Return to the chalkface
And so it came to pass that I found myself back in school.
I made a good start but there were issues from the beginning. I was ‘physically’ isolated at quite a distance from others- I cannot expand on that really. This meant I was also isolated from peers. New, often young and quite inexperienced staff were in place. Less than half had permanent contracts. The physical environment was unfit for purpose although efforts had been made to adapt to the situation. There was little resourcing or equipment, and there were some missing essential facilities meaning sharing some with a neighbouring school.
The children and families were some of the most deprived I’d ever met, and faced multiple disadvantages. They had so many challenges that a full time parental support worker was really needed as well as a team of support staff, trained to deal with their needs. We had no such support- it was left to me.
How I loved them all.
One day I was teaching a class and a child piped up, without any hesitation, how her mum had just been barred from the local (insert name of budget supermarket). Whilst at the time I had to keep a straight face to prevent the other children making comments or making her feel ashamed, several nodded their heads like they knew what she was talking about. They were Year 1.
This is just the tiniest of insights into the kinds of families these children were growing up in.
My days should’ve been spent supporting teaching and learning for these very vulnerable children and being strategic about building an environment where they would all thrive and where staff would develop the essential skills necessary for the job. In practice I was a fire fighter, dealing with one calamity after another.
As well as being a fire fighter I was also a taxi service, domestic abuse counsellor, police officer, grounds keeper and support worker to them all- staff, families and children.
Instead of working alongside teachers, days were always spent on safeguarding, dealing with the fallout and practical emergency issues surrounding domestic abuse, sometimes collecting and returning children who had home lives so challenging it would make you cry. Trying to prevent older students bullying ours. Dealing with the (occasional) anti social behaviour of parents- they thought nothing of parking across fire exits and shouting at you for daring to challenging them.
Then there were those I reported to.
I was ‘told’ to discipline staff for trivialities like their choice of clothing or shoes. A fantastic teacher was let go- euphemism for ‘short term contract terminated’- against my very strong wishes to retain her. They just had it in for her, as she was a bit alternative. Footnote: I wrote an excellent reference for this teacher who appears to be thriving in her new, permanent role elsewhere, where she is no doubt appreciated. There was an unsubtle feeling that you were either a ‘X’ school teacher or you weren’t. I felt increasingly uncomfortable. In the words of Chinua Achebe, I was no longer at ease.
On top of this, the infrastructure was completely inadequate. For nearly one whole half term we had no internet meaning no normal registration, no access for teachers/ children, no access for office staff, and importantly, no access to essential communications. I was running the place from my mobile phone- shockingly inadequate.
One day I had to be offsite- in itself a process that required planning like army manoeuvres. Another member of staff came to replace me and there was a CP incident. This could not be dealt with in the normal way and to cut a long and difficult story short, the inadequate infrastructure added to delays in getting essential comms to the right place, as on that occasion there was neither internet nor telephones, so no fax either. My replacement was understandably in a real tizz- and only then were my concerns taken seriously.
Shit was getting serious.
A Personal Journey out of the Classroom (8) : Things Fall Apart explains what happened next.