When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough go and have a little cry in the corner

I don’t often blog about the reality of teaching. It’s what one would describe as a CLM (career limiting move). But despite that, here I go nonetheless. Mainly because I need some sleep which means this scenario rolling around in my head needs to be fed to the ether and go away.

I profess about being fine and dandy in my wheelchair. And to a degree I am. It’s my safety net, my means of mobility, and a damned fine piece of equipment. It’s also a bit of a prison. It makes me physically lower than any child I teach who stands up. It makes me feel vulnerable…. And like hyenas, kids in senior school can smell the fear of a teacher.

This particular class is year 8 (that’s 7th grade in the US), so one of the youngest  years in the school. I’d had two hours of incredible lively and productive lessons with them where they are creating animated videos about how words and images are stored as binary. The kids were lapping it up and I was throwing house points about like it was Hogwarts.

Then it changed. My classes have a seating plan so I know who sits where and I can manage behaviour. These two particular boys were not going near each other (a few weeks back  I’d already had to put myself physically between them as they went nose to nose, and that was going to happen again over my dead body). So anyway, my classroom, my rules.

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Or not apparently. At age 12, we deem it acceptable to shout across the room “I’m not moving, what are you going to do about it?”; at age 12, we deem it acceptable to square up to a female teacher with clenched fists; at age bloody 12, we deem it acceptable to be physically threatening towards a member of staff and then verbally threaten them. What a charmer!

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Because of the physical surroundings & availability of staff at that time, I had to take a decision over whether I backed down and lost authority for the rest of the year with them, or stood my ground and face what I perceived to be the very real possibility of being physically assaulted. (I’ve been working with volatile kids for long enough to tell which ones are mouth & no trousers and which are ready to swing). I trusted my gut on this and ditched any respect – this was the first time since I left youth offending that I’ve felt genuinely concerned for my physical safety. My decision was based very much on the images in my head of the level of damage that child could do. If standing up can take out a hip, what would a punch thrown in anger do? I certainly don’t have the speed or mobility to duck.

And so here I am at nearing 1am with the scenario rolling around in my head.

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Legally & contractually I cannot refuse to teach this child. That’s not the way through this anyway. There is an inception style level of issues that this has raised for me.

Top level: What string of events has led this child to think that it’s acceptable to be physically threatening in order to get his way? I’m angry at myself for backing down as any threat I make now is useless (I threatened management, but they never came).

Dig deeper: What have I missed that could give me the key into a positive dialogue? What if that had been another student he tried to intimate?

Dig deeper: I allowed myself to be intimidated by a 12 year old. And the class saw. Most are just used to him & roll their eyes – how is that fair on them? What if we’re not seeing this happen to others? If I was scared, how does a tiny year 7 feel?

Dig deeper: is this about one child kicking off, or a deeper fear that I don’t have the same authority that I had as an able bodied teacher? Without the same mobility or ability to physically defend myself, should I be teaching?

And there’s the big question. This year I have seen a marked increase in aggressive behaviour, but also a marked decrease in support from parents (gone are the days of a phonecall home resulting in punishment – it’s now more likely that they’ll be a complaint about you picking on their darling little thug
Before you grab your pitchforks, 90% of the kids we teach are amazing. They shine. I love spending my days with them, but that 10% is killing your child’s chances of getting the new, harder levels expected because of all the disruption. If your child is that 10%, I’m here to help you, but if you fight me as much as your child does, the overseas job sounds much rosier, as does developing that app.). If there are not systems in place, not just in school, but at home as well, to demand a level of respect for those adults in charge, is teaching a career for someone with a physical disability? In fact, is teaching something anyone would want to do?

Edit: this took me a few days to post as it shook me. I’m still questioning my personal safety, but moreso my competence as a teacher, because it’s what we do as teachers…. WWW & EBI (what went well & even better if)

Character Education – Judging Myself First

There’s a lot going on at school, and in the general educational circles about character education. The idea in a nutshell is that you can nuture kids to work on the traits that make them better learners. There are 24 of these babies,  but 8 specifically for learning.

Part of this process is to be introspective as a teacher and look at how these 8 traits apply to me personally. So, seeing as I’ve been rather introspective lately,  I thought I’d give it a go in a space where I’m less likely to get fired!

So here are the 8 in no particular order (OK,  in the order that I remember them):

Grit

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This is the ability to keep going even when the going is tough.
People, I have this one covered.

Bust my spine? Give me those crutches.
Dislocate various limbs? Hand me the bandages & I’ll teach like a dead Egyptian on wheels.
Give birth ridiculously early to tiny child who forgets how to breathe? Stick an alarm on the kid,  whack a boob in it’s face, and… yeah, sign me up for university. (What was I thinking?!)
I am the terminator. 

Optimism

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This is the ability to be positive. The glass is half full.

Ok, not so much. Optimism has bitten me on the bum one too many times.

Instead I am stoic. I hope for the best outcome, but prepare for the worst.  That way, I can consider what the worst possible outcome is, and be prepared even though I go for it anyway. 

Resilience

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Not the same as grit. This is being able to pick yourself back up after failure.

Oh it took me a long time to work on this. I still am. Some days I can take an utter disaster and look at it like a learning experience. Other days, I still require a blanket and some sweet tea.

I’m good at looking at things like a puzzle, but when it comes to other people, I can’t stand failing in front of people. In class, I’ll admit when I don’t know or I’m wrong, but if my class doesn’t get the grades I’d expected, I feel like a shoddy teacher. I’m a contrary soul.

My resillience comes from waking up in the morning and wanting to just laying here until the pain subsides, but dragging my arse out of bed and into work. It’s not crying because my arms won’t push my chair up the ramp without popping out. It’s suggesting to the kids that we dress me up as a Darlek for Halloween.

Curiosity

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I love learning. Not just about computing, but just learning. I love reading people’s blogs and learning about their place in the world and what makes them tick. I want to know what happens if you press that button….

What once was nosey, is now curiosity.

Self Control With Work

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Do I watch cartoons with my kids, or will I get that marking done? Invariably I’ll do the marking. Is that because I can self regulate or is it because I have a ridiculous fear of deadlines? A little from column A, a little from column B.

Do I eat the cake, then yes. Why are you even asking me that question? The cake is eaten. Duh.

My self control is variable.  Don’t bring cake into this.

Self Control With Others

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This is all about Social Intelligence.
I don’t lose my cool with people readily, and when I do, it’s in a quiet & controlled manner which suggests that you’re in a whole world of shit you hadn’t bargained for.

I vent in appropriate environments (here).

I’m equally able to hide a massive percentage of the pain I’m in for a good portion of the day. This slips and sometimes  (quite a lot) I do snap. And I snap at those closest to me.

I’m also a massive control freak and this escalates when I feel vulnerable. Case in point being my zero tolerance on behaviour with classes : as I can’t physically get to the kids misbehaving, I need to make full and frequent use of my death stare.

Zest

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No, not the outy bit of an orange. Enthusiasm.

I’m British. I feel far more affinity with Raven than Starfire. I am The sarcasm. Over enthusiastic anything isn’t part of my genetic make up, unless you ask me to talk about code, or World of Warcraft… then you unleash the unholy nerd.

Gratitude (finally)

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This tends to be the one where people get all religious. Except I’m agnostic. At best. (I was actually raised Catholic,  but I refuse to believe that any deity would want us to kill each other just to prove them right.)

I am grateful to still be working, even if it is trashing my body.
I’m grateful that I have a weird little online support network for my roller coaster ride of a diagnosis.
I’m grateful for my family.
I’m so grateful to have Mr Geek.

I’m grateful to have had the good fortune to have been born in a place where I’m safe and have the option to be independent.

Right now, I’m particularly grateful for my bed and extra blanket.

And those are the main traits of a good learner. I’m aware that I vary wildly on these scales, perhaps my introspection will help me give them a bit more slack when they don’t hit my super high standards.

Soy Borracho! And other inappropriate phrases I announce proudly in the car…

You probably know that I’m making the most of my commute back and forth to work by trying to learn Spanish.

Well, so far I’ve gone through all 12 hours of the Paul Noble course (more than once!) and am really starting to find my feet (¿Dónde están mis pies?) and it’s now time for me to move on so I’m using up all my audible credits on trying the first few hours of the Michael Thomas programme. It’s a very similar approach, but instead of the pauses for me to speak followed by a native speaker, I’m in a car with Michael who babbles on about grammar and emphasis whilst two inept people with weird accents try to learn Spanish badly. I think this is some clever ploy to make me feel ok when I cock the phrases up totally, and feel smug when I know what to say and the bloke on the audio thing is stuttering over simple words like puedo (that’s pwaaaaaaaydo). This audiobook is playing up to my ego, and it’s working. Even more brilliantly, the kids are already picking up phrases and using their dictionary to work out how to communicate.

It’s now t-minus 10 days until we jump in at the Spanish deep end and llegar a Villamartin! The bags are out and the packing has commenced. Mum and Dad are being instructed on how to feed the monster fish and I think they’re quite looking forward to us being out of the house for a while.

Greenpeace may need prior warning that I shall be snorkelling and have staunchly refused to go on a holiday diet. LSH however has just dipped below 100kg for the first time in a decade and is looking mighty hot after spending the last 6 months worshipping the treadmill and weight machines. Well, bollocks to that, I am embracing Health & Safety by becoming my own floatation device. Several family members are raving about the new Fast diet (you restrict your intake to 500 calories for 2 days each week), and their weight loss is quite impressive, but mentally I’m not there yet. I know I could do it, but witnessing the familiar rush that fasting is giving them I’m not willing to step into dangerous eating habit territory again. I’ve been skinny to dangerous levels in the past, and frankly I’d rather be fat and happy than skinny and depressed. I know what skinny feels like – it feels hungry. And for the record, chips taste better than skinny, especially with cheese and salad cream.

Back to the language course! I’m definitely enjoying the Michael Thomas course, and whilst it is more expensive (a lot!) than Paul Noble, the vocabulary is wider and I feel like I understand why I’m saying things now. With that said, I’m not sure if I would have stuck with it had I not done the Paul Noble course first with its clearer structure and native speakers. There’s so much out there to help you learn, and I guess it’s whatever works for you. But having reached 33 convinced I couldn’t learn a new language as I am crap at languages I’ve found that actually puedo hablar español, I just hadn’t worked put the best way to learn it!

On learning the most important Spanish phrase ever.

My adventures with Paul Noble’s Spanish audiobook continue. It takes me at least 45 minutes to drive to work, so on goes the audiobook and I continue to look like a complete lunatic as I announce random Spanish phrases to the world at large from inside my otherwise empty car…

But this evening as I drove home, I learnt the single most important phrase for a holiday with my mother in law:

Qui ciero una botella de vino blanco y un café por favor

This is not a slant on my MIL, but a cold statement of fact that she and I are rather partial to a little wine and coffee. And now we are fully equipped to request supplies!

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So back to the actual language learning. I’m actually quite impressed with this course. I’ve really struggled before trying to get other languages to stick, but I’ve found myself answering questions on the CD (or rather audiobook that calls itself a CD) that I didn’t realise I knew. I’m now at a stage where I’m looking forward to my commute to and from work because I can try out the stuff I’ve learnt.

The next book in the series builds on the basics and focuses on directions and reservations so will be extra useful for our trip & I’m looking forward to moving on (but not until I’ve mastered this first bit!)

The book I got is on Audible and can be found here.