The day my life changed

20th May 2011 at 01:00
My bones cracked as the pupil slammed the drawer shut on my hand

I was an English teacher at a big secondary school - just 33 and seven years into the job. One Tuesday morning in January 2008, my career came to a sudden, violent end.

I was teaching Year 10 when a pupil started kicking a rugby ball outside my classroom. I confiscated it and he went crazy. Luckily, an assistant head was in a room opposite. I told her what happened and she said she would deal with it.

I went back to my room and put the ball in my filing cabinet drawer. But as I did, the pupil came up behind me and slammed the drawer shut with my right hand still in it. You could hear the bones crack.

At first, I thought it was just a broken wrist. But later I was diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome, a rare nerve condition that has left my right hand and arm in constant terrible pain. I can't use that arm at all and the nerve damage is irreversible.

The Year 10 pupil was permanently excluded and I reported the attack to the police. He was arrested, charged with common assault and was given a formal reprimand.

I managed to return to the classroom briefly. But, despite having surgery in May that year, the condition became worse. I couldn't use my right arm and anything could trigger the pain.

One day, I found myself in a corridor with crowds of children bustling past me and I had a panic attack, terrified that someone would jog my arm. On medical advice, the local authority's occupational health department decided that I should no longer be in the classroom.

My school was initially very supportive. After 12 months' absence, I was moved to zero pay and the school governors came to an agreement with my union and the local authority that my contract should be terminated so I could claim a pension on the grounds of ill health. I don't blame them - I could no longer do my job. My contract finished last summer.

Today, though, I am still battling to get compensation for the attack after applying to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. More than three years later, this is still dragging on.

I hoped to receive a pension based on what little I have paid in during my short time in teaching. But the Teachers' Pension Scheme has rejected my claim, questioning the seriousness of my condition. I could appeal, but to do so will cost thousands of pounds, which we cannot afford.

We are struggling financially. My wife is also a teacher and now we are trying to live on her salary - but it is really hard.

When the attack happened, my career was on the up. I was second in English and was about to apply for head of department. I'm married with two young children - my youngest was one at the time - and we had just bought a new house. Now, we struggle to pay the mortgage and feel as if we are always keeping the wolf from the door.

What has shocked me, perhaps as much as the attack itself, is the way the system treated me. It is hard to accept that my career is over through no fault of my own.

Since I stopped working, I have had to jump through hoops to prove that I am eligible for at least some kind of payment. In the process, I have had to re-live that day over and over again. It is as though I can never draw a line under it and move on.

I'm 36 now and still have most of my life ahead of me, but I can't see how I can work again. I miss teaching - if I had been able to carry on, I may have been applying for an assistant headship by now.

Chris Chatterton was talking to Martin Whittaker. If you have an experience to share, email features@tes.co.uk.

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