Diary Of A Supply Teacher: 'I have to smooth his way in disputes'

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The Independent Online

I have a day as a Teaching Assistant, supporting an autistic lad whose regular TA is ill. He is due to move house in two weeks, so is already stressed, but he has seen me around before, and seems disposed to accept me with good grace.

I have to provide help with writing, and also smooth his passage in any disputes. Arriving at the first lesson, someone is already sitting where he sits.

"That's my seat," he says.

"Does Damien usually sit there?" I ask.

The occupant of the seat moves without comment, and all is peaceful.

Damien is good at maths, and seems to enjoy the fact that I'm not. He also enjoys geography, and has an ingenious idea for harnessing energy, which he's happy to demonstrate on the board.

This involves lightning conductors, but he's prepared to agree that the infrequency of lightning coupled with the huge numbers of conductors needed renders the idea impractical. We reach lunchtime in good shape.

But then the problems start. There has been a decree that lunch may not be eaten in the learning-support area, which has to be kept locked. This is a disruption of routine, and Damien rushes off objecting wildly, leaving me somewhat helpless in his wake.

I explain the position to a senior teacher, who promises to keep an eye on things, and I retreat to the staffroom.

I seek advice, and am told that if Damien is too fraught to cope with the afternoon, he may spend the afternoon in the learning-support area with his library book.

He is definitely too fraught, so we retreat to the now reopened learning-support area, and he is soon engrossed in his book.

He reads happily for the first period, but in the second period he would normally be working on the computer, which he enjoys. He accepts that this is true, but doesn't want to rejoin his class. I am dispatched to the IT room to find out what they are doing and report back, so that he can do the work on a learning-support computer.

They have been compiling statistics based on measurements taken from members of the class, and these have to be entered into a table.

Damien, who has been lying across a chair with his book on the floor, rights himself, and together we work out what is required. He gets down to it, but the book is obviously a good one, and soon he wants to get back to it.

"Now you do some," he says. OK, why not? I'm not doing anything else.

After a couple of minutes, I realise that Damien has left out one name, so the statistics are not being attributed to the right people.

"Can you come and help me sort this out?" I ask.

He comes over, and together we manage to restore order.

Having torn him away from his book, I suggest that he might like to carry on, but he is not interested. He no longer seems distressed to me, so I feel that a little persuasion is in order.

"It's your work," I point out. "It seems to me you're the one who should be doing it, not me."

He has already resumed reading, and looks up with a wicked twinkle in his eye.

"You're supposed to be supporting me," he says. "So support me." With which he pointedly turns away and continues to read. Game, set and match to Damien, I think, as I apply myself to the task of finishing off his work.

I enjoyed the day. I don't know if he did.