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.

 

 

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Halfway through

Number of pots of tea made: 120

Number of pots of tea drunk: 14

Number of times I’ve been told to shut up: 120

Number of times I’ve been told ‘I HATE YOU!’: too many

Number of lie ins: 0

Number of days away: 1

Number of hours spent in a wetsuit: 7534

Number of chocolate bars consumed: incalculable

Number of run aways: 4

Number of real smiles: 2

Number of new neighbours who probably wish we hadn’t moved: 5

Number of trips to the park: 86

Number of times I’ve been told ‘I like being at school better than home: 48

Number of times lunch has been met with ‘ugh, I don’t like this’: 512 (feels like)

Number of ice lollies asked for: 600

Number of ice lollies given: 600

Number of dinosaurs trodden on: 6

Number of playdoh tubs eaten: 2.5

Number of stories read: 3421

Number of minutes sat in the swing seat: 17 (5 lovely ones with them both)

Number of minutes looking for headlice: 634

Number of minutes buying worming treatment for us all: 10

Number of minutes digging holes: 838

Number of minutes creating amazing sandcastles: 432

Number of times climbing and abseiling: 17

Number of days spent with lovely friends: 2

number of minutes finding crabs, seaweed, anemones, birds, bees, caterpillars, butterflies: 459

Number of times running in and out of the sea: 4328

We’re actually just over halfway through the holidays. There have been many terrifying, ‘I cannot do this’ days but there’s been a few lovely bits too. Big spotting a butterfly, Little going down the rapids in the canoe, spending time with people who understand, swimming in the loch, making lunch together. Holidays are always hard here. But there’s been some good bits.

How?

‘How do we keep doing this?’, is the question that keeps flying across my brain.

How do we keep doing this when we are so worn down?

How do I keep showing love to a child for whom, the very idea of love, is terrifying?

How we keep doing this when we have two children? And one of them is so full of trauma that it threatens to engulf the other?

How do we keep doing this when we’re all exhausted?

How do we keep doing this when the fear masking anger is so fierce, so intense, so filled with hatred?

How do I keep being a mummy to her when she doesn’t want me to be?

How do we keep doing, when our lives are already so small, and they need to be smaller?

How do we keep doing this when the physical hurts are so huge?

How do we keep on when we don’t feel safe?

How do we keep on asking for help when I just keep being told that it’s everything that I’m doing that’s causing this?

How do we keep doing this when I have no more ideas about how to help her?

How do I keep doing this when I’m scared?

How do we keep doing this when everyone’s hurting so much?

At the moment, we’re keeping on, keeping on. We deal with what we’re dealing with, we go to bed and we get up and deal with it again. But my child is hurting so much. And I don’t know how to help her. And I don’t know how to help my other child live with all of this either. So we keep doing this. But it’s hard.

 

Shield

Over the years, I’ve learnt to be a shield for my children.

I shield them from sports days to avoid all the people, I shield them by going in the inside way to school so that it’s calmer, I shield them from parties, where I know they’ll find it too hard to manage. I shield them by keeping routines the same as much as possible.

When we attempt new things, I shield them by using strategies that I know help, with crunchy snacks, with soft clothes, with ear defenders, with chewy necklaces, with preparation, with keeping close.

I shield them by trying to be alert to all situations that could possibly be a trigger for them.

I shield them from each other. I’ve slept on the floor for nearly a year to give them both the space they need. I’ve sat in the hall too many times to count so they can both see me and talk to me, when they can’t be together. I’ve literally been a human shield to stop one being hurt by the other.

I shield them from people who don’t understand. Who ask questions and demand answers. Who tell them repeatedly that they’re smiling so they’re happy. Who touch them constantly.

But I’m discovering that my shield isn’t big enough. I can’t shield Little from Big’s trauma. She is going to sleep surrounded by it, she wakes up surrounded by it and she’s had enough. It doesn’t matter how tight I cuddle her, how many quiet songs I sing, I can’t protect her from it, it seeps through. I’m really struggling to keep her safe at the moment and it feels terrible.

I can’t shield Big from everything that could possibly be a trigger. I can’t shield her from the thousands of things that life throws at her everyday.

And of course, there was the time in my children’s life when I couldn’t shield them. I couldn’t shield them from the hurt, the neglect, the terrifying experiences they had. But then, if I had been able to, would they need shielding from so much now?

The best bits

‘Look mummy! Cat’s faces! Daddy says you have to drive over the faces to keep them clean!’

‘Look mummy, I found a P2! A P2! No wait, what is it? A 2p? Look mummy, I found a P2!’

Big did a backward roll to standing this week at gymnastics. (On the slope.) This is huge progress, she’s getting so much stronger.

This week

This week Big locked me in the bathroom.

This week Little told me she feels better when she can say that birth mummy took her to nice places.

This week at work, one of the children in one of the groups I take, screamed at me for twenty minutes that he hated me and wanted to kill me. Then he screamed for another hour that he hated writing and he hated school.

This week at work, another child in a different group, attempted to self harm for most of the lesson.

This week Big let me rock her in the hammock swing at the OT.

This week Big spat her toothpaste all over me.

This week we had quite a nice day out.

This week, both the girls did handstands on the trampoline.

This week, Big’s made me feel quite scared.

This week Little’s been desperate to finish Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. ‘No mummy, don’t stop, what happens?!’

This week we had something different for tea.

This week we toasted marshmallows in the garden.

This week, Big’s hurt me a lot.

This week has, as always, been a bit up and down.

The best bits

For about two years Little has wanted to ‘have an ice cream shop with mummy’ when she grows up. Today she announced that she wanted to be a pilot and that mummy would sell the ice creams on the plane. I love that she has dreams and that I’m part of them.

Big let me hold her for about three minutes at the OT. I sang her a song and rocked her to and fro.

Hope

After the 42 millionth time of Little asking, we went out of the bubble today. It was not to somewhere completely new, we’d been three times before. We mapped the day out and we did pretty much exactly the same as we’ve done on previous visits.

And I knew it wouldn’t be good. As we got ready to go, I kept telling myself that she was going to find it very difficult and that the day would not be as I hoped it would be. But there’s that word: hope. Even when I think I’ve lowered my expectations far enough, I still have some hope. I still hope that this is the day we manage it. That we’ve done everything she needs us to do to feel safe enough to come away and then come back. That she can feel safe enough with us to relax a bit while we’re out and enjoy it.

I don’t know whether hope is going to be the thing that keeps us trying these days away, or if hope is going to be the reason I’m sobbing in the back of the car on the M74 trying to restrain an extremely dysregulated child.

Hope keeps me going but also feels to be the thing that stops me from lowering my expectations enough. It’s the thing that at the end of the day when I say, ‘I’ve had a lovely day, thank you for sharing it with me,’ makes me think we might just make it home safely. It’s the thing that I have to keep for Little. Because how can we not hope to give her a life that allows her to see different places and people?

I don’t know whether Big wants me to keep hoping and trying or if she’s desperately hoping that I stop and we can stop attempting these things that leave her feeling so unsafe and dysregulated.

Today, hope left me sad. It left me feeling that it’s just so much easier not to. But then I tucked Little into bed and she said, ‘Thank you mummy,’ and the hope came back. Maybe one day I’ll get it right for both of them. I hope so.

 

Terrible

I am being a terrible parent at the moment. I am not able to do any of the things that I need to do. And the really terrible thing is that I am only being a terrible parent to one of my children. My other child gets what is quite frankly, awesome parenting.

There is no PLACE in my parenting with my eldest. Or actually, that’s not fair. I do try. But every attempt is met with verbal or physical abuse, it is met with a complete refusal (inability) to look at me, to engage with me, to even exist with me in the same space.

Last week we went out for lunch. We have one place that we go to for lunch, and it is still very hit and miss as to whether it is successful or not. There is a small park outside this place. Little got to the slide first, so Big peed on the slide to stop Little being able to go down it again. But Little ‘I have a concentration ability of approximately 3.9 seconds’, was already on the swings by this point. I tried hard to be accepting, ‘It’s really hard when you can’t do everything first’ but inside my head was screaming, ‘You peed on the slide! You can’t pee on a slide because you didn’t get to go first. Other people use the slide. You’re now covered in pee.’ And the worst bit was that Big didn’t come to say, ‘I’m covered in pee.’ I had to chase her round to get her back and say to her ‘You seem to be wet.’ My head knows what I should do in these situations, but I’m not managing to do it. I’m just cross that she’s done it.

I’m finding it very difficult to be okay as instantly as I need to be. Last week I was pushed into the wall so hard I didn’t just see stars, I saw tweeting bluebirds too. But there was no acknowledgement that it even happened. I was wordlessly handed a book and was expected to read it. And if I’m not instantly ready again, everything escalates back to fever pitch. When I’m told I’m the worst mum ever, or that she hates me, or that she wishes she didn’t have to have me for a mum or all the other things that are thrown at me, I’m expected to be okay again. To get on with things as if they never happened. And I can’t. I cannot manage this at the moment. So things are never calm because she doesn’t feel safe when I need a second, and I never get chance to take a second so my adrenalin levels feel constantly raised.

The worst bit about my terrible parenting is that I know that Big cannot help this. She didn’t choose to feel this way. The way her brain makes decisions makes sense to her. (If you don’t want someone to go on the slide, peeing on it is an effective way to make that happen.) But sometimes I see how far other adoptive families have come in supporting their children to voice how they are feeling, to help their children feel safe, to be able to talk about things that are worrying them and I feel terrible about how I’m not able to do this for Big. I know that I got it really wrong for the first three months. But for three and a half years I’ve tried really hard to get it right for her, and she doesn’t seem to feel any safer here. I don’t know how to keep going with this. To find whatever it is I need to find to keep trying to help her. I don’t know how to keep being rejected and hurt. I don’t know how to keep being okay again. Because I’m not okay. And she’s not either.