Introducing Students To Disability- Year 2

Last year I wrote about how I explained to my classes why their teacher who was previously using a stick, then crutches, was now using a wheelchair. Or for those new students, why the person in the wheelchair was in fact actually their teacher.

https://thehippygeek.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/the-easy-way-to-introduce-260-students-to-a-big-change/

I’m starting to look at how I should update that message to reflect where I am now & what I learnt from last year (yes I know it’s the start of August, but yes I’m also already planning for September).

The past year has taught me a few important things.

  • Discipline is harder from this vantage point – set boundaries and [insert deity here] help them if they cross it. 
  • Kids are often curious. Often a question about me is really about a family (or even them) that they’re worried about.
  • Kids adapt – after a few weeks, you’re just “Miss”

We use Google Classroom & as such I will post this to each class which allows them to read it in their own time & stops it eating into lesson time.

Dear students,

You’ve probably noticed that Mrs Geek has evolved wheels & you might have a few questions. Our lesson isn’t the time for this, but you can always ask me questions during break / lunch! Until then, here’s the biggies:

Why are you in a wheelchair?
I have a genetic condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome & POTS. EDS makes my joints & organs more stretchy than they should be, so I get hurt quite a lot and those injuries don’t heal very well. POTS means that when I stand up, or get too hot, my heart beats too fast & makes me dizzy. I’m using the wheelchair to stop me from hurting my joints, or dizzy, & getting too tired to mark your homework! People use wheelchairs for lots of different reasons. I love teaching you & this will help me to stay teaching you for longer:)

Can you walk?
Yes, a little bit. Don’t be surprised if you still see me stretching out my legs in the chair, or stand up. You’d be achey too if you sat down all day! Lots of people who use wheelchairs can still stand, but it’s safer for them to use the chair.

Why do you sometimes have other bandages?
You might see me wearing various different neoprean supports. I can damage my joints very easily & these help. Lots of you have noticed my knee brace (yes, you may call them Robolegs. I do!). Sometimes you might hear my joints cracking or pop – don’t worry!

What do I do if I need your help?
In some rooms it’s hard for me to get to you, but you can come to me & I’ll take control of your screen. We’ll keep using Google Classroom & that should help us lots! If you are at all worried that you’re not getting enough of my attention,  please come and talk to me.

Is it OK to ask you questions about your disability?
I don’t mind you asking outside of lessons. I can’t promise I can answer them all, but being with someone disabled isn’t something to be scared of. Even adults aren’t always sure what is ok to ask. I promise not to be offended as long as you are polite.

How fast does your chair go?
The powerchair you see at school goes 4mph which is a quick walking speed. I’m much faster in my racing wheelchair. Keep an eye out for me at sports day!

Can I have a go in your chair?
No. I rather need it:)

Can I help in the classroom?
Sometimes I may ask you to carry books / chrome books for me & holding the door open is always appreciated. Please keep your bag & coat under the desk & your chair tucked in to allow me to get around the room. Other than that, our classroom is business as usual.

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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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The Straw That Broke All The Camel’s Joints

Today I read a comment from someone who said that they had the right to make openly judgemental remarks about someone because that someone had put their thoughts and feelings into a blog post.

I’ll admit that I was less than tactful in my response. But I regret nothing. Blogging for many people is therapy and there’s enough crap in the world foe people start making snipey comments about other people. Be nicer to each other. You don’t know what kind of day that someone has had. How can we teach our kids not to bully, when playground parent cliques (even online ones) insist on being bitchy to make themselves feel better about their own life choices.

Yes, I snapped today and gave both barrels, but do you know why I couldn’t tolerate the hypocrisy?  It was nothing to do with being a good person. It was more about that little niggle being today’s last staw. This evening:

– my toes hurt
-my knees are throbbing
– my hips & pelvis burn from being on my feet & dragging teaching resources about on wheels
– my chest hurts when I breath in too deeply as one of my ribs feels ‘stuck’ & my upper spine keeps popping
– my shoulders hurt
– my hands and fingers ache
– my neck is sore
-I have a massive throbbing headache

I also resorted to using the wheelchair to do the high school tour for Beanpole as I was too exhausted to walk this evening. 

Oh and I have the meeting to discuss my mobility at work on Friday which is now causing rising panic.

So I’m a bit frayed around the edges which means that when you choose to dissect a parents worth because they don’t fit into your middle class mold of gender neutral as long as it’s overtly feminist parenting style, I may just state my opinions. Loudly.

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Explaining Extremism To A 10 Year Old

Firstly how the hell am I old enough to have a human who’s about to turn 11?

Secondly, tonight is the second in a row that the Beanpole has returned from school tearful because of a semi-explained refugee crisis. Her heart breaks each time they discuss a story about the refugees in Europe and she couldn’t understand why their home was no longer safe. What made it unsafe? Is our country safe? What came to get them? The imagination of a 10 year old is a scary place (says she who was allowed to “watch” Alien at age 10 but had to cover her eyes for the scary bits. My imagination + the sound effects were WAY worse than Gieger). The imagination of a 10 year old with ASD and limited facts is much scarier.

So, we had a choice.

A: gloss over it and pretend life is fine, but it’s all very sad and to leave the adults to deal with it.

B: Get out some facts that probably aren’t that age appropriate, but are going to arm her with information.

It was always going to be B.

Stage 1. Explain about the changes in power in the Middle East in recent years. Accepted & digested.

Stage 2. Explain who ISIS are and why people are running away from them. Brick wall.

Ah crap. Ok, backtrack. Do you know what an extremist is? No. Ok, we have a starting point.

Most Christians use the bible as a guide, but still accept science & agree that everyone is entitled to their own faith, yes? Good.

Ok, but some people choose to believe that the bible is absolute fact and ignore everything else. In fact, they only believe in certain bits of the Bible and think everyone else is wrong. Is that a bad thing? Err…. it’s not if that’s their opinion, it’s only wrong if they want to force you to believe the same as them.

(We’re getting a light bulb here).

Well,  this group that some people call ISIS are a bit like that. Most (As in several million) Muslims have a Koran instead of a Bible and use it as a guide. They look after each other and accept that other people have different faiths.
Some (as in several thousand)Muslims have taken bits from the Koran and used them to believe that they have the right to kill people who don’t agree with them.

We’re getting extremism. This is an utter parent win.

So we went for the feel better ending by showing her how some people use humour to show how ridiculous the extremist Christians behaviour was in a tolerant society.

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We figured here that she’s already heard all the bad words and the lesson of ‘know the word, but don’t use it’ is quite a powerful one. And actually, I’d rather she found a swear word used to dissolve intolerance funny, than shield her from bad language but allow her to be aware of mass murder. It somehow seems insignificant considering the topic of conversation.

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We genuinely couldn’t have planned it better. It was like an episode of Sesame Street, ending on a moral message of most people are tolerant. These extremists are just that. In a very unwelcome minority.

Don’t Be Remembered As The Prime Minister Who Let Children Drown

I read the comments on a local Facebook page today with increasing shame that I live somewhere with such little compassion for other humans.

Just proof that anything you put on the Internet, stays there (I’ve given the OP some anonymity).

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Then after people arguing for humanity etc. This.

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No matter which bits of me tried to detach themselves from my body today (Toes!  Wtf? Stay in my foot!), I do get to end my day gazing out of this window in a room that is warm, in a house where my children are safe, in a town that isn’t under seige, in a country where I don’t risk being killed, raped or tortured just because of my religion or lack thereof.

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And yet we are faced with hundreds of people fleeing just that. Their homes have been destroyed, their family members killed or worse. And those who live securely in our warm houses in this green and pleasant land feel it their given right to spew bile against them just because they are different.

I don’t claim to know an awful lot about Islam. I do know that when I was in the middle east, those men I did meet who were both Muslim & Christian were far more respectful of me than a great number of men I’ve encountered here. Over here, I’ve been leered at, groped, and had appalling things yelled out of white vans since my early teens. (Perks of getting older & more decrepit – less groping!). I also know that up until fairly recently, Catholic women were required to cover their hair at least in church. Not many people seen snatch the scarves being handed out to women who visit cathedrals where you are required to dress modestly.

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I  don’t have the spoons to go picking fights with these people, but reading constant comments fuelled by fear of difference just makes me annoyed about having to share oxygen with them.

So, on a day when I finally pressed the go button on getting the wheels, I’m counting my blessings.  I’d rather hang about like a floppy brain in a jar than have my home and family destroyed.