Sarah, from Surrey, works in a London secondary school as a TA. Her heartbreaking story depicts the situation of one of her statemented pupils.
There are times when my boyfriend turns to me and says: “Why do you do this job?!” Sometimes I do find it hard to leave work behind at the school gate. I trained as a teacher years ago, but found the work exhausting. I went on to do other things and returned as a TA because I felt it gave children the support they needed and I could leave work without the heavy burden of marking etc.
That was until I met Danny (name changed). Danny is an angry kid. He gets into fights, throws books and furniture across the room and is unbelievably sad. He’s also supremely clever. The teachers used to talk about him all the time, rolling their eyes and throwing their hands in the air in despair. How could you blame them really? They were scared of him. The Educational Psychologist got involved and Danny became a statemented pupil. That’s when I first met Danny. It had taken months for the application to go through, and when it did, my TA colleague had gone on maternity leave, so I filled in.
As with many kids at the school, Danny comes in tired and hungry. He shrugs if I ask him about his breakfast and he regularly tells me about his after school activities, walking around the streets and parks when his classmates are in bed. He hates his home life, but it’s never discussed. I know too much anyway, from the teachers and other TAs. Mostly he behaves ok, but his anger takes over, especially when he feels criticised or bullied by his classmates. Two weeks ago, he got into an argument with another kid about a ruler. It escalated and the ruler was smashed several times on desks and other furniture. No-one was hurt, but Danny broke down when I took him outside. He cried and shook inconsolably for 10 minutes and my heart began to break as he told me why he felt anger, loneliness and terrible sadness. I can’t repeat what he said, but it made me realise the emotional burden some of these kids carry around with them.
Danny and I regularly discuss his interests and his aspirations. He wants to become a photographer and we’re planning on spending some time in the arts department with various cameras and equipment to make even David Bailey proud. We’re also considering ways to ensure he’s fed during registration for most days.
Danny appreciates what we do, especially the time I spend with him. I can’t say he’s always nice to me. Some weeks he doesn’t want me around him and complains I’m just like the teachers. He behaviour is destructive and he hardly learns a thing. Other weeks his creative side shines through and the sparkle in his eyes return.
I sit at home and worry about Danny, as if he were my own. When my children are in bed by 9pm and I flit around the house with time on my hands, my mind drifts and I wonder if Danny’s on the streets with his friends. It’s the sadness in his eyes that haunt me most, but I know he’s only a few years away from being able to leave home. If I can just be there for him and ensure that at least one person will listen to him and guide him, then maybe he’ll turn out ok.
I remember my difficult years at school, how I left home at 16 and how, more importantly, my teaching assistant made a difference to my life. She was so patient and understanding during some difficult times, I can assure you. I put her through hell some weeks, but she was always there for me.
So when my boyfriend asked me why I do this job, I simply reply: “Because the children need me.”