children, education, Youth Work

Praise the adults who deserve bubble-wrap

School’s no longer ‘out’ for summer and there’s a force at work keeping the place running, but where’s the bubble wrap?

The world of youth work is very fickle. One minute you can be sitting cushty, the next, off you trundle to the next challenge. Such is life in this field and so it was that a couple of months back, my contract came to an end and I prepared to develop my workshops even further, but, out of the blue, two hours after leaving the office, a call. ‘We’ve a job going, and you’re accepting.’ Oh, OK.

Three years after leaving working in education which I’d done most of my life, I headed back into the fray, once I’d enjoyed a summer break, of course. Two weeks now I’ve been in the establishment, but there’s something special here. In a contrast to many of the educational institutions I’ve worked in and with, this one feels like family. Everybody cares. We’re actually forced to take a lunch break rather than being expected to work through them, and that makes for a happier workforce. It also helps this time being able to finish at 3pm and walk out without having to worry and head home to look at your emails there because there wasn’t time at work.

As I entered school on my first day with trepidation like I was actually starting my first day at primary, I was greeted with beaming smiles, acceptance for who I am (and all the baggage I bring, as many of us do), and a determination and agreement that if I was to be successful, this was to be a partnership, not a ‘them and us’ approach.

What I’ve learnt (or perhaps re-learnt) very quickly is the pace of a school. Secondary, which I’ve always worked in, runs at a pace. If anything, Primary runs twice as fast, and is perhaps more difficult to keep up with, not least because in Secondary life is so regimented that you know when the day is progressing due to the prison bell ringing out reminding you that you now need to move to the next class, to break, return from break, ad inifinitum. Yet, in primary, there’s none of this. We, well myself in particular, can run from Maths, to English, to Plan Do, your own break, to 1:1 mentoring, lunch duty, group workshops, and nurture groups, and without a bell, it just flows from one to the next. Before you know it, the day’s over. It feels fast, but it (so far) feels good.

There’s variety, you’re given the chance to take control of your own work without being micro-managed and made to feel that you are truly making a difference to children’s lives. What a wonderful world to be in.

This work doesn’t come without it’s learning curves. I’ve certainly not rested on my laurels, but I’ve had chance to sit back at times and take note. The first is the dedication of the most exceptional teachers ever. I have seen them deal with some of the most challenging children ever. Of course, the children’s challenges and journeys vary greatly, and I’m not about to start a debate, but the teachers I work with are clearly highly skilled and passionate about providing the best education experiences in the most caring provision ever, where the headteacher is seen and heard, not hiding in an office. I’ll know I can never begin to appreciate what they have to do for a job, but to walk down a corridor and actually be acknowledged is something of a novelty.

However, there’s a group of unsung heroes who also deserve praise. I’m part of the team now, but as a newbie, I’ve still a lot to learn (despite my 17 years working with young people). The support staff in schools run around and fill in the gaps, and there can be a lot. Already I’ve covered for members of my team who are absent whilst also still following my own timetable, played games of ‘tag team’ where you work with a colleague to resolve a situation whilst maintaining your sanity, turned my hand one minute from dealing with Year 3 children who can’t repeat a phrase the teacher’s just told them to dealing with tots running around in Forest School informing me that of course it’s safe to eat the berries on school site because nobody will have weed on them, and struggled with the biggest challenge of all in a school where positive touch is encouraged – dealing with a SWATS child! (A phrase I’ve just coined)

What this consists of is a child sneezing and coughing into their hands, wiping them together to increase the coverage area, using avoidance techniques so they don’t have to wash their hands, and then two minutes later, usually when you’ve forgotten until it’s too late, slipping their germ-ridden hand into yours as you walk to the lunch hall together, their puppy dog eyes and beaming smile secretly hiding the message ‘got you again’. So if they do it to me, they’re now known as a SWATS child (and I’ve been ‘Swatted’).

  • S – sneeze and cough
  • W – wipe together
  • A – avoidance
  • T – touch an unsuspecting adult
  • S – smile sweetly

It’s been an interesting induction back into the education system as you can tell, and whilst it’s quite fun, very quickly I’ve learnt that it’s not always the children who need to be wrapped in bubble-wrap, the staff sometimes need it too. Whether it’s an excited child squeezing you so tight because they think you’re a teddy substitute or a child picking their nose and wiping it on your shirt when they don’t think you’ll notice (it happened), I think when my first pay packet arrives, I’ll be contacting the wholesalers for a year’s supply of hand sanitiser.

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