Saturday 10 September 2016

Let me tell you about Suzie

That’s not her real name. Of course it isn’t. But Suzie, if you happen to recognise yourself, do get in touch.  I cannot imagine that you voted Brexit. If you did, please let me know why. Get in touch either way.  
Suzie had a brother with learning difficulties. Dad had disappeared long ago. Mum struggled. Suzie trusted no one. She did come forward, however, for some of the offers we made:
·         A day trip to France
·         Singing in the chorus for a professional production of Joseph
·         Taking part in a French exchange.
Even within the first week at secondary school there were problems. Someone had stolen her brand new trainers whilst she was in the shower, after P.E. They hadn’t, of course. The trainers just got moved to the other side of aisle where she’d been getting changed. I’m pretty certain it wasn’t deliberate, just feet catching and pushing objects out of the way.  Then, next P.E. lesson, one of the staff members had stolen her watch. She’d forgotten to collect it and the P.E. teacher had locked it away safely. She’d then gone on to cover a class in another part of the school. Suzie continued to play the victim and this made her unpopular with her peers and with staff.     
I was Suzie’s tutor for four and half years before I found out what was behind all of this and it was whilst we were on the French exchange that it all clarified.     
I had clearance to take children on to a beach. We gave them a half hour of free time. Suddenly Suzie shrieked. Someone had doused her in salt water. She was soaked. The others were reprimanded, they apologised and had the grace to look shame-faced. Between us we managed to find her dry clothes. There was nowhere to change so I fixed a towel across the entrance to some closed toilets. She told me as she got changed: “It’s my own fault. I’m always accusing people of being mean. I don’t trust anybody.  My dad’s friend ran off with all of the money from their business and Dad then disappeared because he was so ashamed.” Ah.
We tried to keep Suzie going.
An early highlight was a day trip to France. We went to Boulogne. We took a coach all the way went us and went though the tunnel. She was so nervous that she was sick on the way out. We were in the tunnel and we weren’t even moving.
Next came taking part in Joseph. This was a real professional matter. The students performed with a primary school. There was another pair of schools. Each pair did either Monday, Tuesday and two performances on Wednesday or Thursday, Friday and two performances on Saturday. Normal school staff were not allowed anywhere near them, apart from supervising during the breaks between the performances on Wednesday and Saturdays.  They had tea served in the bar and then we’d take them outside to kick a ball  or something similar in the local park. Otherwise they were dropped off at the stage door and left with the theatre’s chaperone and picked up for the journey home.  Every child was given notes after each performance. Serious stuff indeed. Suzie did quite well on the whole though there were a few aggressive notes when she began to lose concentration because she was starving herself.  Oh yes, I’ll take on anyone who tries to limit the arts in school just as vehemently as I’m challenging Brexit.
It was with some trepidation that I took her on an exchange to France. Yet, after the salt water incident and the confession all went well. When I met her on the final morning the French exchange partner’s mother came up to me and said “Elle a été charmante. Absolument chramante. Nous l’invitons l’année prochaien. Et son ferè et sa mère.” Wow!
Okay, so why does this mean we should stay in Europe? The connection might seem tenuous. However, it’s what EU programmes such as Erasmus, Socrates and Lapidus make extremely easy. It was about trust and that was what Suzie had found hard. When as a school teacher you arrange an exchange there is a lot of trust. We were on a group passport that was barely looked at. It’s quite brave also, operating in a different language in a slightly different culture. Her charm, I believe, came from a willingness now to trust in a process. I believe she’d already begun to see that even before the incident which is why she’d been able to understand it.  
Oh and another delight: Suzie worked hard with her exchange partner on swapping vocabulary. She filled a whole thick exercise book with new words and phrases.              

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