How do I describe a day that left me asleep on my sofa at 4:30pm on a Friday afternoon. Sad to my core. Angry at the everyday injustices which pervade the lives of children in a local school, in a beautiful semi-rural location, in a relatively affluent society, in a democratic country.
An ordinary day. In an ordinary school.
While staff, students past and present, parents and community weep openly at the untimely death of a much loved and respected teacher at the local high school, my Facebook feed is dominated by tragedies from around the world. From the demise of orangutans, to slavery of young girls, inhumane treatment of refugees at my back door, incomprehensible heartless and soulless destruction of innocent lives in Paris and the list could go on forever.
But still the deepest hurt for me is in the eyes of a 9 year old boy who is losing hope. I feel like a traitor as I look him in the eye.
And then there are the anxious eyes of a 7 year old boy who cries, withdraws and refuses to comply when asked, because what he needs but cannot express in words, is to have more time to be a child, to play, feel safe and to learn when he is ready. Deep seated trauma ( that unverifiable dis – ability ) from sexual abuse overtakes any other ability. He is happy to have some one on one attention in a quiet room, making a model of a hot air balloon. It has string…he loves to make things with string.
I make a mental note to match ‘a thing for string’ to an Australian curriculum achievement standard, to decide on a grade and to add this data to the graphs on the staff room wall.
I’m aware of the absence of another, who also has significant trauma, whose parents are his grandparents, who struggles at every level to cope in a school environment, who needs a day for rest as life has overtaken. I’m ashamedly relieved he isn’t at school today.
And then there are the brothers (6 and 8) and today is change-over day from a week with dad to a week with mum. They know they are loved by both but there is still anxiety and adjustment …different houses, different expectations, different routines, a roller coaster of emotions. Tough for any child, tougher for highly gifted children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and a unique and narrow view of their world. They are ‘twice exceptional’ children. Children.
They are both in my alternative learning environment full time. One has never been in a mainstream class, the other is just not coping with change and imminent change (it’s Term 4) and teachers are also struggling. So much stress at so many different levels. Both boys adjusting to the recent ‘loss’ of an SSO who ‘got’ them, who respected them, stretched them and skilfully pushed them out of their comfort zone, little by little.
It’s a normal day. One refuses to comply with a task, the other argues belligerently, one pees in the garden as it takes too long to go to the toilet, the other trashes some craft his brother has made for him. We quickly intervene, distract. One tries to circumvent the ‘rules’ around computer use and I struggle to keep up with his rapid highly skilled potential hacking. The other runs and hides. I hear the kind, firm words of an SSO guiding one to complete a task to earn reward time, endlessly patient, endlessly consistent, while I reset the timer for the other, and reiterate the system once again. Learning…reward…learning… reward, tedious, tight, necessary. Possible in this environment but not in a class of 28. At least today they haven’t hit and punched each other…well not much anyway.
And while this us happening there are older girls in the same room, discussing motor neurone disease which one of our teachers was recently diagnosed with, their awkward questions, grappling to make sense of it, while they make blueberry cupcakes to sell at the fundraiser on Monday. For what? Their teacher is dying. And I wonder just how much they understand, as their lives are already too complex and vexed for children.
And then the 9 year old runs through our room again having run out of his classroom. Hyper-vigilant, confused, intimidating, vulnerable. An awesome SSO drops everything and takes him to the sensory room. They both have a solid workout. He comes back and I can see the difference. I affirm the SSO for her wisdom, skill and flexibility. I know that recognition will stop with me.
In 9 years he has lived a life that I would not wish on any child. His confused dysfunction is also mine. I cannot reconcile the precious life of a child being adulterated by adults who are dictated to by a system which does not protect children. Or by the assigned care-givers who purport to care while deliberately destroying the essence of this child by acculturating him into their world.
You are a dumb arse. You won’t ever get a job, they say.
He wants to be a policeman. Imagine how that is received by people who have by circumstance and choice, placed themselves outside of the law.
If I get in trouble at school they beat me with a wooden spoon and shut me in my room, he says.
Don’t tell them I’ve been with you, he says.
Dad says I have to be in my classroom all day, he says.
I need to get back to my classroom before dad gets here, he says with fear in his voice.
Write a note so they know I didn’t steal this, he says.
‘Oh no’ he says as it is apparent his ‘Aunty’ is picking him up from school. She is so f….. mean ‘, he says.
He wants to take home a book he has written a story in. She tells him to put it in the bin.
We rescue it and tell him we’ll keep it for him.
Our parting, ‘have a great weekend’ is hollow.
So many children hurting, some parents unreachable, some teachers only seeing part of the picture and unwittingly adding to the stress, leadership pulled in uncompromising directions towards the system and away from the children.
It is a day like very other day, in a ‘normal’ school, in a beautiful location, sea air in the wind…
And …. hurting innocent children… and they are just children, who by their actions ask us to look beyond what we see, to what they see, in their confusing blurred world. They move between realities which for me are distressingly counter-productive, and I worry….not about achievement standards and data but whether I can give them enough to help them make their own choices, to believe in themselves, to know in the deepest part of them, what we can glimpse…the person they can be, the potential they have, and their right to that potential.
As an educator that is what I want for them. I feel that I fail them on a daily basis.
But I do know these kids feel safe when they come to our room.
They feel accepted.
They know we care.
They grow a little self-respect.
And they learn…more than they might have in a busy results-driven classroom.
Maybe that’s enough.