For a child who had a list of previous offences that ranged from physical assault to disruptive and abusive behaviour Zak did not, I have to admit, install an immediate fear in me. Admittedly there was a certain swagger to him as he arrived in the room wearing a leather jacket and sat abruptly down. He was certainly tall for his age, but the constant wringing of hands and lack of eye contact showed how scared and vulnerable he was. His parents sat alongside him looking exhausted with very strained smiles.
Also at this initial get together was the headteacher, the SENco (who co-ordinates the Special Educational Needs of children), his form teacher and myself. The headteacher Caroline began by putting Zak at ease, she welcomed him to the school and ensured he was aware this was a safe place for learning. He immediately interrupted her by asking “When do I start?”. This raised smiles around the room, you can’t beat enthusiasm!.
Caroline introduced Zak to all of us. I noticed that he politely said “hello” to the female teachers and when eventually introduced to me, said “pleased to meet you”. I wondered if this was a result of his patriarchal culture, although this might just have been some careful coaching from the parents.
Caroline explained the structure of the day to him. Zak and I were to be given a guided tour of the school by one of the pupils and then we would read some books together. Miles was our tour guide, an 11 year old boy who showed an almost alarming amount of maturity beyond his years. Zak and I asked questions and made observations as we wandered around the playground and chatted together quite easily.
When we returned we spent some time reading a book about lions. We both enjoyed giving each other any and every fact we knew about lions. His tendency though to go off on tangents was immediately apparent. We went quickly from lions, to dinosaurs, to space travel, to the cosmos and back again. I did have to reign him in to concentrate on the task in hand. He certainly had a lot to say which was encouraging!.
The morning flew by and Zak and his family would now be returning home. Roisin, the SENco noticed how Zak immediately bolted off, leaving his family stranded in the playground smiling nervously.
At a meeting to discuss our first observations, the overriding thoughts of Caroline and Roisin was that it is a case of waiting and seeing. They both stressed that while he would be given every opportunity at the school, his earlier behaviour would not be tolerated. It was as if they were preparing me for the fact that Zak may not be here till the end of term. I have to respect their judgement and experience. This, after all, was day one for me, as well as for Zak.