Tuesday 12 December 2017

Diary of a Schoolteacher: The spiralling human cost of axing Special Needs Assistants


It's been a hard slog for some in this school since our Special Needs Assistant was let go. Take, for example, Harry O'Hooligan from my Transition Year class. At the beginning of last year Harry was ''asked to leave'' by the boys' school down the road. They had never had an SNA and we did the kind thing and accepted him in our school.

Harry and his mother were confident that this would signal a brand new chapter in his career of mayhem creation in our town and they were counting on us to provide him with an SNA to take him out of class until he was old enough to work in his very wealthy dad's paving company.

Only it didn't work out that way and now I find myself stuck with Harry in my class, unwilling to pick up a pen or open a book and mouthing off his mantra, ''My future's secure with FU Paving Systems''.

All because the Government decided to boot out the SNAs, somehow believing that it saves money to have thousands of kids leaving school without a proper education.

But it's not just Harry and all the other lost souls wandering the corridors looking for a locker to vandalise that have been abandoned.

Worst affected of all is my colleague Ian, a middle-aged English teacher. Poor guy, he's had problems at home with his daughter Bláithín who had been drinking cider in graveyards, smoking dope and telling him to eff off since she was 12. Then, on turning 40, Ian's wife declared that she wanted more from life and hit the nightclubs with her newly-divorced girlfriends. Before long, Ian was calling into the Special Needs Assistant's office looking for a shoulder to cry on.

When I asked him what it was they talked about, he casually told me, ''the wife'' and ''Irish novels''. It seemed that Ciara, a lady in her early twenties, didn't mind listening to Ian's marital woes or dispensing advice and words of comfort as long as he agreed to discus the more flowery passages in contemporary Irish literature.

I realised that Ian was emotionally becoming dangerously involved when he told me they were analysing stuff by Joseph O'Neill and Colum McCann. Next he described Ciara as ''that girl whose hair gleams like fresh tarmac on a rainy night''.

As his wife's trip to Ibiza with the girls drew closer last June, I knew that Ian was getting in too deep when he told me they were "savouring'' Sebastian Barry's Secret Scripture.

Then Ruairi Quinn came to the rescue with his slash hook. We came back after the summer to find Ciara's office empty of colouring books, lollipops and, tragically for Ian, ''darkly beautiful prose''.

However, now Ian finds himself too busy battling Harry O'Hooligan, Shayne O'Thugarty and Chantalle Fingerton to miss his own special Special Needs Assistant.

Irish Independent

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