Pupils I'll never forget

1st October 2004 at 01:00
Helen was angry and unlovable but became the most courageous person Lorraine Gill had met

Helen was a girl in my first school, a girls' comprehensive in Hull. I tutored the "remedial" class, as it was then called, and she was one of 14 teenagers. She was the angriest, most unlovable student I have ever come across.

She frightened other children and staff. She was a well-known fighter who could inflict serious damage. In class she would turn tables over, throw chairs across the room. Senior staff didn't see fit to pass on children's backgrounds to a young whippersnapper like me, but I felt that she wasn't behaving like this because she was bad. I decided to have it out with her and put her in detention.

I did everything I tell my student teachers not to do these days, such as denying children escape routes when they are worked up. When she tried to get out of detention I barred the doorway. I had a gut feeling she was trying to tell me something. She pummelled me but I felt she would stop.

Eventually she collapsed in tears and then it all came out. Helen had been violently, sexually abused by her father as a young child. He was in prison but she was angry that he'd been given a short sentence, angry that nobody seemed to care, angry that her life had been ruined, and angry that she'd been written off at school.

She taught me that sometimes children will be aggressive to test how much you will take, whether you will be there for them. She taught me that no matter how unlovable the child we, as teachers, have a sacred trust to do our best for that child. That means showing them that they have rights and responsibilities; for Helen it meant persuading her that the way to get even with her abuser was to make something of herself.

Helen eventually went on to college, taking one of the first BTecs in care services. She then worked in children's homes and with adults who had suffered as she had. The proudest moment for me was when she came back to school to talk to staff about child protection. She turned out to be one of the most courageous and tenacious people I have ever come across.

Lorraine Gill, 49, is the headteacher of Filey School, North Yorkshire, a secondary classed as 'outstanding' by Ofsted, She was talking to Elaine Williams. Do you have special memories of unforgettable pupils? Write to Sarah Bayliss at the address on page 3 or email sarah.bayliss@tes.co.uk


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