So, post wave one of Covid-19 we have been back in school just over a week. Social distancing? Mostly. Hand sanitiser? Yep — loads of the stuff. PPE available? Plenty of it around. Class rooms are set up a bit differently and personally I am avoiding the staffroom except to collect a coffee or do some photocopying. My day is passed in my bubble, occasionally surfacing in a lesson in another classroom where I have been timetabled.
The word ‘bubble’ gives the scene being set a touch of peace and tranquility however I can assure you that while peace and tranquility can exist, it can be gone in a flash, replaced with a fiery flashpoint requiring de-escalation. Whilst my background has been predominantly teaching in a mainstream setting, during a couple of years as a supply teacher I discovered another type of educational setting. Not the private schools that my father urged me to consider but rather the Specical Educational Needs (SEN) or Special Education and Mental Health (SEMH) settings. These schools used to conjure up images of learning difficulties in my mind. It didn’t occur to me for a minute that the learning difficulty might be the behaviour of a young person (YP) or the background from which they have come. I’m not quite sure where I thought that the children who were outside of the scope of the mainstream school went to; the child considered “troublesome” and dealt with in a very mainstream way where perhaps their situation was unwittingly exacerbated by already over-stretched resources and teachers. Well it turns out that they find their way into the SEN and SEMH setting if they are lucky enough to be offered a place.
There are snippets from my days as a supply teacher which you would be quite justified in thinking were absolute fiction. I would have, had I not found myself in the middle of them. There was the rural school visited by Ofsted during my short stay there. I can recall being told by the head that we weren’t to have our mobile phones on us so I didn’t — I’m a fairly law abiding creature really. The problem was that some of the pupils used to abscond and we used to trail after them, making sure they were safe and encouraging a return to school. I trotted down the drive after Sean, turned left and strolled after him at a slight distance. I gave him a bit of time to calm himself and then entered negotiations trying to cause and about turn and quick march back to the school site. One mile passed with no luck. Then two. Of course I have no phone with me so can’t contact the office to notify them of our whereabouts and confirm who has left the large rambling school site where pupils are able to run rings around the staff trying to locate them. Three miles pass. The sweat is dripping off me as the sun reaches it’s full height in the sky. At the four mile mark, with the YP threatening to walk the eight miles to his home, I flag down a passing motorist to ask for help — could he make himself known to the school office and state that teacher X was headed in a northerly direction with pupil Y and that back-up would be most gratefully received. Those of you who have suffered an ofsted will know that the ofsted inspector is pre-programmed to turn up at the most inopportune moments; the type of moment that allows a good sized mountain to be shaped from what is, in reality, a bit of a molehill. This situation was no different. As the helpful passer by appeared in reception, two inspectors approached from different directions and overheard the whole tale. Black mark noted x 2.
My personal favourite was the inspector who joined staff outside of the building dealing with an incident and offered his not so helpful observations. You see a fortnight earlier some athletletic and parkour loving teenage lads realised the could climb onto the school roof which they found to be a bit of a buzz, particularly as the best that the staff could do was negotiate with them. As the inspection started they upped the anti and made their way beyond the ground floor roof and onto the sports hall roof. “There are children on the roof” announces the inspector before looking accusingly at staff and barking “that’s not safe”. Going through my head is “no-shit Sherlock” fortunately the filter instilled by my Mother many years before kicks in and I don’t say it. The thing that gets me is that Mr Ofsteds tone and demeanour seems to suggest we have sent the children up there. The man is bonkers. Mind you, maybe I am too as I chose to work there.
I have been known, in my own time, to utter a stream of bad language like the best of them. However the SEN school has provided further training in this area with the creativity of children second to none. At the current no.1 spot we have the primary school child who called me a “cunting fuckface”. I think he registered the shock on my face because he proceeded to shout it a few more times before begrudgingly agreeing to sit down as he had been requested.
I’m one of those mythical beasts who genuinely loves their work. I love teaching. I loved teaching in mainstream but I love the SEMH setting more. I thrive on the fact that every single interaction has the capacity to make a difference to a young life or to the parents of that young life. I get a buzz from the little victories and I don’t mind dealing with the odd trip to the roof or running out with fire extinguisher in hand to deal with a fire set Bear Grylls style with a pile of the finest literature the school library has to offer. I can activate my ‘shit shield’ at the drop of a hat and deal with things that mainstream schools and society might be left open jawed by. In fact I love it so much that over the coming weeks and months I am going to share my journey through education as a teacher with you. It is based on true stories although characters are of course fictional. The tale will have entertainment value, equally, though, it will have ideas that can be used by the teacher or by the parent in the YP’s home.