It's a lot more fun than men's socks

17th March 2006 at 00:00
There's a clause at the end of your contract that says "Iand anything else required by the headteacher". Which is how I come to find myself organising a sponsored hula-hula dance marathon, making a speech at the Women's Institute and serving coffee to the community service volunteers who are clearing brambles from the playground.

I'm not complaining, though; one of the best things about teaching, especially in a special school, is that it provides an outlet for all your talents and interests. If you're a bit creative there are displays to put up, scenery to paint and costumes to design; if you like performing you can let yourself go at assemblies and school concerts; if you're into numbers there's plenty of assessment data, tables, value added scores and totting up of sponsorship money to get stuck into. Sporty people can get their kicks at swimming galas and mini-hockey tournaments, and computer boffins will always be popular when the sound beam doesn't work or the touch screen bites back. Whether your hobby is impersonating Elvis, Greek dancing or playing the didgeridoo, it can be used at school.

If, like me, you have no particular talent but are a good all-rounder, well, there's still no reason to get bored. After a year selling men's socks at Woollies I know the tedium of clock-watching and, after a summer of working in a chip shop, I know how frustrating it is not to have any input into what goes on ("What if we put up a posterintroduced a specials nighthad a low fat option..."). Even in mainstream schools, which must be more interesting than men's socks, things are constrained by literacy hours, targets and Sats.

But, in a special school, creative thinking and problem-solving skills are prerequisites, and there's never any time to be bored or feel that your talents are wasted. If Marlon won't eat his dinner, we can try sitting him in a different room, playing music or shopping for ingredients and cooking his dinner with him. If Sunny won't look up, we can put a projected image of a puppy on the ceiling, wear a funny hat or dangle butterflies from the top of her standing frame. If Daniel is getting bad tempered and biting people by the end of the day, we can allow him an afternoon nap or mix up an aromatherapy oil and give his feet a massage and he'll be sweetness and light until home time.

Of course, we also have targets to meet and work painstakingly to see that the children are developing skills and becoming more independent.We just do it in a more individual way. And being able to use our imagination and inventiveness to help the children achieve is such a rewarding part of our job. The headteacher certainly uses her creativity to implement that last paragraph on our contracts. "Did I hear that right? Circus skills?"

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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