Why my school days were not the best years of my life

Diarmaid writes about his secondary school experience

Written by Diarmaid Mc Caffrey


Whoever began circling the phrase “High School are the best years of your life” either really didn’t understand the various intricacies of high school or was a sadist of the highest calibre. It’s not only a phrase that grows increasingly and fundamentally wrong with each syllable uttered, but there almost seems to be underlined threat to it: “Enjoy these days, because after school, it all goes downhill”. But there are many like me who still carry with them the traumatic mental scarring that only the delights of secondary education can deliver.  The average teenager entering in their first year of secondary school is a particularly awkward beast and why wouldn’t they be? Teenagers around the age of 15-17 are hardly the most empathic creatures in the world. Far from it, nobody wants to stand out in high school – absolutely no one. And if you do stand out, you don’t fit in and if you don’t fit in… Well, reputations are tricky things to lose.

So, in an ideal world, you’d just thread water not gathering unwanted attention until you can subtly ingratiate yourself into some kind of social group. But this is kind of difficult when you’re made to walk around in a zimmer frame with a middle aged woman everywhere you go.

Ok, maybe that statement needs some context…

Living as a socially awkward and shy fourteen years old, being born with Cerebral Palsy pretty much was the last thing you’d ever want to expose about yourself the first day of secondary school. Nothing says “Blending into your surroundings” like carrying around a metal zimmer frame wherever you go. But unfortunately, that’s how the secondary school system felt in the year 2007. The students who are given the scarlet letter of “special needs” always seemed to be treated like liabilities more than actual students. My parents were told that because of my weakened legs, I need to be in a zimmer frame at all times so the school isn’t liable for any accidents that may occur on school grounds and the special need assistance was there not for help but rather to keep the more severely affected students with special needs in line. This was barely disguised if at all, which personally rubbed me the wrong way.

When you’re in a position to take care of impossibly vulnerable young adults, the last thing you should ever be is cold and calculating with them and believe you me, that’s exactly what they were with so many students in my situation.  It was certainly a rather curious dynamic in that school. The students themselves (bar a few choice exceptions) were nothing if not welcoming, but the way that the people in charge of the special needs department, couldn't’ be more opposite. Over the years, I’ve seen crying confused students, special need assistants making fun of their charges in a manner that suggested they could get away with it, just because the student couldn’t understand what was going on and so much more. 

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