Pupils I'll never forget

20th May 2005 at 01:00
Angela Smith was taken aback by a boy who had trouble growing up

Back in the bad old days, I had 33 pupils in my class, no classroom assistants, and dreaded taking children who couldn't look after themselves.

James had just started in P1. He had older siblings so should have been used to coming to the school, but he didn't seem to be. In fact he seemed out of his depth. I suppose as the youngest he was used to being mummied at home.

He'd only been at the school a few days when he asked to go to the toilet.

I sent him off with another boy so they wouldn't get lost, but after a while the other boy came back alone. When I asked where James was, he sheepishly asked me if I would go to the toilet to wipe James's bottom. I explained that wasn't going to happen.

You could always tell when James was concentrating because his eyes would be rolling about and he would flick his tongue in and out, licking his lips like a lizard. But he was quite babyish. He was the sort of lad who always had a drippy nose because his mum wasn't there to wipe it for him. It took him a long while to grow up and I'm afraid it didn't really happen in P1.

One day towards the end of the year, when we had just done gym and all the children were fumbling around in the classroom, changing back into uniform, James appeared in front of me completely naked. He was just standing there, unconcerned about his nudity, but utterly perplexed. He couldn't find his pants. He'd looked everywhere he told me, but they weren't there. By now most of the other children were finished and sitting quietly watching me and James, but he wasn't bothered. He couldn't think backwards to when he was in his gym kit to work out where his pants had gone.

When I suggested they may have come off with his shorts, he was amazed. He wasn't stupid, it had just never occurred to him to look. He'd just expected me to find them for him. Meanwhile, I had to keep a straight face as he stood there starkers, comprehension dawning on his face.

Before leaving for secondary school, the children make up leaver's books.

James came to me, as they all do, to ask me for any stories about him in P1. I didn't remind him. I thought he'd prefer it that way.

Angela Smith began teaching in 1974, and is now at Bruntsfield primary school, Edinburgh. She was talking to Su Clark. James went off to secondary school, where he did well

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