Just two days earlier, her mother Karen had refused to give Loretta time for her beauty regime because she had been running late and at the school entrance, Loretta had refused to get out of the car.

The scuffle actually got physical as Karen tried to undo Loretta's seatbelt. "I'm not going in looking like this," she said. "I'm not going to school unless I've got my hair and make-up ready." Loretta ended up walking off the school grounds.

So, back to the head teacher's office.

Loretta was in shock and Karen in tears. "She's such a lovely, wonderful, beautiful girl and has such a fantastic sense of humour and she's just wasting herself," her tired mother Karen whimpered. "I feel like I've failed her."

Miss Dudley tried to explain to Loretta that Karen was at her wits' end and did not know how to control Loretta or what else to do.

Loretta's parents and the school had decided that by joining forces in this remarkable way, they might be able to get Loretta back on track and help her make the most of an education she could get a lot out of.

"Loretta is somebody I would say is on the cusp of becoming quite a behavioural problem but isn't there yet and is, I think, salvageable for that reason," said the head teacher, Tracy Campbell. "She's somebody that deep down wants to do better than she is."

Driving home

Within minutes Miss Dudley was joining Loretta and Karen on the drive home from school. Hannah Dudley would return to her own home overnight but for every waking hour, at school or at home, she would be part of Loretta's life.

Hannah Dudley had no experience of dealing with children or families outside a classroom. She certainly did not come with a tried and tested formula on how to sort Loretta out.

Image caption Hannah Dudley and Loretta share the family sofa

"A lot of people have said that I'm maybe a bit crazy to take this on, maybe this is too big. Maybe it is but I'd rather give something a go and it not work than never have tried in the first place."

Hannah felt she needed to find out what was going on at home in order to see what might be causing Loretta's erratic and disrespectful behaviour.

But Loretta was not going be a pushover and despite having her teacher in her house, she had no intention of doing everything she was told to do.

The young teacher was overwhelmed by the task that lay ahead of her and feeling very wobbly as to whether she would be able to have any positive impact on the Cook household.

Keeping calm

It all came to head on the second day with a simple request that Loretta should change out of her school uniform. Loretta flew off the handle - the stand-off lasted all afternoon.

The interesting thing about that afternoon was that while Loretta lost her temper and got very angry, Hannah remained calm and quietly stood her ground. Even when Loretta walked away from her on more than one occasion and Hannah felt completely undermined, she did not let it show.

The consistent, calm approach to conflict started to have an effect on Loretta. Suddenly the tantrums and battles with her mother stopped happening.

Hannah put every waking moment that week into listening to Loretta, remaining calm in the face of her obstinacy and pursuing her belief that a proper structure and routine would greatly improve Loretta's disposition.

The real turning point came the next day with another stand-off between Hannah and Loretta but this time there was no shouting match. Instead Loretta opened up to Hannah and revealed the reason for her angry outbursts.

It was all to do with the after-effects of her parents' divorce two years earlier. Her mother was being too hard on her, she felt, picking on her.

"Ever since my mum and dad have split up, she has to find somebody to blame it on... it has to be me because I look like my dad."

Making sense

Her father's home was only a couple of miles away and Loretta visited regularly, which when things got tough gave her the chance to play the two off against each other.

Hannah Dudley now had the extra insight she needed. She set about improving communication between Loretta's parents. It was no use only one parent trying to enforce discipline. They needed to be consistent and support Loretta a great deal more.

Hannah succeeded in getting the parents and Loretta into the same room. It took some effort but the family worked out a set of rules and they all agreed it was a huge achievement.

Loretta's behaviour altered drastically and she was unquestionably a very different girl. Her body language was no longer negative and resistant and she was smiley and confident. She looked prettier and happier.

"I'm really proud of Loretta," said Mick, who was chuffed with the new-found energy he saw in his young daughter. "She's happy and she's confident. Me and Karen need to put our differences aside for the sake of Loretta."

Karen too was delighted that relations with Mick were greatly improved. When Loretta announced she wanted to be a teacher I think you could have knocked us all down with a feather!

"There's a hunger there for something," explained Karen. "When you lose that hunger then you've lost and I'm so glad she's got it now."

It was a reminder of why we embarked on this project in the first place. Teachers are taught to take students' family lives into consideration but it's very difficult to really grasp what students are going through at home, and that there is no comparison for witnessing it yourself.

You can't help wondering what would happen if every badly behaved teenager in the country were to have this opportunity?

Wait Till Your Teacher Gets Home! is on BBC Three at 2100 on Thursday 28 October. Watch via iPlayer or find out about repeats at the above link.