Thank God it's Friday

18th May 2001 at 01:00
Monday I'm on the road from Barnstaple to Exeter for my weekly in-service training session at the West of England school for children with little or no sight. I spend an hour walking around the college blindfolded, nervously experiencing what the pupils have to negotiate. I trip up steps and walk into doors, hands flailing in front of me. Confidence is all, and I realise that my sentimental efforts to guide children around the place are counter-productive.

Tuesday Supply teaching in a rural primary. One boy is absent because a cow has stood on his foot. I get them to design a new park for their community. My teaching on drawing to scale falls on uninterested ears: football pitches appear smaller than toilets and waste bins larger than ponds.

Wednesday Back to Exeter. My GCSE history group bundle in. How do I teach history to pupils who can't see? There are no textbooks in Braille. It would be easy to spoon-feed them with Brailled handouts, but I am determined to get them to make notes, even if it takes ages. My powers ofdescription improve rapidly. Note-taking is accompanied by unusual classroom noises - some pupils clank away at their metal Braillers, others tap at laptops that repeat their words in electronic, American accents.

Thursday Break duty in the playground where I play football with a blind girl who somehow senses where the ball is. Lunch duty in the dining room where most staff join in, cutting up the children's food and helping with the clearing up.

Friday Supply teaching in the same primary as Tuesday. The boy maimed by his cow has reluctantly returned. A lad has grazed his knee, but after spending two days in Exeter it's hard to be sympathetic. I take more seriously a boy complaining of earache, but there's no one at home to collect him. He claims that I won't let him go home. I am tempted to tell him that he doesn't know how lucky he is. But that would be unfair, and anyway, it's Saturday tomorrow.

Julian Davey teaches history part-time at the West of England School and supply teaches in Exeter and Devon


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