Monthly Archives: July 2010

Oh…

There was a real feel of finality at the School. It was the last day of term and not only were the classroom displays coming down, so was the School. The building work continued apace to the backdrop of tears, tantrums and transitions.

I haven’t had the end of term feeling for 20 years; it’s a difficult one to describe. For me, it’s like watching a film in which the hero gets dragged underwater. To test the scene’s plausibility you hold your breath too. Today felt like I’d held my breath until I was out of the School Gates; then I exhaled for England.

The last Assembly was good fun. There were different awards for the children leaving School. Zak was nominated in the ‘Most Excitable’ category; he sat nervously awaiting the result, with all the other kids that refuse to take Ritalin. The Assembly couldn’t have ended better, after an autistic child suddenly rose from his seat and shouted “you’ve been a great audience!”

I couldn’t resist it at the lunchtime break. While separating Zak from a playground scuffle I turned to a nearby Teaching Assistant and said ‘aaahhhh, his last fight’. Ironically enough it happened after a child asked if his shirt was from Oxfam. What goes around comes around.

The Yearbook made for good reading. Asked to describe himself in three words, Zak put ‘Better than Tim’. To the question “What will you be doing in 20 years?” Zak inevitably responded with “An Astronaut in Outer Space”. It’s his long-held dream. Unfortunately, having refusing to pose for the camera, Zak was the only silhouetted child in the Yearbook.

The verdict from Mrs Godsend was not good. As we watched Zak kick a ball around, she believed his future was bleak. She was clutching the card Zak had made for her. “We tried” she said sadly “we showed another side of him, but I think it could be a lost cause”. With 25 years experience I trust her judgement more than most.

I mentioned to Mrs Godsend that at Zak’s annual review, representatives from his new School, a psychologist and a member of SCAN were all missing. She told me how a child whose circumstances were similar to Zak’s, but whose parents were lawyers, had the full complement of people at his annual review. I guess it really is who you know. She also alluded to the fact that some children were envious that Zak worked with me. I was surprised by this, especially as Zak spent most of the term trying to escape me.

I gave Zak my farewell present; a book entitled ‘Astronaut Training for Kids’, followed by a goodbye hug. “Will I see you again?” he asked, “yeah of course mate” I replied “you’re going to fly me to the moon one day”. It felt weird watching him slope off into the sunset for the last time. For the last 7 months, this 11-year-old boy had been my pupil, my tormentor and my friend.


I could never have anticipated how distressing and demanding it is to work with a child diagnosed with ADHD, Autism and a Behavioural and Emotional Disorder. The process of writing the blog genuinely helped me keep mind and body together. Thank you to everyone that’s cast an eye over it.

I hope to continue writing in September when I begin my teacher training. If you’ve stumbled upon this blog for the first time, it all started here. The image below has lines representing the last six weeks of term. I ticked them off as I went along. Where I’ve dragged a pen through it twice it represents the days I would rather forget. The fact that there are only six is testament to the experience, hard work and kindness of my peers.

Tim x

My calendar for the last six weeks

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Getting better

“Morning Zak” the Head Teacher said to me. She quickly corrected herself but the damage had been done. Zak and I have become the same person. It’s like we’re joined at the hip, thankfully metaphorically, not physically. If conjoined I would have to share the pain from the many punches and kicks he receives from children ‘under my radar’.

Zak consistently contributes to his own downfall. He really is the most objectionable child I will ever meet. Today he managed to annoy a child to the extent that when the child retaliated, he was withdrawn from today’s trip. Despite being the clear provocateur, Zak was able to come along. I don’t fully understand why the School has so consistently refused to exclude him. I assume it’s to give the parents a break.

Today’s trip was to a Bowling Alley. While children buzzed around us, I asked a Teacher about the lessons learnt from Zak being at the School. He expected that next time the School would fight just that little bit harder, before accepting a child so clearly incapable of a mainstream education. Alternatively, have two teaching assistants for the one child, that way at least the number of internal exclusions are shared.

The Amusement Arcade was a brief stop, but long enough to be deluged with requests for coins. It was like being surrounded by hundreds of homeless people, although the homeless remember to say ‘please’. “Try that again” I said “this time remember to say please”. “Please Tim can you give me £1?”. “That’s better, No”.

We ended the day at the park, where little white lies tumbled out, albeit from a well-intentioned place. I stopped the children bothering an ant’s nest using gross emotional manipulation. “Why have some of the ants got wings?” one asked. “They’re the parents; all the others in the nest are children”. “So every time we step on them…” the sentence didn’t need finishing. I even got them to stop chasing pigeons, by dramatically revealing that pigeons are known for having weak hearts. I therefore maintained that chasing a pigeon till it has a cardiac arrest is murder. It’s amazing how something said in an authoritative fashion can sound so believable.

I was eventually undone by my faux-wisdom as Zak and I were threatened by a wasp.

Me: so what did I tell you to do if ever this happens?

Zak: keep still

Me: good boy, so keep still, the food is away, the bags are zipped up, it will leave

Zak: ok

The wasp continued to buzz around us

Zak: it’s still here, I’m scared

Me: don’t worry, keep still, it will eventually get bored

The wasp continued to buzz around us

Zak: it’s going to sting me

Me: it’s more scared of you than you are of it

The wasp continued to buzz around us.

Me: ok the usual stuff isn’t working, after three, we’re going to run over there (points in random direction) 1, 2, 3 Go!

I spent the journey home trying to avoid explanations of some of the park toilet’s graffiti. One of the teaching assistants approached me on the bus. “Zak made me cry” she said. I assumed Zak had recounted a heart rendering moment from his childhood. Instead he’d accidentally crushed her knuckles. I also tuned out of a game of ‘spot the number of black cars’ after I discovered the child next to me was colour blind.

The events of the day were not over. As Zak and I kicked a ball around the back playground, he asked to get some water from the front playground fountain. A few moments later a teaching assistant arrived, asking where Zak was. She told me there were three children wandering around School looking for him; they had a score to settle. I dashed full throttle through the School, only to find him innocently looking for caterpillars. “Wot?” he said, startled by my breathlessness. I’d run out of lies to tell but the truth was still a touch too far. “Have you seen Melvyn?” I innocently asked.

Home run

The end of term is so near I thought I could almost smell it today. It turned out to have been one of the Year 6’s, who’d broken wind. We were on public transport so there was no escape. Our School, along with a handful of others, were invited to watch the films we’d made on the big screen.

It so very nearly didn’t happen for Zak. A playground incident lead to Roisin threatening him with exclusion if he broke one more School rule. My eyes were imploring him to overstep the mark, I laid down the gauntlet, go on break another rule I dare you! It sounds cruel but I wanted a school trip without him.

I thought my moment had arrived at break time. Zak walked away from a child, who appeared to be weeping. When I asked the child if he was ok, he lifted his head from his hands to tell me he was counting to ten, as part of a game of Hide and Seek.

It had been an encouraging start to the day, with the reappearance of Mrs Godsend. She was returning after a bout of sciatica. Every child ran to embrace her, unaware that each hug was a setback in her recovery. Kate had given me a bottle of wine with a message “thought you might need this”. I, in turn, prepared a card for her with the message “Thanks for putting up with me and Zak”. I made it in the Art Room, while Zak fruitlessly searched Google Maps, intent on finding where his love interest was in Iran.

The Cinema Trip was inevitably eventful. The children went hysterical spotting a child star of ‘Tracey Beaker’ on the tube and an over officious member of London Underground insisted on each child passing through the barriers individually; and not letting us through the gate. “Stupid person” I muttered under my breath, only for my comment to be picked up by one of the kids. Thankfully it was one of the more sensible children who conceded I had a point.

The films were a mixed bag. The first was downright trippy. A menacing, surreal piece that was the stuff of nightmares. It featured kids in white coats, papier-mâché masks, cloaked figures and a bloodied semi-conscious child. It was reminiscent of the films of David Lynch, the only thing it lacked was a midget talking backwards. I ticked it off the places I’d one day like to work at.

Another film was by a School in Zak’s new area. I received a running commentary “that kid’s rubbish at football” “I beat that kid up” etc. Zak did get to broaden his horizons by seeing the Houses of Parliament and with my help, overcame a phobia of escalators. It was also a first for him having a fight in the cinema and on public transport.

We finished the day with a game of cricket, the teachers versus the children. “Imagine the ball is a teacher’s face that you hate” I overheard one kid say during their post-match huddle. The kids won convincingly.

Testing, testing

In an ideal world the children would happily sit in a darkened room, watching the full 5 hour version of ‘Das Boot’, with English subtitles and no sound. The teacher meanwhile would lie in the corner of the classroom and simply allow themselves to recover. This though is not an ideal world and after last night’s end of term drinks party, there was no place for the teachers to hide.

I’d suggested Zak either play an elaborate game of Hide and Seek (where I count up to a thousand) or ‘Sleeping Lions’, where the lions are comatose. Thankfully, he was as tired as I was. We instead watched ‘Mr Bean’s Holiday’ in the library. Zak either deconstructed every scene or told me what was about to happen next. I was too tired to protest. Even during the lighter moments, he would pepper me with questions like “are you afraid of dying?” The fact he did this while dancing to Mr Bombastic made it even odder.

‘Sports Day’ in the rain wasn’t supposed to fun for anyone. One anguished child approached me to ask if it might be cancelled. “Please rain more” he said looking hopefully heavenwards. The post-alcohol delirium made it good fun for the adults. With blurred vision and muddled minds we may not have followed the correct rules for each event, but who cares if you’re playing it properly? It’s the taking part that counts (try telling that to the miserable kid though).

With just a week to go till the end of term, the behaviour of those about to leave the School is understandably wayward. Zak stared regretfully at his unrequited love interest, as she stood to receive applause on her last day (she is leaving School early to go to Iran). Her shirt was covered in goodwill messages, as is the standard practice among kids on their last day. “Will people write nice things on my shirt?” Zak asked. “I’m sure they will” I replied, although I might need some Tipp-Ex to hand.

As I read ‘Kensuke’s Kingdom’ to him in the library, one passage showed an uncanny parallel with our own relationship.

I talked to him of the outside world, and the more I talked the more he seemed to become interested. Of course, I never spoke of the wars and famines and disasters. I painted the best picture of the world I could. There was so much he didn’t know. These things took some explaining, I can tell you.

For example, we looked at the topic of animal testing. I explained both sides of the story and Zak decided on the argument against. “I’m an animal lover” he declared “they should not harm animals, ever!”. I complimented him on his compassionate stance. Zak paused, his eyes widening “are we going to do some animal testing?”.

Let’s talk about sex

PD James wrote ‘what a child does not receive, he can seldom later give’. Perhaps with that in mind, Zak attended the sex education class today. It’s not that the School want to discourage the poor lad from breeding; rather that he behaves in class like one of the slang terms for the male genitalia.

This was the first exercise given to the boys, to try to quell the sniggering. When drawing a crude diagram of the male genitalia on the board, the teacher commented he hadn’t done this since he was their age. It took a while for the juvenility to diminish but their eventual maturity and interest was impressive. The female menstruation cycle proved a little too much for them though. It prompted a stunned Zak to declare he will never have a wife. At least the playground insults should be more anatomically correct.

Today I was reminded of my first day at the School. A girl asked me in the canteen if it was “front or back playground today?” (there are two playgrounds in the School). She may have been the same girl who asked the same question, while I waited for my interview.

It was my first time in a School for over twenty years and my first interview for a teaching job. With all the seats occupied outside the Head Teacher’s office, I squeezed into the bright orange ‘naughty chair’. I looked ridiculous. The size of the Lilliputian chair just accentuated my long limbs, the fact I was wearing a suit made it somehow worse. A little girl came breathlessly around the corner as I waited. It had to be me she spoke to;

Girl: front or back playground today?

Me: (confused) I’m not sure, sorry

Girl seemed to accept my answer but didn’t leave.

Girl: what are you doing?

Me: I’m waiting to see the Head Teacher

Girl: are you in trouble?

Me: No

Girl once again accepts answer but doesn’t leave. A minute passed as she continued to stare.

Girl: are you a giant?

This prompted chuckles in the waiting area and it did relax my nerves. I made a mental note to thank her if I got the job.

Fight or Flight

It’s like being sat with a drunk at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. This thought popped into my head during Zak’s latest bout of bad behaviour. With the Year 6 group running through rehearsals for ‘Yousuf and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’, I had to exit Zak (stage left) as he went ballistic. With all the commotion and struggle to get him off the stage, I’m surprised I wasn’t offered the part of the slave driver.

It’s not only the School that have had enough, Tesco’s have too. Zak’s been banned from their stores, after a Supermarket Sweep ended with the trashing of a trolley. To be honest his anecdote smacked of gross over-exaggeration. As did the £5 he allegedly received from the previous night’s ‘tooth fairy’. It was 50p in my day; I guess that’s inflation for you.

It was like being in the midst of a ticker-tape parade during break time. Zak and another child, who have both built up an insurmountable amount of World Cup football cards, got into a fight. Thousands of football cards (ok, so I might be exaggerating now) flew into the air. The World Cup might be over but this didn’t stop a mass Wild West brawl. Six, count ’em, six teaching assistants stood and watched the events unfold. “Leave it to the new kid to sort out” seemed their collective decision.

Zak was sent to Roisin’s office, where he went on an immediate hunger strike. “I would rather be skinny” he said, when I offered to take him to lunch. Kate Moss would be proud and as they say a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. He did manage to eventually eat something, before falling asleep for half an hour. With a roll of the eyes Roisin advised me to leave him. This was further evidence of Zak not being in any condition for School.

The School Secretary took me to one side “what’s this I hear about you telling Zak you have a pet fly called Melvyn?”. I decided to structure my response like a maths question, “if you have fifteen internal exclusions, each for a duration of three and a half hours, in an isolated place with one child, how many hours would it take, rounding it up to the nearest hundred, before you start talking about having a pet fly?”

Boiling point

Zak did return to School today, with an opening sentence to send chills down any spine, “I drank coffee for the first time today!” He’d been to visit his Secondary School, which in typical Zak-style was bigger and better than anything at his current School. This was questionable as there are only 27 pupils there, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He also suggested I get a job there, which was odd, as he spends most of his time trying to escape from me. Maybe he meant I work there as a janitor.

It was difficult to avoid reminiscing about how far Zak had come today. We were all sat back together for his Annual Review, Caroline the Head Teacher, Roisin, Kate, his parents and I. With a translator in tow this time, the truth and nothing but the truth was given to Zak’s Mum and Dad. It was all for their benefit, as we each took it in turns to talk about his difficulties and improvements. Zak and I are covering percentages at the moment in Numeracy and I’d say it was a 90/10 split.

It was inevitably an uncomfortable experience for all concerned, although I doubt we said anything the parents weren’t expecting. No-show’s from representatives from his new School, a psychologist and a member of SCAN were evidence of why the system fails some kids. This would have been a perfect opportunity for all concerned to hear each other.

As temperatures soared, Zak and I looked for ladybirds in the School garden. “My mum asked me to apologise” was his only concession to the recent exclusion. “Was your childhood light or dark?” he asked me, while playing with the ladybird he’d christened Kevin. “Bit of both” I said. We could have continued to develop this, but were interrupted by a six-year-old boy singing ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ by LL Cool J.

Signs of the times were in evidence today. Firstly, the children performed ‘Yousuf and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’. I saw a mock marriage ceremony between two boys at playtime and when asked by one of the teachers how the King and Queen were chosen, one girl suggested “by audition?”