Everyone finds Mondays hard. There’s something particularly tricky about the separation of body and bed on a Monday morning – especially when it’s to the cry of the alarm clock at an unreasonably early hour! Today was the first Monday of the Autumn term for me here in Hampshire, and as much as I longed to stay just a little longer in the comforting embrace of the duvet, getting out of bed was so much more important.
They say that when you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. We all know that’s absolute rubbish. Work is work is work, not matter how much you love it. Sometimes, though, the work is important enough that it doesn’t matter if it does feel like work.
Today, for example. Child A enters the classroom. Quiet, and with a face like thunder. He’s completely shut down and uncommunicative. To anyone else, he’s being rude. He’s ignoring you. He’s being difficult. He’s being defiant. Or maybe, something happened at home that he’s processing. Maybe he needs you to be a quiet, positive force in his life in this moment. Maybe, when he’s ready, he’ll tell you what’s going on inside his head. If you know him, you can facilitate that happening faster. As it happens, I do know this child. I’ve worked with him for months. I give him paper and a pencil, and I give him space. I involve him in the classroom activities, but I don’t seek full engagement from him. I make sure I look at him when I ask him a question, to see the non-verbal response I get back. I make sure he knows I understand him. And when he’s ready, he’ll tell me what happened yesterday that created the bad mood he’s in today. He’ll tell me about the frustrations he has with a peer, left over from the end of last term. And by the end of the day – by the end of the session, even – he’ll be able to leave my classroom with a smile on his face. Because I know him. Because I give him the space to be himself.
In a mainstream school, it’s never easy to be able to give children space and time. I know I’m lucky to have chosen to work in a specialist setting where I have the flexibility to respond immediately to the children in my care and the needs they present in that moment. In an ideal world, all teachers should be able to give all children the space and time they need. To make them feel safe. To make them feel heard, respected, loved and wanted.
The reality is very different, no matter how hard we try. With 30 children to a class, and a maximum ratio of 1:15 (if you’re lucky), how can we expect or even hope to know our children well enough to respond efficiently and empathetically to their needs? It might take a special sort of person to work with ‘challenging’ children in specialist settings, but I found it even harder to go into a mainstream classroom knowing I was going to find it nigh on impossible to meet the vast array of needs presented to me with insufficient support (even the best TAs in the world can’t clone themselves!) and insufficient resources. This isn’t a person issue. It isn’t even a school issue. It’s a government issue.
But that’s a thought for another day.
I hope you all had a wonderful Monday!