Why I Let My Daughter Dye Her Hair Pink (and blue and purple)

I’m riding the “bad parent” wave each time we go out this summer. TinyPants starts high school in September and at age 11 has asked for a number of things that I’ve agreed to despite parental tutting. Here’s why:

She’s always had a strong sense of identity and year 6 has contained some big knocks for her. Instead of the last year of primary school being a fanfare of goodbyes, she counted down the days until she could be rid of bitchy cliques & a head teacher that she openly hated (strong words, but she had big boots to fill & did little to endear herself), and then there were SATS.

Since September, everything was building up to these bloody exams. Art, music, creative writing, science – all the things that made TinyPants love school went by the wayside. Maths drills, spellings, & exam papers were the daily grind – after which there were hours of tearful homework.

“Do your best & we’ll be as proud as always” we kept telling her. In the end, she sat in pain for 4 solid days doing her best (she was allowed to get up frequently, but allowed no extra time. Fearful that she wouldn’t finish, she didn’t take breaks. By day 4, she had a roll of physio tape strapped to her). Previous end of year reports have been a joy to read with comments given across the curriculum; this year one page was given with a table highlighted in red for each of the maths & english exams – “did not achieve”. The pass mark is 100, in most she scored 98 & in one 94. No “how I enjoyed my year” comment, but a “how could I have improved in my exams”. In contrast, her sister has a high school report with gold stars for effort & all subjects treated equally.

I was furious. My baby has fought past being born so tiny that she lived in an incubator; she fought apnea; she worked so hard to read (something that didn’t come naturally); she has emotional intelligence to rival most adults; she is a young carer; she has mentally prepared herself to be in daily physical pain & smiles through it; she worked like stink to pass those exams and yet she was deemed insufficient by a margin of 2 marks. She didn’t see how close she was – she saw “failure”. The piece of my mind that I’d like to give Gove, Morgan, & Greening may leave me without a mind. This narrowing of the curriculum and constant testing is stamping out the creative sparks that we’ll need in years to come.

So she asked to rebel, much like getting a statement haircut after a big break up. Step 1 was pink hair and I agreed to dye it for the final day. Step 2 was leaving primary behind – I genuinely feared her going out in a blaze of verbal glory, but she took the high ground and walked out with her head high (mentally flipping the bird as she left). And that was that.

She’s using the summer to find herself & that includes strange hair colours. We’re watching a pre-highschool reinvention of herself & it’s fascinating. She’s ditched the little kid clothes for older, but sensible shirts & jeans. I’m watching me grow up from a distance, but with a lot more self-esteem! Yes, we’ll have to get busy with the Head & Shoulders to remove the colour before school starts (eye roll), but for these 6 weeks the girls are allowed to be their genuine selves, whoever that may be.

We’ve just got back from a week at Disneyland where she asked to ride ALL of the rollercoasters on hoiday. I feel sick letting her put her body through that kind of strain – she’s already in pain most days & her back is a big culprit. Ibuprofen, TENS, & physio tape already feature quite regularly. Now, I could insist that she protect her joints at all costs, but shit, what right do I have to sap the joy from her life? She knows that adult life is going to hurt, but the pair of us are adrenalin junkies. At her age & into my teens I rode the coasters, I rode horses, I cornered so hard on my motorbike I could pick daisies with my teeth. So each time she wanted to go on a gut wrenching ride off Mr Geek went & rode with her.

Did it kill her? No. Ok, near the end of the holiday Mr Geek had to carry her out of bed & she gained wheels just like mum for part of the day as she couldn’t stand. Most days we paced quite well, the day before we’d thrown caution to the wind, but had the “best day evaar”.

Hell, even I rode a coaster – Mr Geek scoped it out and made sure it had head & back supports, I spent the previous day resting, he lifted me in – I screamed for the entire ride (on which my kneecap moved completely out & I pulled out both shoulders) – he lifted me back out & helped me pop things back, soothed the muscle spasms, then I rested for two days. All that pain for just 5 minutes? Yes. Totally worth it for feeling alive for just a while.

TinyPants looks at me and knows what’s coming – right now she wants to live as much life as possible instead of snatching 5 minutes of flying.

So, yes I’m letting her dye her hair far earlier than I ever thought I would, but it’s a small price to pay for the catharsis that its brought her. And as for Beanpole, well there’s no hair dye there – her genuie self blossomed at high school and my meganerd is blossoming into the intellectual fangirl that I expected, but she deserves a post all of her own.

Note: I’ve spoken a lot about pain here – for more info on Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, please read this post.

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The SATS battle of Parent vs. Teacher in 1 body.

So, today I had a conversation with my mother in law about SATS. She is one of those grandparents that anyone would be blessed to have. The girls have grown up with her in their lives not just as the lady we visit, but as someone who actively looks after them each week (frankly, without Mr Geek’s parents & mine we wouldn’t be in a position to work!). Anyway, I digress.

She told me about a conversation she had with Beanpole about the year 6 SATS that start in a week. My 11 year old child described it this:

“It’s like banging your head against a wall again and again and again and again [making banging motions against her forehead with her palm]. I just want to wake up and it’s all over.”

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As a mum, my heart broke. I’m meant to protect my offspring against shit like this. I’ve not protected her from.Ms Morgan. She’s got to my child with her long tendrils of testing.

As a teacher, I felt ashamed. How dare my profession allow a one woman army to make children feel like this? Bright, intelligent children who are left feeling like their entire worth rests on 1 week of exams. For the first time in my professional life, I’m not proud of what I do.

There are many parents removing their children from school tomorrow in protest. Except, they’ll just be tested on a different day. These parents are unlikely to get the backlash teachers don’t when they strike, they’ll likely get empathy from teachers, but just like striking, it won’t cause the current government to bat and eyelid.

So, as with all things inevitable like Sunday evenings ending too quickly & the resignation of Education Ministers, let’s just get this over and done with.

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)

Gifting my Spoons

Today was the kids’ Christmas fair at school and I’d agreed to help out (you know, because I have tonnes of spare spoons). In return the parents association agreed to give all of the donations given at the door to the Ehlers-Danlos UK charity.

As usual, facepainting was really popular, but not so busy that I didn’t have time to paint a special candy skull for my friend Kate.

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I’ve not picked up a paintbrush since August, so I was so relieved that my hands held up. I’ve not been able to hold a pen for more than ten minutes, but using sponges & paintbrushes seemed to be OK.  Perhaps because the action of painting is light compared to writing. Whatever it was, although my designs were pretty basic, I lasted the couple of hours I needed to and created lots of reindeer, Elsas and Anas.

A friend asked me what I was doing there in that “but you’re ill” way, and then we fell about laughing. She’s been at the front line of all of these events for the past 5 years despite battling breast cancer in a way that made Boudicca look like a wallflower. We had a great chat about sucking it up for events like these because they make us feel normal and God it feels good to get out and feel normal.

We got home at 2.30pm and Beanpole and I have been cwtched up on the sofa under a blanket since watching Willow whilst I sink into a nice dihyrocodeine fuzz. All spoons have gone, but it’s been a good day & I’m so proud of my babies for helping out their school and taking care of me. We’re a pretty awesome team.

I’ll have to wait and update this post when I find out how much they raised. But as a nice little bonus, I got to give lots off posters and things from when I signed up with EDS UK to the school to help raise awareness with the teachers 🙂

This is me and TinyPants with the Headteacher, Mrs Harrison. I’m going to miss these days when they’re all grown up in high school.

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Engage Brain Before Mouth

I spend a large portion of my life explaining to myself that teenagers lack the frontal cortex development to act like humans some days. They’re flighty, they struggle with self control, they often have no clue of the full impact of their actions. But in spite of, and in part because of these things,  I love these guys. However, yesterday 3 of my 14 yr olds really upset me. They had no idea, but nonetheless words were used that hit very much below the belt.

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They weren’t in fact referring to me, but to an injured friend by shouting a phrase from Little Britain (I’m sure the writers would be delighted that their characters are used to insult people) along with ‘cripple’ across the room at him. It was one of those moments that I look at a child and can’t work out if they’re being outrightly offensive to me or genuinely stupid. Neither could their classmates who spoke to me later to ask if I was ok (all together now: awwwwwww).

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So I devised a plan with their head of year.

Now normally, a student using abusive/bullying/discriminatory language would find themselves excluded and in much trouble. I asked if we could try something different and ask them to have lunch with me today. The head f year was totally up for this and sent the “invites”.

Lunchtime arrived and 2 of them shuffled into my classroom (the 3rd remains awol, but I’ll find him). I scooted over to them and explained that they had used language in my classroom that had upset me and that I found very hurtful. They drew a blank, but looked mortified. I gave them a few hints and it suddenly dawned on them – they’d been calling their friend a cripple in front of the teacher in a wheelchair. Bless them, they went grey. That gave me all I needed to know – I can read these kids like books 😉

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First off, I set their minds at rest that I wasn’t calling in the head, or their parents, but instead wanted them to understand why a simple word could be so important.

I’ve taught these guys for over a year now and they’ve seen me decline physically. Rather than asking for empathy (frontal cortex and all that), I gave them facts:

I don’t like being in a wheelchair.

It’s hard work and it makes simple things very difficult.

My condition will last forever, so I am finding it difficult to accept.

When you use words like that, it reminds me that I have to work extra hard to be treated equally.

I explained that sometimes I’m OK to joke about being ill, but it must be on my terms. Ask me for a race – that’s OK.  (Cue giggling), ask for a lift – that’s not going to happen, but it’s OK, joke about my terrible driving skills – that’s totally ok. But, use words that society uses to make disabled people “less” than others, then we’re going to fall out.

They were totally on side now and we talked about why it’s not appropriate anywhere,  not just in front of me. We even talked about invisible illness and how you’d never know that some people were suffering because a lot of illness, including the majority of mine happens on the inside, not the outside. It’s only visible now because of the braces and wheelchair.

And off they went.

No one felt bad. No voices were raised. There was no need for punishment and they took away that I’m a human, not just a teacher. Oh yeah, or a wheelchair user. This is totally my preferred method of parenting, and it works just as well with my kids at school.

It allowed me some introspection too. I never thought that would get to me. I’m proud of handling it calmly though.

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CSI in the classroom – Teaching Imaging Technology

You know you’ve watched a bit too much CSI when you start planing lessons around it. The start of next half term for my GCSE & AS Computing people will commence with a spreadsheet. Yep, a spreadsheet.

The plan is to introduce some practice of the binary & hexadecmial that they looked at last hald term and combine this with an understanding of bitmap and vector images and the theory behind them. (It’s the zoom in, enhance that image ongoing joke that prompted the whole project) There is a real possibility of this topic being very dry and losing the interest that was sparked in the first half term with programming. When it’s dry, it’s just as boring to teach as it is to be taught. Enter CSI School…

The spreadsheet guides them through a set of tasks where they answer questions and undertake practical activities from picking out hexadecimal colours from a bitmap to find a secret message, to writing a program to calculate maximum file size, to using a drawing list to create a vector.

I’m planning on this taking a good 6 lessons for them to go through all the tasks and create a set of written notes (A Level) to highlight the key terminology.

CSI School Dashboard

It looks like fun. So, here’s a copy of the resources basically because I’m lovely.

CSI School

Note: You’ll also need the BMP file and password for the ‘nope’ sheet. Please drop me a message and I’ll email them to you (wordpress don’t allow bitmap uploads)

All PGCE Courses should include saying the word ‘penis’ in public.

And it’s official. I’ve made it through my first term back in the state sector and ya boo sucks to you Hogwarts, I’ve not only made the last 8 weeks alive, but emotionally in tact! Today’s teaching was sponsored by a litre bottle of Kick (cheap own brand Redbull) which counteracted the minimal sleep and made me a VERY enthusiastic teacher, with only minor chest pains.

I’ve discovered a number of things so far:

I don’t speak teenage girl anymore. The speed at which deliver detailed information about their incestuous friendship groups indicates that their brains must be functioning at breakneck speed. This is usually reflected in their essays which contain volumes upon volumes of words. Words that eventually lead to a point which may or may not be connected to the original question. I may mock here, but I clearly remember being in year 10 & 11 and all the hysterics and heartbreaks that go with it. It’s not a great time for those who feel the need to be very small adults before they’ve learnt to appreciate being outrageous college kids. The TV show The Inbetweeners has unwittingly done a huge favour to a generation that suddenly saw what they could do between child and adult stages. They made a levels attractive in a way no educator or government ever could. And. AND they coined the phrases ‘clunge’ and ‘buswanker’. Pure bottled genius.

I know my shit. You’d hope so really, but there are still times that I wonder if I’m just spouting a load of tosh. Turns out, I can pick up two new programming languages and teach them without a nervous breakdown. Python & Pascal, I salute you for being decent languages which support the syllabus and have a place in industry (if only because Pascal is derived from C++ and as such borrows a fair amount of syntax). Not only do I know my programming, but I am an algorithm goddess (after a glass of wine, or too much redbull). Today’s end of half term brain teaser was an algorithm which included the need for iteration and selection which described how to recharge Mrs B. This involved a process of eating pizza and drinking beer. Once beer percentage was less than 0.1%, Mrs B must be pronounced asleep. A few of them (sixth form! Not school age! Theirs was much more age appropriate!) traced the algorithm and shouted from across the room “Miss, is this your plan tonight? You’re going to eat pizza and drink beer ’til you fall asleep??…. Lad!”. Bless, yes that is my plan (actually, it’s fried chicken and beer), but it also includes knitting and TV. Not quite the lad.

State school isn’t scary! Much to the contrary of the horror stories told at Hogwarts, state school is a NICE place to work. With supportive teams that want to make education enjoyable. It’s not a walk in the park, and there are classes that I walk out of wondering if evolution really is right. But, on the whole as long as you’re ok with standing your ground (without losing your temper) and are not disturbed by the teenage boy sense of humour, then combined with a few years experience and a diary that holds details of everything you need to achieve each day, it’s frankly the best job ever.

A note on teenage boy humour – look in the mirror. Now say penis, willy, porn, boobies and breasts and the top of your voice. Red in the face? You’re doomed. All PGCEs should include a full unit (hehe) on saying and hearing the word penis without reaction. Differentiation could apply here – top achieves could also show no reaction to vajazzle, pussy wagon and shclong alongside descriptions of their latest piercings.

Just a thought.

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