My Class

In my class there are: 33 children, one of whom is being ‘educated offsite’, 3 autistic children, 1 child with a hearing impairment, 1 child with a vision impairment, 1 child with microcephaly, 1 child with diabetes, 2 children with epilepsy, 1 child with a muscle wasting disease, 1 child with executive functioning difficulties and 1 child with Down’s Syndrome.

In my class there is a child currently managing their parents separating, a child with a younger sibling having cancer treatment, a child with a parent with alcoholism, a child with a parent with a long term illness and a child managing a difficult step brother.

In my class 1 child gets additional support. And the level of support that child requires means that there is no grouping children, there is no sharing of that support at all.

I need to be with one of the autistic children in my class for them to be able to focus to complete their work. If I ask one of my autistic children to complete any kind of imaginary work, they look at me with terror in their eyes. One of my autistic children panics whenever a bell rings.

The child in my class with diabetes needs support managing their condition. The child in my class with the muscle wasting disease cannot use the stairs. My classroom is upstairs. I have to remember to take medication with me whenever we go out of the classroom. I have to remember to photocopy things to A3 for my child with a vision impairment, I have to remember to give specific instructions to three of my children.

In my class (of 9 and 10 year olds) there are three children with a reading age of 6 years. One of my class can complete mental calculations quicker than me, three of my class are not confident with number bonds to 10.

Through all this, the Scottish Government expect 85% of children to be meeting age related expectations. And I really don’t know how I can do this.

I (and thousands of others) work really hard to ensure that every child in every class makes progress but it feels like education is on a precipice. We’re at a point where children are not meeting their potential because the support isn’t there. I cannot split myself in as many different ways as I need to split myself just to get some of my children to put pencil to paper, never mind achieve as much as they can.

It makes no sense to me not investing in education. It baffles me that governments cannot see the future harm they are doing to our country.

My class are wonderful and make me laugh every day. They make me notes that say ‘best teacher’ and they draw wonderful pictures for my wall displays. They support each other incredibly and (most of the time) work as hard as they can.  They are interesting and enthusiastic and kind. My class, like all classes, are fab. And they deserve support.

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Ten minutes…

After lunch today, I sat with a cup of tea and watched three coal tits, a blue tit and a great tit taking sunflower hearts from the feeder, taking them to their nests and coming back and taking another one. They did this repeatedly for ten minutes. Then a chaffinch and a goldfinch turned up and I must admit, I let out a tiny squeal.

I never imagined that I’d reach a point in my life where I would squeal when I saw a goldfinch, but there you go.

This October holiday has been full of noise. Screaming and shouting and stomping and stamping. Noise from simple requests, noise from fear, noise from not being in control. ‘Time to put shoes on,’ results in so much noise. Noise seems to have been a permanent feature over the last two weeks.

Because so much of our time has been taken up with B, L has decided that the way forward is just to talk constantly. Just ask questions, talk for twenty minutes when one would do, talk over the top of everyone, just keep talking so she remains the focus. Noise equals survival. When one of my children has been making so much noise I thought the neighbours must surely come round, the other has been talking over the top of that noise in a bid to make it go away.

I’m exhausted. The never ending thought process of trying different strategies, of trying to preempt, of trying to predict what might cause what to happen, of trying to keep them apart (when they have to be together because it’s only me), of trying to find some way of doing things quietly is exhausting.

So I watched the birds for ten minutes and marvelled in the quiet.

The best bits

We went to do some jobs this morning. L went to the bakery with my husband, B came to the wool shop with me. When we came out, L was standing on the other side of the main street waving a baguette nearly the length of her, shouting ‘I LOVE YOU MUMMY!’ It gave everyone a wee smile and it was just lovely.

B rode her bike really well over the holidays. She rode a wee drop off that she’s never done before.

Accepting

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post, which you can read here This afternoon, I sat down and wrote an almost identical post. As I was writing it, I kept thinking, this feels familiar. Then I looked back and realised why. So clearly my feelings haven’t changed much in a year.

I’ll be honest, where I live, National Adoption Week doesn’t really have an impact. There’s not a huge drive to recruit more adopters, there’s no billboards, no adverts on buses. It doesn’t really get mentioned.

But, adoption week or not, I realised today that adoption, to me, means so many different things than I thought it would.

It means accepting that I’m not the mum I thought I was going to be. And it’s also accepting that I’ve still not quite accepted that.

Adoption is about being the parent you need to be. About meeting your child where they are. About accepting that that might look very different to how you imagined it would.

I struggle so much with this. I still expect my seven year old to behave like a seven year old. I still get cross that she can’t hug me or say nice things to me. I still want her to be the child I imagined having. And that’s not fair.

I was talking to our OT today about the girls’ Form Es. After having met the girls for two hours, I knew the girl they had written about was not the girl in front of me. I knew it had been written by someone who either didn’t know her or did know her and wanted to gloss over things. And that’s not okay. B and I were never given the chance to start out on an even keel because everybody kept telling us both that she was ‘fine’. Any child that can move to two sets of different people within 5 months and not ask where those people are, is not ‘fine’. Nobody gave my big girl a chance. They didn’t involve her, they didn’t even tell her we were coming. We’re both still accepting this huge thing that’s happened from such different places, I wanted it, she didn’t. She doesn’t want to accept that this happened, I’m desperate for her too.

In our family, adoption means having many conversations about first families. Trying to answer many questions when I have so few answers to give. It means one of my children asking all these questions and the other listening and watching me carefully.

Adoption, in our family, means being stared at as your child screams at you in the street. It means accepting that you’re not going to be greeted with hugs and kisses. More often than not, it’s a scowl. A mixture of relief ‘you turned up’ to ‘you keep turning up, why have you not left me yet.’

Adoption is about living in the same small town as your children’s birth mother and spending a lot of time worrying that the first time your children see her again is going to be a fleeting glimpse of her in the park or at the school gates.

Adoption is many things. For my children it seemed hugely to be not about them. They weren’t considered, they weren’t consulted, they weren’t respected. And they’re still not. Because adoption also means fighting harder for support for your child than I’ve ever fought for anything.

As L says sometimes ‘I HATE being adoctered.’ And I hate that she’s adoctered. But also, I’m so grateful everyday that I get to be her mummy.

Adoption means understanding both sides of the same coin. And really not knowing what to do about it.

 

Trees

I’ve borrowed the title of this post from two Twitter friends, I hope they don’t mind.

Since the girls came, we have spent A LOT of time in the woods. We have been in the woods in the autumn, the winter, the summer and the spring. We have climbed trees, we have sheltered under them, we have crunched through their leaves, we have hidden behind them and we have tried to work out how old they are by counting their rings.

The girls have learnt the seasons through the trees, they talk about the colours of the woods and the feel of each season.

They have explored frogspawn in the forest, ice puddles, dew, frozen drops of dew, seen buds appearing, caught leaves as they’ve fallen, fallen in snow drifts, seen red squirrels, red deer and two kites protecting their nest.

Trees and the forests have been a huge part of our family life. There is a feeling of safety for the girls because the forests are mostly empty. My husband knows them like the back of his hand and they can choose paths and feel like they are on a huge adventure without any chance of them being lost. We’re lucky enough to have some world class mountain bike trails on our doorstep and the girls are now cycling through the woods as well as walking and running through them.

Everyone that comes to see us comes to the woods with us at some point. We’ve made good friends with another adoptive family and this year we climbed in the woods and all four girls were amazing.

Trees have been a backdrop to our life for the last four and a bit years. Being in amongst the trees has provided calm on days when I didn’t think calm was possible. They’ve inspired adventures, they’ve helped to promote core stability when climbing them, the forests they live in have promoted balance and self belief on their adventurous and uneven paths and they have brought moments of joy to a little girl who does not often experience that feeling.

I have a feeling we’ll be in the forests and their trees for many years to come and I’m very glad of that.

The best bits

B crossed her midline last week. Seems such a small thing but so huge in terms of progress.

We went to a kite festival at the weekend. L shouted from about a mile away, ‘I can see a KITE!’ She loved seeing the giant kites and making her own. Then she had her face painted with a unicorn on it and I thought she was going to burst. I wish I could show you a picture of her getting it done because her wee smile is just so lovely.

 

 

Rambling

I realised last night that I’m not doing a very good job at the moment. A few months ago I would never have gone to bed without having the next day entirely planned, the breakfast stuff out ready, clothes out for the day. But at the moment I’m not doing it, I know it’s not helping but I cannot get into the right mindset.

My current frame of mind seems to be, ‘I’ve done this for over four years and nothing’s changed, in fact it’s got worse, so what’s the point?’ And I am very aware that this doesn’t help, but I can’t shift it.

In the past year I’ve been told that all this is my fault for not loving her enough, that I need to ‘get over’ my infertility, that I need to stop loving L as much as I do. We’ve been offered no help from social work, we asked the GP to put a referral in to CAMHS but we were told we weren’t allowed because it’s a ‘sleep issue, not a mental health issue’, school have asked the psychologist again for help, she’s said we need to be referred to the local social work team, we’ve paid nearly £3000 for private OT sessions, and while they are helping and I wouldn’t ever go back and change it, it’s an awful lot of money and meanwhile, things continue to get harder. We’re in the wonderful situation of B not being able to fall asleep (and everything that goes with that) and L not being able to stay asleep. And my lovely anxiety means I get a not very welcome dose of insomnia, perfectly timed for those nights that L does manage to sleep through. We’re all functioning on an extremely fine line and the line is getting finer.

And the thing is, I don’t know what help we need. I know we don’t need talking therapy because she isn’t yet at a place that she can talk. I asked about theraplay but I was told ‘there’s no evidence to support it’. The OT sessions are helping, I can see she’s stronger, from a sensory integration point of view, the difference is huge but as the OT herself said, ‘If she’s making progress in the therapy space, but none of it is transferring to home, we can’t keep doing it.’ I know being outdoors helps but I’m not sure how to turn that into ‘help’. We’re also now at a point where L is becoming more successful at most things and I know we need to find something for B to excel at or to have fun at but I cannot find anything to tap into.

What I do know, is that this is bigger than me, it’s bigger than our family and it’s bigger than her. We cannot expect this wee girl to manage this without somebody to show her how. And I’m trying but I’m not doing it well enough, I’m not able to be enough for her. I’m in a strange situation where I’m constantly fighting for her but I’m aware I’m not doing the things she needs.

Clearly this post is some kind of confessional, a rambling, makes no sense but needed to be written post. I don’t want us to break because we didn’t do enough for her. I want to help her, but I’m not sure how.

 

 

Stories

Nearly a year ago, a senior social worker sat in my living room and asked me if I thought I was ‘maybe talking about before the girls came to live with us too much?’ and that ‘maybe I just needed to stop talking about it and let them settle.’ A senior social worker.

In our house we seem to talk about the girls’ first family nearly every day in one way or another. I don’t know whether this is an indication of the fact that the girls really don’t feel settled here, that I’m not doing the right things to help the girls feel settled here (this is certainly the view of social work), whether it shows that we’re doing an okay job of creating an environment where the girls can talk and ask questions every day or whether it’s because actually, my children had another family before they came to me and they need to know about them.

One day in the holidays, L burst into tears in the swimming pool changing rooms and said she was sad because she doesn’t live with her birth mummy and she wants to. We talked about it (not that easy trying to have a conversation about things I’m not sure L would want sharing in a cubicle but we did.) Yesterday L asked me if her grannie and grandad were the grannie and grandad of her siblings. At teatime we talked about where L’s blonde hair comes from. These conversations are part of our everyday.

Last year, B did some ‘life story work’ with me and the psychologist. I’m going to be honest, the phrase ‘life story work’ does not sit well with me. ‘Work’ implies that it is something that MUST be done, not something that someone wants to do and, while I understand that the phrase ‘the story of your life’ is used in other contexts, ‘story’ implies that it is fictional. If I’m teaching about how to write a story, one of the key points is that it’s made up, it’s not real. So what I’m actually doing is  ‘life recount work’, I’m recounting the part of their life before they came to live with me. But again, if I’m teaching, a key criteria in writing a recount is that it contains feelings or emotions. I can’t talk about how the girls felt before they came to live with me. I can say ‘I wonder if that felt…’ but I don’t know. So what I’m actually doing is reporting. I’m giving the facts about the time before they lived with me. And sadly, the facts that I’m basing my report on are very minimal. The facts have been collected by someone who was not particularly invested in the girls’ future. So what I’m actually doing is giving the girls a very basic outline of their lives. I can’t fill it with tales of first words, first steps, favourite foods, ‘oh and you used to love it when…’ I know so little about their time with their first family that most of the questions they ask (L asks) have to be answered with ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know but we can write it down as something we would like to try to find out.’

So I don’t know if we do ‘too much’ talking about before the girls came to us. I always take the girls lead and I always do my best to answer their questions as best I can. I also always do my best to listen to them when they tell me that they want to live with their birth mum. I don’t know if I’m really doing anything right. But L’s quite good at telling me when I’m not, so I think, at the moment, I’ll listen to her rather than the social worker.

The best bits

We went away this weekend! We walked on a Roman wall, we dressed up, we had cake, we went swimming and we went out for tea. We had some fun.

 

Teaching

I have a feeling that this blog post will have no conclusion and will just be a series of ramblings.

Being a teacher and an adoptive parent is tricky. Being a teacher and being on Twitter is sometimes tricky. I know how frustrating and heartbreaking it can be when our children’s needs are not met at school. I’ve vented my frustrations about this.

I know how much should be being done for every single child in every single class. But I also know how desperately hard that’s becoming.

Next year, I will have 33 children in my class. 9 of whom have significant additional needs. 1 of whom has support. I also have a child with diabetes and two with epilepsy. And this isn’t an out of the ordinary class. Meeting every child’s needs at every point in the day is not going to be easy. I’m going to miss things. I’m going to miss potential triggers that could alert me to how a child is doing. I’m not going to get it right every time. But I know that by missing things, I could accidentally escalate things and that child then finds themselves in a situation they can’t cope with. And I know that that child might go home and show everyone at home just how tricky their day has been.

In my first year of teaching, one of the children in my class threw a table at me. It broke my big toe and I have no toenail on that toe. Now, clearly, I missed some triggers. But should I be assaulted in my place of work? I’ve been hurt by children several times in my career. I’ve been punched, bitten and kicked. The boy who threw a table at me was excluded from school for two days. Was this the right measure? I don’t know. *

It sometimes feels like, particularly being a primary teacher, that we are expected to solve everything. Children are having increased dental problems, we now brush teeth in school, children aren’t getting enough exercise, we have to do more in school, children aren’t being exposed to other languages, we have to teach two of them in schools. I’m not saying that these things shouldn’t be happening, but the pressure to meet targets doesn’t lessen. We’re still expected to meet age related expectations as well as teaching children about growing vegetables.

I am aware that there are some teachers that are not prepared to see things another way, teachers that think that all children should be able to learn in the same way and cope with the same things. But most don’t. Most are willing to learn and support children. But sometimes they will get it wrong. With all my knowledge that I’ve gained over the last four years, I still get it wrong. When a child has answered me back or they are refusing to do something, I don’t always manage it in the way I know best. And that’s me knowing what I know.

So yes, I think that absolutely, more should be being done for all children in schools. Much more should be being done to meet needs, to look at individuals and to see what can be done to support them. But if it’s not being done, it’s not necessarily the class teacher’s fault. It needs money, it needs training, it needs leadership, it needs resources and it needs time. Most of us are working incredibly hard to meet every child’s needs. But education needs investing in and, at the moment, the opposite is happening.

I don’t have the answers to how we get it right all the time. I’ve mostly found that I can have extremely ‘challenging’ children in my class and that by the end of the year, they are a lot less ‘challenging’. But that takes a lot from me. As I get older and my own pressures from home take more and more precedence in my life, I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to sustain this level of teaching. I want to, but I don’t know how feasible it actually is.

As I said, I have no conclusions. And I know that not everyone will agree with me. And that’s okay.

*Very sadly, the wee boy who threw a table at me was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was 18. He asked me to go and visit him in the hospital. I did and when I got there, he’d run away. I left him a note saying ‘I’m glad to see I’m still having to chase you round to get you to listen to me.’ He sent me a message apologising and thanking me for the presents I’d brought. There are people that say relationships don’t matter at schools. But they do. That wee boy has had a heck of a life, but he remembered me and I still remember him. For me, relationships will always be a fundamental part of my teaching.