What keeps me awake at night - Confession day still haunts me

29th July 2011 at 01:00
Anonymous views from education's front line

This week: a supply teacher in London

I soon realised it was going to be a difficult morning. The supply agency had told me it was a lovely primary school. And what's more, they had said I would only have to teach half a Year 6 class because the rest were on a visit. Easy.

But, walking into the classroom, I realised that the unruliness of the 15 pupils would more than make up for the missing children.

Although all the pupils were loud, I noticed one particular child. From the expression on her face, I could tell she was going to give me trouble. Throughout the lessons she was disruptive and wouldn't listen. I tried my best to keep her quiet and working, but she didn't want to do either. Feeling slightly exasperated, I gave her a warning and said she would stay in at playtime if she didn't behave.

Later, I caught her staring at me and whispering to her neighbour. We were talking about Victorian schools and how strict they were. I mentioned that children were punished for misbehaving and told the class how even when I was a pupil we were hit on our knuckles or behind the knees with a ruler. This led to a lively discussion.

All of a sudden the girl got out of her chair, walked to the front of the class and announced: "My mum hits me. She gets a belt and beats me with it." I could feel the blood drain from my face. All I could manage to say was: "Go and sit down and I will talk to you later." The rest of the class didn't bat an eyelid. I think they thought she was just joking, but I wasn't so sure.

When the class went out to play the girl stayed behind. I asked her if what she had said was true. She pleaded with me not to tell anyone else: "My mum said that if I told anyone I was being beaten I would be taken away by social services."

She then went on to describe how her mum thought she was naughty and beat her with the buckle of her belt. I looked at her and said that I wanted to have a think about it. For the rest of the day it played through my mind like a bad dream. Before I left, I drafted a note for the class teacher telling her what had happened.

A few months later the agency sent me back to the school, this time to cover a Year 4 class. I saw the girl in assembly and noticed that she looked very different: subdued and not as lively as before. When I spoke to the head later, he explained that social services were now working with the mother and daughter. The mother had said she didn't know how to look after her child and wanted to put her into care.

I think about that girl from time to time. I wonder whether she ever thinks of the morning she told a supply teacher she was being beaten and whether she regrets it.

To tell us what terrifies you or to share the unscripted events that have happened in your classroom, email michael.shaw@tes.co.uk.

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