Workplaces : Case Studies
Anna senses that she isn't wanted [Other case studies]
I had been working, since the age of fourteen, at my local hairdressing salon as a 'Saturday girl'. This meant that I worked every Saturday and, during school holidays, on Fridays and some weekdays as well. I worked to get money. The wages weren't bad and I always got lots of tips from the customers. I met lots of people, too, and lost quite a lot of my shyness as a result. I loved the people I worked with and they always made me feel welcome and part of their team. So, when I had to do work experience from school, I got quite a shock.
My first work experience placement from school was at a hospital in the Speech Therapy Department. I was so nervous about it. I can still remember the tension I felt sitting outside this woman's office at 9.00am waiting to be spoken to. I was left sitting there for forty-five minutes. She turned out to be the chief Speech Therapist. When she eventually came out of the office she said, "Come on, then." And I followed her like some obedient puppy.
In the therapy room was a young, partially deaf girl with her mother. The therapist just said, "Go and talk to the little girl while you play with the farm set." So that's what I did. I felt tense and bewildered the whole time.
"The lasting effect it had...was to put me off the idea of working in a hospital."
By mid-morning, I was feeling a bit used. I was hungry, thirsty and dying to go to the loo. The Speech Therapist hadn't even introduced herself to me nor did she ask my name. I wasn't offered a drink or shown where the toilets were. I remember thinking that my Mom or Dad would never treat young people this way. It was obvious that the Therapist wasn't prepared for me and didn't really want me there at all. So, I decided to go back to school at one o'clock to tell the teacher in charge of work experience placements that I thought I wasn't really wanted at the Speech Therapy Unit. When I had explained everything, my teacher told me not to worry and said that she would sort it out - which she did.
The lasting effect it had, though, was to put me off the idea of working in a hospital. Until then, I was toying with the idea of becoming either a speech therapist, physiotherapist or a psychiatrist!
I was then placed at a special school for children with severe physical and mental handicaps. The kids were brilliant, so much fun to be with and so loving. The teachers were amazing too. I stood in awe of them all.
The teachers gave me specific tasks to do with individual children and they were always calm activities, usually done sitting down next to the child. In fact, I was assigned to work with three children for a fortnight. I was never asked to lift or carry the children or even push them in their wheelchairs and I didn't have to feed or change them. They didn't expose me to anything that might upset me and they didn't put me at risk of being injured.
I was coming up to sixteen but after working with the children, I gained about ten years in maturity. I grew up. I never complained again about getting spots - so insignificant in the light of the children's disabilities; and after watching a young boy struggle for hours to write his name (he wouldn't give up!), I never moaned again about homework or chores at home. At least I had hands that worked for me when I wanted them to.