A perspective on the world of disability from a mother and an educator. Follow my blog!

Friday, 25 October 2013

Positive Perspective


As with any job, teaching has its good days and its bad. There is so much emotion tied up in the job. I don’t know of any other profession where you need to micro manage and work so intensely with so many others at the same time. I am truly passionate about my job and feel a deep attachment to ‘my kids’. While good morning hugs are the norm from my students (prep through to grade 8), there is nothing quite like going away for two days of conferences and workshops and coming back to students mobbing you for hugs and good mornings. To know that you can and are making a difference is worth getting up every morning. This is why I’m happy to take the good with the bad and that’s exactly how my Friday went.

I had planned a lovely morning of office work to get ahead on some IEPs that are up for review, but this was quickly put on the back burner when I had to put some things in place to help a parent and student who had some troubles the day before. The rest of my day was teaching grade 8 science and English and I wasn’t really looking forward to this. First thing in the morning I’d had to pull some of my 13 year old boys aside and give them a stern warning after they were misbehaving in Chapel. It was a rainy, windy Friday and their home room teacher was away for the day.

Bad Weather + Relief Teacher =  Me prepared for the worst.

Working with teenagers is easy to do when you understand them as biological beings; most of their stupid behaviour can be explained and corrected by knowing that their bodies are programed to make stupid decisions in order to learn from them. As such I tend to be a much more lenient teacher when it comes to discipline and my expectations in the classroom. I can ignore the calling out and forgetting to raise your hand before answering, I’m just glad my students are listening and answering questions!  There was more than just the typical teenage ‘misbehaviour’ and my English lesson was heading quickly downhill. After having to crack down on the rain and wind influenced ‘exuberance’ I had one student giving me the silent treatment, another sulking and a third being somewhat aggressive towards me. All I could think of was going home and curling up under a blanket. What happened next was something I did not expect. It’s why I will gladly get out of bed on Monday morning.

We’re looking at ‘author perspective’ this term. Two thirds of my class couldn’t spell that topic and at least half couldn’t read those words. Trying to teach the same content as their peers but pitched at an appropriate level is a challenge but Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park makes it much easier. A discussion about why we all have a different perspective started off in a manner resembling removing teeth. I tried hinting and leading but it just wasn’t clicking. I had to explicitly talk about individual experience shaping each of our perspectives. I went back to the picture book and started the discussion about the author’s perspective on parenting. Then, there was a spark in one boy’s eyes.

Moments like these make the years of study, months of rapport building, weeks of planning all worth it.

“You mean the author thinks parents should pay more attention to their kids than their dogs?” One student posed.

“Why do you think that the author has this perspective?” I asked. “What is your proof?”

He mulled it over, ummed and ahhhed. “Cause the picture has the boy hiding behind the mum. You can see more of the dog than the boy”

 Well, I literally jumped into the air with joy. All the kids laughed and then the ideas were flowing thick and fast from all of them. We were able to use a supermarket catalogue as a text and discuss experience and reader perspective. It was just delightful and reminded me of my golden rules for teaching.

1.       The content needs to be relevant. No one is going to put effort into something that is meaningless. It needs to be delivered so the kids understand. I’ll write important words on the board, but most of the concepts are explained through pictures and stick figures.

2.       Engaging kids begins with your enthusiasm for the lesson. If you aren’t excited why should they be? Going into a classroom with a preconceived notion about what will happen won’t allow for the unexpected moments of learning.

3.        Any child can learn – it’s up to the teacher to teach. The candle will sometimes flicker before it remains steady but as long as you are patient, nurture and protect it, the flame will take. It’s the same progression of complexity but some students will take longer to get there, others may disembark the train before it arrives at the station.

 When you are truly connected to another then you are willing to do whatever it takes to see them happy and to succeed. Sometimes you have to sing along with them, other times you need to step back and let them step away from the nest. One day you will be able to let them go, knowing you have taught them to fly. And if they don’t remember the lesson on flying, at least they can sing. The important thing is that you are there in a way that lets them know that they are cherished, just as they are.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Bell Jar


Sylvia Plath wrote beautifully of the Bell Jar descending and trapping her within a confusing, oppressive fog. Her words are lyrical and poetic and for anyone who has suffered grief or depression you can relate to her writing with the greatest of ease, almost a sense of comfort. A very good friend told me that reading The Bell Jar would make you want to slit your wrists; however I feel Plath is almost a kindred spirit.  Many of us can relate to that feeling of being overwhelmed by our circumstance, trapped inside the bell jar.

For most of us there are times when the jar is lifted. Fresh air fills our lungs and we can see with clarity again. This is very much how I was feeling during our recent holiday to the coast. Holidays are a blessing and a curse for our family. While my darling daughter gets so fatigued by the end of a school term that we start taking half days to compensate, holidays don’t always bring relief. If we stay home to allow her time to recharge her batteries, we, and our other daughters ultimately miss out on those ‘normal’ school holiday memories. Cabin fever sets in and we’re all champing at the bit to go back to school/work and get away from each other.

If we go away, like we did this time, and try to do the ‘regular’ family outings of the beach, the zoo, the movies it can become overwhelming quite quickly and my big girl goes downhill and into meltdown. In the past we’ve had grave concerns over safety near the water and traffic. In the past we have felt isolated and melancholy on holidays when we should have been happy and relaxed. In the past….

These holidays were the bell jar lifting. Going to the pool shared with so many other people and families has always been a little daunting.  Not so this time. In fact, it came to be the highlight of every day. More than one holiday maker commented on our girls’ outgoing nature (read: the flamboyance to introduce themselves to anyone who stood still long enough to listen).  We proved that our middle girl can literally talk under water.  It was such a weight lifted when every person our big girl introduced herself to, child, teen, adult, all introduced themselves in return and struck up a conversation. Our big girl was able to initiate games of pool tag and to encourage others to create a whirlpool in the smaller of the pools.

At the zoo any language, cultural or cognitive barriers were broken when a Chinese tourist took some photos of our big girl with a red kangaroo. Without words, he asked her permission, got her to pose and then showed her the picture he had taken. It brought such joy to my heart to see her being treated so kindly and so respectfully by a complete stranger. There was no judgement on this holiday. There was no ignorance.  There was no bell jar.

Being the incredible nerd and workaholic that I am I managed to squeeze in some planning over the holidays both for my classroom teaching and a coaching project I’m running next year. When I say ‘some’ planning, I think it totalled over 40 pages in the end, oops! That’s what I call a perfect holiday. A balance of play and planning!

While putting together science and English for my incredibly diverse class, I was able to create a program that will allow all of them to learn the same content yet respond at a level appropriate to their ability. I have 4 different marking rubrics based on their differing levels of understanding for just one subject.  I have a lovely list of activities designed to get them experiencing the content, not just passively taking it in. I have designed handouts and teaching activities that allow for my students with poor literacy to still participate. I have readied myself to focus on my students.

Accepting that you are submissive to the life and duties of a full time carer can easily force you into a bell jar of anguish, frustration and bitterness. Very few people ever willingly make the choice to become a carer and I’m sure no one would ever wish to take on the role and live in the jar. We can however be a carer and live outside of the glass dome. There are opportunities to enjoy the beautiful moments and to pause long enough to see the potential life has to offer.