Thank God It's Friday

Mary Carmichael

Monday After 15 years of highs and lows teaching in the mainstream, I am joining a pupil referral unit. Today it's Inset. I meet fellow staff and try to acclimatise to the prison-like building. The staff have the haggard, hyperactive look of prison guards. A consultant recommends that we try praise and making our lessons interesting. I am determined to give it a go.

Tuesday The first pupils arrive, in a uniform of shell suits (boys) and huge gold earrings and crop tops (girls). They play pool and drink goo from plastic cartons. They are oblivious to us.

Wednesday A sad day for my carefully prepared, "interesting" lessons.

Starter activities consist of persuading students to enter the class and stay there. A pale, school-phobic girl sits outside the main office refusing to come anywhere near the teaching areas. I know how she feels.

Thursday I teach Romeo and Juliet to Zoe and Josh. Josh's psychiatrist has given up on him, as has his mum, but he attends every day. He is a spotty, lanky lad who moves constantly around the room, writing his name on any blank surface, including the sleeve of my shirt. Zoe has suffered two horrendous bereavements and a string of failed care placements. She cannot bear the idea of death and repeatedly hits the TV screen as we watch a video of Baz Luhrmann's version of the play. As Zoe collapses weeping on a desk, a response to the many death scenes, the head arrives to ask her to remove her earrings.

Friday Katie, who at 14 calls herself "jailbait" and has a history of inappropriate relationships with older men, spends the lesson trying to log on to internet dating sites and smashes a window when asked to log off.

Next, PSHE with Dale, who has a form of teacher induced Tourette's syndrome, which involves answering questions with "Shut up, lesbians." He is teamed with Rob, whose vocabulary is apparently limited to "Fuck off".

Together they become a foul-mouthed Punch and Judy show.

Later, I read of the discipline crisis in schools. PRUs, it seems, are the way forward.

Mary Carmichael lives in the north of England. She writes under a pseudonym

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Mary Carmichael

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