Pupils I'll never forget

6th May 2005 at 01:00
Eddy Jackson is inspired by a girl whose energy defies her handicaps

Rachel is the sort of pupil who makes you want to give your best lesson every time you have her in your class. She is 14 years old and has been with us since she was three.When she came she could neither walk nor talk.

She was born with achondroplasia (disproportionate short stature) but also developed respiratory problems and has been ventilator-dependent since birth. She also lives with a permanent tracheotomy, which needs frequent clearing throughout the day. Her surgeon said she was the first child he had known with such a condition to attend school. Despite the extent of her special needs she has never referred to her condition. There are no downers for Rachel. She lives life to the full, soaks everything up like a sponge.

I'm also a PE teacher as well as head of the school, and from the beginning she tried so hard in the gym to move and balance and she has become very good at it. I remember telling her father how good she was when she was little and he said "but she can't walk"; he had to come into school to see that she actually could. Last December she danced in the school's production of The Lion King at a dance festival in Blackpool's Winter Gardens. We had to hide her ventilation equipment around the stage just in case, but she brought the house down.

Rachel is very lively with a great sense of humour, always cracking jokes and inspiring those around her. Her statement of special needs says she must not swim because of her tracheotomy, but Rachel is swimming. At one point her mother, Joan, was in despair because Rachel's night-time care package was falling apart: carers were not turning up. I asked for help from school staff and immediately four people volunteered to form a night rota. She inspires that kind of dedication. It's never a problem to come to work on a Monday morning. With Rachel you understand what the vocation of teaching is all about.

Eddy Jackson, 54, is head of Highfurlong school, Blackpool, which gives provision for children aged 3-19 with complex learning difficulties. He 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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