Weekly writing challenge: the instant my life changed

15 Nov

This weeks writing challenge was easy for me: the moment my life changed was the moment that I knew that Special Education was the career path I needed to pursue.

Rewind quite some years. I am a head of music in a regular mainstream 14-19 school.

Music was a difficult and as always an expensive subject, there was always finding issues, access issues. At the time, the curriculum wasn’t kind to children: you needed to be able to afford to own and learn an instrument to succeed, because it was (far too much so in my opinion) very much based on classical music training – being able to read music. The demographic of the school was very mixed, there were some very bright students from well off families, including a girl who travelled to London for music lessons on Saturdays. There were also some students with complex needs, including a severely autistic boy, some with behaviour issues and a large portion from deprived families.

Along side my music teaching duties I was also a tutor to a year 9 (13-14 year olds) tutor group of about 30.

The day that changed my life

The head teacher came into my tutor group one morning. He had with him a small, slightly unkempt looking boy who was slumped over looking down at the floor. I couldn’t really see his face at all.

‘We have a new student for you, this is Frankie.’ He announced.

‘But don’t worry, he will be out by Christmas’ he whispered into my ear.

With that, he was gone.


Frankie lived with his mother, and several other siblings. There was strong evidence to suggest that he was witness to drugs and prostitution within the family home. He was neglected, often turning up to school in incomplete uniform, or wearing some of his sisters clothes, because his mother did not do the washing. He was regularly picked up by the police for shop lifting. It was usually food:Frankie was not fed at home.  His youngest sibling was removed into protective custody with injuries suggesting that he was thrown across the room.

School was the least of Frankie’s worries.

I was at an advantage, I had several practice rooms outside my classroom. As we grew to know and trust each other, we came to an arrangement. If he was struggling with things, he would leave his classroom and come down to me, sitting quietly in one of my practice rooms to complete his work. The teachers were in agreement, and it seemed to work.

We worked together and Frankie kept his place in the school for the next 12 months. 8 months longer than the head’s initial unofficial prediction.

Then it happened.

I was going into hospital for a major operation. We made plans for three months, putting support strategies in place to ensure that Frankie would still feel safe, have somewhere to go and someone to turn to.

The third day after I went, Frankie was permanently excluded from the school. I was told it was because he ‘tried to set fire to the drama room’. It didn’t make sense. I never did get to find out what actually happened in that room, and never saw Frankie again. My parting words before I went into hospital were the last words I spoke to him.

I tried to find out what happened to him, but because of ‘data protection’ no one would tell me. It took several years before I could tell this story without becoming emotional.

That was the day I was sure of the destiny that lay before me.

I would spend the rest of my teaching career making sure that the education system did not ever let a child down in the way that it had done to Frankie.


6 Responses to “Weekly writing challenge: the instant my life changed”

  1. Jeni November 15, 2012 at 20:42 #

    I “like” that you’re able to share the story now — it’s an important one.

  2. Melanie November 16, 2012 at 00:27 #

    I’d like to think that someday Frankie will find you. Teachers like you don’t escape the memories of the students touched by your kindness and dedication.

  3. eof737 November 17, 2012 at 02:48 #

    What a sad story… I hope he is doing better now… Thanks for sharing.


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  3. Sweet 16: future dreams? « Being Special - January 22, 2013

    […] years that is what I taught, until one day a boy was brought to me, and the headteacher whispered ‘don’t worry about him, he will be out by Christmas’ That was the day I realised I was actually teaching thee wrong subject. It was special needs I […]

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