A day in the life of Melanie Hall

23rd May 2014 at 01:00
This teacher at a London hospital offers education to young people who are suffering in a variety of ways. She is glad to take their minds off their pain and sickness, if only for a few hours

Every Monday, I am the lead teacher on the ward. I drop my two daughters off at school and nursery at around 8am, then it's straight to the hospital to begin preparations.

I teach at Whipps Cross University Hospital in East London. We offer education to all school-age children in our classroom on the paediatric ward, no matter their age, ability or health needs. We have many "regulars" but there are always plenty of new faces. Sometimes we bring children to the classroom on their beds or in wheelchairs; if they want to attend, we'll generally get them there. But we also offer bedside activities, everything from GCSE revision to board games.

This job has been a huge learning curve for me. I trained as a secondary English teacher and taught in mainstream schools for 12 years, but now I'm teaching children as young as 4, following a topic-based curriculum.

Lessons are complicated by so many things. Pupils come in and out of the classroom as they are often required for treatment. We can go from six pupils to none in the blink of an eye. Some children are really quite ill and can only participate a little. Some bring their parents; many bring their fears. But we believe that taking their minds off their ill health and all the associated worries gives their bodies space to heal.

Lots of children are concerned about the work they are missing out on at school, and we can alleviate their worries. We also provide an "educated off-site" mark on the register, which helps the pupils' attendance statistics.

On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I am back in my comfort zone, teaching English to secondary-aged pupils who cannot attend school on health grounds. I teach children with broken legs, teenagers who are recovering from surgery, cancer patients, pregnant schoolgirls and many, many more.

I deliver three lessons a day across the borough and I cycle to all of them. My panniers are heavy, especially on the days when I teach pupils from local special schools: the sensory toys rattle and jingle every time I go over a speed bump.

Once the day's lessons are over, I collect my daughters and head home. There is no remaining at work for hours and hours - my pupils' families would find it rather strange if I stayed in their living room to plan for next week. This a huge advantage over my previous jobs because I have time to be with my children and cook a decent meal. But, like all teachers, once the kids are asleep I work until bedtime.

I am always battling to be more interesting than pain or sickness, so I have to try extra hard to make each task exciting, using a range of learning strategies. To be fair, though, most of my pupils are incredibly engaged, particularly considering what they are going through. I often feel that they are pleased to see a different face, particularly one that isn't talking about hospitals or treatment.

It's a fantastic job, an opportunity to be part of the lives of some amazing people. I miss school life sometimes, but I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.

Your day

Do you want to tell the world's teachers about your working day, the unique circumstances in which you teach or the brilliance of your class? If so, email richard.vaughan@tes.co.uk

We will give your school pound;100 if your story is published.


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