What did a PRU do for me?
“Children must be taught that they are worth being heard, being saved and being loved.” – Unknown Quote
When I decided to leave mainstream education after just 2 and a half years, it was last chance saloon. The enormity of debts accrued through university (particularly the student bar) paired with expectation of my family meant that my next move simply had to work. I was the first in my family to go to University and surely I wasn’t going to be the first one to throw it away. The next decision I made was rather drastic – I decided that I would work in a PRU.
I remember the interview well, because I was the only one who interviewed for a permanent post in a time where staff were repeatedly kept on fixed term contracts. I naively thought this was a stroke of good fortune however in hindsight, it was because no-one else wanted the job!
I walked in on day one with very little planning… I was only meant to be in class with 7 kids. I was paired with an experienced teacher, thankfully! I can’t really remember much else from that day; possibly due to the fact that I felt like I was in a whirlwind… no a spectacular tornado. There was something special about being told to f*** off by an 8 year old. I felt like I’d stepped into a parallel world where all rules did not have to be followed. I reflected for a bit on my first evening and soon came to realise… that this was actually the case (sort of)
I soon began to build a rapport with the children in my class but no sooner as I had settled them, they were whisked off back to their mainstream setting as quick as a flash for the next arrival of hard to reach kids were shipped in. The only ones that seemed to stay for a LONG time where the children who were not going back, but the ones who had being named to go to a local EBD school. It was these children that really taught me how to manage extremely challenging behaviour.
The journey began. From staybacks, home visits to talk about behaviour, consequences and stupendously tiring support…. I got very little. Why did the children simply not respond to my punitive measures? Couldn’t they see that it was in their best interest to not throw the chair, break all the rules and revel in their mass destruction?
I worked with a chap who had do 25+ years in this provision… a warhorse in some manner. He was an older man, grey hair, slightly odd dress sense, poor hearing and an odd dress sense…oh, I already said that. The children had plenty of opportunities to have a pop. Did it phase him? No. Had he helped difficult kids in distressing times of their lives? Yes. I often found myself having long and drawn out conversations with him about serious incidents down to simple nuances in behaviour. He told me that the kids weren’t really kicking off, but they were in need of support. Some of the time, the support needed may be punitive, but for the majority of the time, they needed a different type of support. It takes me back to the opening quote. I soon realised that I could not get the kids to behave for me, but because they wanted to behave for themselves.
This was not a typical fairytale ending. Was a chair ever thrown at me after this? Damn right. Was I still sworn at? Yup. Etc etc etc. The one thing that had changed however is that the kids began to respect themselves more. This manifested and as I continued to build a greater rapport, this grew and grew and grew and what happened was magnificent. There was actually a basis for some of these ‘hard tor each’ kids who were destined for an educational career in an EBD school to build a solid foundation and learn. Some of them began to learn how to read, write and do sums at an accelerated rate. Some of them began to modify their behaviour in class and feel remorse and some of them even managed to modify their behaviour before they attacked someone. Some of them simply began to improve slightly at home. The children began to feel heard. They began to feel loved. Some of them were even saved.
All in all, as much as some of them were saved, they saved my. My career. My livelihood. My happiness and my self worth. I did 4 years at the PRU before deciding in April 2014 to go back to a mainstream with responsibility for behaviour… and that 550 place school is where I am at now. Thank you, to the children in the PRU.