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Repaid with thanks

Mark Jones tells how teachers really did make a difference

I left the Grange School, in the West Midlands, in June last year. I was 16. This January I returned as part of a training programme. Since then, teachers and pupils have often asked me what it's like to return to a school you've left. So I thought it would be a good idea to do an assembly about my life on the other side of the fence. This is what I told them.

I arrived at the Grange as a Year 7 pupil in September 1994. Personal problems meant I had had a difficult time in primary school; these problems followed me into my secondary school. When I joined the Grange, I never thought a school could really change someone's life. But this school changed mine; when no one else believed in me, my teachers did.

In Years 7 and 8, I was possibly the worst behaved pupil in the school. During a Year 7 drama lesson I bit the head's ankle, shocking him beyond belief. Even now, five years on, this story is still a popular subject in the staffroom. But why did I behave like that?

I did it for the attention - negative attention, I know, but at least it was some sort of attention. That was all I wanted because I wasn't getting any in other parts of my life. In those first two years I was suspended four times. What kept me in the school was the people I work with now - the teachers. Why did they want me to stay? I was disruptive and an all-round headache. But they saw something in me.

In those first two years of school I moved from my mum's house to my dad's twice. I was also put into foster homes on two separate occasions. I hated them both. They were nice people, but I wanted to go home. I knew I would still be unhappy, but at least I would be unhappy with my own family.

Things weren't looking too good but still my teachers believed in me. Slowly, my behaviour improved. I grew up and wanted to do something with my life, and in June 1999 I decided to enrol at college to do a PE course.

I deserved it - but I also owed a lot to my teachers. They kept me in this school, they gave me the chance to prove to them and myself that I could do well. realised how much of my school life I had wasted. I left school with some decent GCSE grades, considering.

My future was looking good, I thought. How mistaken I was. I never made it to college because of financial problems and because I got no credit from anyone in my family. I ended up doing nothing for the next five months; I thought I had no life; I thought I had nothing. I just shut myself off from the outside world. Even my best friend couldn't help. I used to wake up and find it difficult even to get out of bed, as there was nothing for me to do, nowhere for me to go. I tried to take my life and still have the scars to remember and regret that by.

At that point I decided I needed help and so, just after Christmas, I phoned my school because I knew they would support me. Gay Stack, the deputy head, arranged for me to receive professional help. This helped me get things back into perspective and I decided to take a training course in PE. For part of the course I needed some work experience and the school gave me the opportunity to do this. Initially I just came to help out in PE, but then it expanded to a wider role, helping children with special needs.

Since I came back to school last January my life has completely changed. I now live with a foster carer and I am happier. Even though I have a lot of hurt and anger aimed towards my family, I still miss and love them all.

I finished my work experience in July. Next month I will study A-level and GNVQ courses at college. My life has never been better and I have my school to thank for it. I have been totally knocked over by the sheer amount of work these teachers do in a day. I used to think they just came into school to teach and write a few reports on the odd occasion. I was wrong. The effort teachers make to get things right is amazing, but they still do it and you know why they do - for their pupils.

Teachers deserve a lot of praise for what they do, but sadly they don't get much of it. I'd like to thank them all. I want to repay them and hope that, by writing this, I have.

Mark Jones lives in Stourbridge, West Midlands

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