Pupils I'll never forget

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
Kerry Coffey was delighted to discover how life turned out for one troubled pupil

There are lots of troubled children in schools these days, but I always found John's situation particularly sad because he was such a lovely, helpful boy.

I was teaching English in a large inner-London school where the roll was almost exclusively Bangladeshi. John was the only white boy in my class and, with poor social skills, he had difficulty fitting in. His mother was a heroin addict and a prostitute, and had five children by five different men.

John had never learned how to behave properly or how to get on with other people, and he used to fight and get into trouble because he couldn't understand boundaries. I remember once he saw me in the corridor and said loudly: "Miss, you've got a spot on your face." I don't think he realised I might be embarrassed or hurt. He just didn't understand. But he loved his siblings and, as the oldest, took on a lot of the responsibility for them.

At school he never made any friends, so he used to come to our department every break to help us in the classrooms. He'd stamp books for us or sharpen pencils. He'd do anything to be helpful. This went on almost every day for four years so I got to know him well. During that time he was in and out of foster care, and his mum would sometimes turn up at the school and make a scene. It was pretty awful for him, but what he hated most was being apart from his brothers and sisters. He worried and used to talk about them a lot. He also talked about his foster family, who sounded nice.

After he left, I moved to Beatrice Tate to teach children with profound and multiple learning difficulties and I didn't hear anything more. But recently I discovered that someone I have come to know is John's foster mother. It came out in conversation one day. It's funny meeting her after all the years I heard about her through John. It's a coincidence, but a nice one, because I found out that John is doing OK now and is in a stable relationship with children of his own.

Kerry Coffey teaches at Beatrice Tate special school, London borough of Tower Hamlets. She was talking to Su Clark

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