Schooldays: Living in the ’70s

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teacher, leave them kids alone
Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone

All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall

We Don’t Need No EducationPink Floyd- 1979

Joanne completed three years of teaching at her first school.  Now she was a fully qualified teacher and the bond to the Department of Education was automatically wiped.  She decided she would apply for a transfer closer to home and was excited to receive notification of appointment to a school nearby.

She was somewhat disappointed to discover that she was a supernumerary (surplus to requirements) and spent the first couple of weeks doing odd jobs, taking classes for an hour or so and generally feeling directionless.

The principal called her to his office.  The inspector was there as well and had an interesting offer.  If she stayed where she was she might be transferred anywhere at any time.  However, a position had come up at a nearby school teaching a class of special needs children.  The previous elderly teacher had gone off on sick leave and wouldn’t be back.  Over the past weeks there had been a series of teachers who didn’t stay for long and the children needed someone who was there for the long haul.

Joanne thought she could do it.  I mean, how hard would it be?  Sure, the children had learning difficulties but she would give them the security they needed.

It was scary arriving at the new school.  She had loved her previous appointment, with its swimming pool and happy band of young teachers. Her classroom was a separate building out in the middle of the playground.  The children filed in after Scripture lessons and stared at their new teacher.  Joanne emphasised how she wasn’t like the others.  She would be staying with them all year and they would have a great time together.

This didn’t impress one of the children.  He decided he had had enough and climbed through the window.  Joanne picked the most well-behaved child and sent her to the Principal to report the absconder.  It was difficult to continue after the disruption but she had to.  What else could she do?

The window climber was put into one of the school’s mainstream classes to cool his heels for a while.  Joanne spent hours each night preparing individual lessons for her students.  She tried to make them fun and interesting.  Whatever she tried didn’t work.  Some children swore at her, some argued with their classmates and began fights.  Joanne concluded that these children did not just have learning difficulties.  They had behavioural difficulties as well.

Roneo machine for duplicating pages of work

Leo would come into the little classroom of an afternoon to see Joanne, her head in her hands, weeping at the desk.  Stones hit the roof and rattled down the corrugated iron.

‘I’m not giving in,’ she said.  ‘They will come round eventually.’

Who knows how things would have transpired because what happened next came totally out of the blue.

One day, at recess, the principal called her into his office.  ‘I’ve just heard from the inspector,’ he said. ‘He is trying to place a teacher newly returned from New Guinea.  He is trained in the teaching of children with moderate intellectual disability.  Also one of the teachers at your last school has gone off on sick leave and may not be back for months. They need a teacher. You don’t have to decide straight away but would you consider going back to your former school?’

Of course Joanne had to say how much she would miss the children and what a difficult decision it was to make but she knew this was a gift she could not refuse. The next day she was back at the school with the swimming pool.

‘It’s a difficult sixth class,’ said the principal.  ‘They were devoted to their previous teacher who has been in the school for many years.  You might find it hard to take his place.’

Joanne assured him that nothing would be difficult after her recent experience and she was right. She spent five happy years at the school, growing in experience and confidence, always conscious of her lucky escape.

As for the replacement teacher specially trained in teaching children with intellectual disability, he lasted one day.  The class was eventually disbanded and the children returned to their own schools.

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