Monthly Archives: February 2010

Just keep going

Today the School dressed as characters from books. This was also the day of a meeting about Zak. So there I was, sat with Harry Potter, Where’s Wally? and the Cat in the Hat. It was difficult to take anyone seriously.

They thanked me for my efforts and reminded me I’m supporting a child with a severe emotional and behavioural disorder. The problem I have, is tolerating Zak’s petulance and antagonism until the end of term. I made him into a makeshift Wolverine and secretly hoped he’d forget who he was at some point, and pick his nose. I placed red tape around his head so he could look like a Ninja, while wishing I could tape it over his mouth.

Still for all that, who at the end of the day was waiting for me outside the School Gates, keen to walk part of the way home with me?.  As Zak and I walked along, the sun came out and I remembered we’ll both be part of a choir performing at the Royal Festival Hall next month. He might face the wrong way some of the time, but I hope he enjoys and appreciates the experience.

This is a poem by Amanda Carter, for anyone that needs reminding of why we do, what we do;

If a child lives with criticism,
he learns to condemn.
If a child lives with hostility,
he learns to fight.
If a child lives with ridicule,
he learns to be shy.
If a child lives with shame,
he learns to feel guilty.
If a child lives with tolerance,
he learns to be patient.
If a child lives with encouragement,
he learns confidence.
If a child lives with praise,
he learns to appreciate.
If a child lives with fairness,
he learns justice.
If a child lives with security,
he learns to have faith.
If a child lives with approval,
he learns to like himself.
If a child lives with acceptance and friendship,
He learns to find love
in the world.

That’s Amore

“Why have I got a moustache?”. As a teaching assistant you have to be ready for any question. Zak does not do “Hello’s”, so this was the first thing he said upon arriving at school. The reason for this self-consciousness became clear all too soon. “I’m in love” he confided, although just seconds later asked “am I in love?”.

This warranted a conducting of the “Am I in love?” checklist. “Do you act all weird when you’re around her?” I asked, he smiled and nodded, “do you find it hard to say anything to her and when you do, it comes out all wrong?”, he nodded again “then you’re in lurve my friend”.

Love can make you do some strange things, and in Zak’s case it involved antagonizing enough of his class, to get excluded from school on Monday. I held off three of his classmates from giving him, what they call in the Southern States, a “whoopin“. Such was the strength required, to restrain three crazed kids baying for blood, my hands shook afterwards.

When he misbehaves, to the extent I have to remove him from class, there are three options. I can take him either to the offices of Roisin, the deputy or the headteacher. Today though, having done a tour of the school, all the options were closed. We ended up back where we’d started. Rather than lose face, I told him I’d interrupted the lesson, just so we could both get some exercise.

The afternoon saw us pent-up in the Head Teacher’s office, while she was away. I ditched the syllabus and tried to help him improve his behaviour. He started by telling me he had once murdered someone. When it’s being said by an eleven year old with the “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” book resting on his lap, its difficult to hide a smile.

Just when I thought it was safe to no longer receive awkward questions, he asked what the ‘anal fin’ on a shark was. This lead to a further examination of what a wholphin was, (a hybrid of a whale and a dolphin), and before I knew it I was in a sex education class. He hasn’t even carried her books to school yet, so instead we played football in the rain.

With a little help from my friends

Entering the playground after half term, I was confronted by a sight to send shivers down the spine of every ‘Daily Mail’ reader. There, stood before me, was a youth in a hooded top, otherwise known as a “hoodie”. Thankfully it was just Zak, who warned me he was now a “Gangsta”.

To his credit, he kept in character for most of the morning. He swaggered around and even refused to watch a BBC Bitesize film about arguments, until I confirmed Melvin & Steven were at least part-time Gangstas’. He only blew his cover when he elucidated on the subject of nightwear. “Gangstas don’t wear pyjamas” I reliably informed him.

Once Zak had, with a thudding predictability, been excluded from class, we were left wandering the corridors for somewhere to work. Eventually, we ended up in the kitchen, while two tradesman replaced an oven nearby.

It become an almost comical arena to teach in. Zak interrupted me every five minutes, for me to reaffirm they’d just used the “f word”, then one of the tradesman told me I was “doing it all wrong”. I should just teach Zak about measurements, he asserted. “If you ask me” (I hadn’t) “teach him what an inch is, a foot is, stuff like that”, he continued “then one day if he wants to (he won’t), he can be like me” (he doesn’t).

We ended the day in the library. I read to Zak about Bradley Chalkers, a child with “serious behavioural problems”. I’m hoping Melvin, Steven and Bradley will help make a happy ending.

We’re no Angels

At the staff meeting today, the Head Teacher asked a Year 1 Teacher for a favour. She wanted a boy, who’d been fighting, excluded to her class. “It’s not him is it?” she said, pointing to me, but meaning Zak. “Oh God No!” exclaimed the Head Teacher. Talk about being guilty by association.

To celebrate half-term Zak brought some firecrackers into school. My first confiscation, ahhh!. Later in the library, as Zak was telling me the Iranian leader had “made a great gas”, he made one himself. He swiftly apologised and looked embarrassed. I took it ultimately as a compliment, at least he’s relaxed in my company.

At assembly the Head Teacher presented certificates for children who had excelled during the week. Zak received a certificate, as he was the only child in the school yet to receive one. He hid his face behind the certificate. As I leant forward to pat him on the back though, I spotted a wide grin.

He is part-kid, part-Tazmanian Devil. He’s also capable of one moment saying that I’ve “ruined his life” and the next that he will “bring me gold from Iran”. With all that though, as we kicked a ball around in the playground like a couple of prison convicts, (he’s currently excluded from P.E. with the other kids), his enthusiasm made the playground feel a less lonely place.

I’m signing off for half term but might re-post a few favourite blogs over the next week. Thanks to everyone who has visited my blog so far, and for all your kind and encouraging comments.

p.s. This might be as close as I ever get to being a Radio 1 DJ giving a ‘shout out’ (Thank God) but two teachers have been in touch asking for a plug. The first is for Peter Pan Educational Resources (I too have often been called the boy who refused to grow up). The Manga High website has some fiendishly addictive maths games, who said learning can’t be fun?.

Mother knows best

I had to stifle a smile this morning. Zak arrived at school wearing a scarf that only a mother would force a son to wear. With this one fatal fashion faux pas he went from King of the Playground, to Rupert the Bear lookalike. I half expected a reporter from Heat magazine to ‘pap’ him for their ‘What were you thinking?‘ section.

It was ‘International Day’ at the school, although in the morning the Head Teacher berated the person responsible for drawing graffiti on the corridor walls. I had passed the graffiti on the way in. It read ‘We all smile in the same language‘. I thought that in keeping with International Day, it at least carried a message of peaceful intent. I then noticed the word ‘SEX!’ written underneath.

‘International Day’ is a reflection of the schools’ cultural diversity with a “day of exciting, fun-filled performance and cooking”. Only one person could be the fly in the ointment. After making ‘cut throat’ gestures to any child unlucky enough to make eye contact with him, I removed Zak from assembly. Rather than miss the performances I took a leaf out of this guy’s book and chained him to a lamp post.

It was for the best. Earlier in the day he asked if Egyptians are called gypsies and told me he hates Greece. I assume he was referring to the country, but it might have been the musical too.

At the end of the day in the cramped office, Roisin reminded Zak to tell his father to send a particular form. Zak asked Roisin if she could tell me, to tell his dad. It was odd, as I sat next to them both. Nonetheless, Roisin asked me to tell Zak’s father to send the form. “Zak” I said “can you tell Roisin I will”. We all laughed, the Englishman, the Irishwoman and the Iranian. International relations had been restored.

Rupert the Bear

Hands down, if you don’t

I was leaving the tiny office, I share with Zak, at the end of the day. As I switched off the lights and locked the door, a passing girl quipped “have you locked him in there?”, such is Zak’s popularity.

Separating Zak from fights is becoming increasingly commonplace. I can now restrain an angry child, while giving a supply teacher directions to the staff room. Who said men can’t multitask?. Zak also went for the fire alarm today and I stopped him with a second to spare. If I don’t have certified Ninja-like reflexes by the end of this term, I’ll feel shortchanged.

The school received a nice card from his parents. It said thank you for all our efforts, “especially with Zak”, as if it needed saying. He has a younger brother, who plays the ‘new kid’ role so much better than he does.

Zak stunned a generally rowdy class into silence, with the question “Hands up, who has cancer?”. I took the opportunity to remove him from the class and explain why that wasn’t an appropriate question. At the same time I silently pondered whether “Hands up, who has cancer?” has any quiz show potential.

At the end of a bitterly cold day, a random child hugged me, and just as quickly moved on. I wondered why she did this. Did she confuse me for someone else? was I part of a World Record attempt for hugging? maybe I just looked like I needed one.

The Cola Wars

Would taking on a great white shark armed only with a boogie board give someone the biggest rush of dread and adrenaline?. I’d volunteer sitting with an outspoken autistic child, during a talk by an Auschwitz survivor.

We had the honour of a Polish woman coming to talk of her experiences in the concentration camp. I could barely take in what was being said, not just because of the brutality and hardship she suffered, but also because this was an opportunity Zak could royally f**k up.

He raised his hand and before I could intercept him, asked if they served Pepsi there. I quickly altered his question to “what were they given to eat and drink?”. The look from the Head Teacher made it perfectly clear any further questions were to be filtered through me first.

Then, something unexpected happened. Whether it was the talk, the images shown or the hushed reverence around the room, but Zak began to comprehend. He asked only sensible questions after that and mentioned afterwards how lucky we all were not to have had such an experience.

Coincidentally, there was a touch of the Blitz spirit during the day. The Deputy Head helped in the canteen at lunchtime and the Head Teacher took a PE lesson. I did my bit for King and Country by taking a group of Year 1 kids for cricket. I also learnt a new equation, 8 x 5-year-old kids + cricket bats = tears before bedtime.