Don’t give up

27 Nov

The head teacher came into my tutor group the other day. ‘Can I have a word? I have a new student for you; you’re good with the naughty ones aren’t you? I’m giving you Ben. He starts next week, but I wouldn’t worry about him, I’ll have him out by Christmas’
And thus started my journey into Special needs. Ben had a marked and moving effect on me. He, single handed, is the reason why I am now a special needs teacher. When I tell his story, even to this day it upsets me.
He was your typical ‘naughty boy’. A bit unkempt, extremely thick school file and a long list of ‘previous schools’.  Ben’s life at home was rather complex. He was the oldest of several siblings who lived with their mother. Social services knew the family well.
It was the small signs that spoke volumes. He would turn up to school with only some of his uniform, sometimes wearing girls socks, often had no lunch, and whenever he was anywhere near the deputy head’s office ALL the complimentary biscuits were gone in a flash.
But, he loved his mother dearly and would do ANYTHING for her. In fact I think he did most things for her. He knew far too much for his age, and before very long some of his siblings were no longer allowed to live at home.
School was the least of his worries.  He was an extremely intelligent boy, and sadly Teachers didn’t have time for him. All they saw was the answering back, disruptive behaviour and violent outbursts. He was regularly sent out of lessons and this concerned me. I was NOT going to allow the head to determine his future based on a reputation that preceded him.
Ben and I struck up a deal. If he was ever in trouble in school he agreed he would come to me, work and all. This happened extremely regularly indeed.  But, he was coping, amongst the hell that was his life. I fought against exclusion when he broke a fire door; I regularly defended him to the head teacher and rescued him from several more exclusions, becoming his rock, his shoulder to cry on.
We talked at length about all sorts. He would often ask about his rights, talked about his father, and the anger he felt for the fact that he left the family when he was young. He missed his younger brothers, there was only him and his sister at home now, and when social services went round it had been very ugly.
I knew things were still tough though. I heard from the police that his absence one day was because he was in the police cells. All sorts of things spun through my head. But in the end I was deeply saddened to discover that he had been arrested for stealing food.
Some details I feel are even too sad to share, but this was just the tip of the ice berg.
Disaster struck the day I heard the news from the hospital about my long awaited major knee operation. It was on the first day of the autumn term. I feared this was the opportunity the head was looking for. I was distraught. What would Ben do without me? I honestly worried that he would not cope.
We arranged a support Network involving staff he preferred, and I thought I had everything covered. Even though I was only a teacher, I felt I had become his social worker.
I bid him farewell, reassured him he would be ok, and departed for the summer break.
The news reached me shortly after I got out of hospital. On the third day back after the summer break, Ben has been caught trying to start a fire in a classroom. The head permanently expelled him. That goodbye in July had been the last time I would see Ben.
I was inconsolable. I had deserted him. He needed me and I was not there. I felt truly awful, words cannot describe my distress. I tried to find out what had happened to him next. Data protection prevented me from finding out anything more.
A message to Ben if I could talk to him now would be thus:
‘I am truly sorry I wasn’t there for you when you needed me but you must understand that my heart was with you. I hope life has been kind to you. You are never far from my thoughts and I want to thank you for helping me find my own path in special needs teaching, one I wouldn’t have found without you’

3 Responses to “Don’t give up”

  1. David November 29, 2010 at 06:58 #

    This was not your fault. You worked as hard as you could for Ben, but at the end of the day, sometimes your best just isn't enough, you need more of a community to give their utmost as well.

    Your headmaster failed Ben, the system failed him, but I'm sure if you ever talk to him, you will always be a hero in his eye.

  2. Joe Bower November 29, 2010 at 08:08 #

    Don't beat yourself up over this. Don't be sad that it ended this way; rather be happy you had the time you had together.

  3. nuuutymel November 29, 2010 at 09:42 #

    David, thanks for that. I know that many other people failed him, it just makes me angry that still the agencies dont know how to co-ordinate and communicate. Thank you for the reassurance though.

    Joe, I am of course eternally grateful for the time i had with Ben, because without that, i would not be a special needs teacher now. At the time, i was a mainstream music teacher, and his tutor. He would come down to me regularly when he was having trouble, and sit in one of my practice rooms.

    My path into special needs was as a direct result of the outcome of this story. I wanted to be in a position where i could make more of a difference to those who needed that extra bit of support.

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