1. “This will cheer him up. Eric Idle singing ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”
2. “I kept within my budget of £20.”
3. “What is your view of Hitler?”
4. “Ah … 1927. Must have been amazing to be alive then. The year the Ford Model A was invented.”
5. “Miss, do you know Sam got out of the car to pick blackberries when we slowed right down then got back in again?”
6. “F**k off.”
7. “I’ll report you if you keep on trying to make me do work!”
8. “Any chance of a coffee?”
9. “I want to cry.”
10. “But can you eat mince pies?”
Just to add a layer of meaning to these memories of mine: number 1 was a student’s reaction to hearing that the mother of a fellow student had, sadly, died unexpectedly. And actually, the sentiment was surprisingly appreciated by the bereaved. These students may be unorthodox, but they totally get what floats each others’ boats. Number 2 was the very real pride felt by a student when he was trusted with his own money to buy himself a treat or two from a sweet shop. Perhaps we can halve his budget next time … Number 8 has become a common theme and we’re running with that one seeing as coffee is arguably a lesser evil than some other drugs. Number 9 was the verbal manifestation of the sorry state of a student’s heart straight after it had been mashed up and puréed and number 10 was the concern shown by a student on hearing that there were some sugary foods forbidden from my consumption. The others are fairly self-explanatory.
I’ve worked at this secondary school for students with dyslexia for three years. Beforehand, I worked at an EBD school for one year. Before that, I was in a mainstream school that had a special needs annexe and before that I was in mainstream. So, as you can see, my move into special needs has been gradual and, I have to admit, unintentional.
“It must be so rewarding!” people say.
If the comment comes from a well-meaning person with no experience of working with other people whose view of the world is unfathomably different from theirs, the remark tends to grate somewhat. Dyslexia often co-exists with another difficulty and/or a behaviour problem and I have learnt as much during my three years at this school as the students. I have encountered conditions whose existence previously eluded my knowledge and I have witnessed the challenges faced by students whose learning difficulties require different approaches to learning that a mainstream school would struggle to provide. I am in awe of dyslexics who have to compensate, daily, for the missing connections in their brains and it is an absolute joy to see them succeed but also to embrace their differences, because that is what makes them who they are. I don’t even like to call their differences ‘difficulties’ because who am I to say that they are the ones who deviate from the ‘norm’, whatever that is? But it is semantics and I am addressing an audience of whom most – in likelihood – are not dyslexic. So yes, it has been rewarding, but not without considerable sacrifice. Convincing these young people that they can do it – and that there are benefits to having such a difficulty – is the hardest part. Our curriculum is mainstream – not reduced – and the expectations are the same as if they were in mainstream, because their difficulties are ‘specific’, which, in laymen’s terms, is mild. Until this term, I taught English; but for this term only, I have been working with the sixth formers whose time is split between studying for post-16 qualifications at local colleges and being supported in a range of ways by us. All the quotes above come from them and the investment in time, effort, emotion, patience, resilience and huge efforts to empathise, have been worth it for the return, if only to realise that you are having a proper conversation about whose cover of The Beatles’ ‘Across The Universe’ is the best, with a teenager who was throwing GCSE textbooks across the classroom a year ago.
In my last blog post, I hinted at a sense of impending relief at the thought of leaving. There are aspects to this temporary role that I will be glad to be leaving behind. But there are more aspects that I will miss. I miss most of the students already, because previously, I taught throughout the school and it has been distressing to see those students everyday and not be teaching them. I already miss my old department. I will miss the sixth formers, most of whom I taught GCSE English and I will miss being a part of the community with the added benefit of comprising aesthetically stunning olde worlde buildings, nestled in an area of breathtaking beauty.
We continually invest throughout our lives.
The emotional investment when working in a special needs school is mammoth, but even though the return may seem, at times, poor, in comparison, there are returns which you must grab hold of, appreciate and enjoy. Students grasping difficult concepts, over-achieving at GCSE (or just achieving), telling you they don’t want you to leave; if you don’t bask in the glory of these returns when they come your way, then you are missing the point.
My investment in the school itself is different. My return was to get paid and then, ultimately, to be made redundant. Not quite the return I expected.
I have invested in relationships which have ended. Several months have passed now, since my relationship with the Rastafarian ended. I invested a lot into that relationship: all the usual relationship investment, like love, time, effort and support. But, as you know, if you have followed my blog, too many tangible investments also, like £2.5k and a horn of plenty of food, lifts, Kronenbourg and tobacco. I do not doubt that he had some feelings for me; I don’t think I have an abhorrent personality and I’ve been told that I scrub up well, but my investments outweighed my returns by far. The most memorable return was to be cheated on, frankly. I turned to him once for emotional support and was shocked to discover that he was incapable of providing it, despite the cornucopian emotional support I provided.
There are many students at my workplace who are diagnosed with ASC (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and I constantly try to look at the world through their eyes. Of course, there is nothing wrong with their eyes; it is their perception that is vastly different from ours. To be in a state of bafflement about many things, must be … well, I don’t know, if I’m honest. I don’t want to sound patronising and assume that my perception is superior, because I am not baffled, but conversely, I want to acknowledge that things are tough for the autistic person. Like my peers, I have undergone training, inset days, courses and achieved qualifications in the studies of both dyslexia and autism. I feel I know more than most about such things, but I cannot possibly know what it is like to be either. My brush with dyslexia is the length of time it takes me to figure out my right from my left. I guess if I multiply that by infinity, it might be what it is like to be dyslexic. My brush with autism is my association of colours with days of the week, the attribution of personalities to numbers and my propensity towards OCD. Again, I would need to do something drastic with that, like take it to the ends of time in order to get a sense of what it is really like to be autistic. However, I do find myself baffled by my world sometimes. Please take note of the word ‘my’; not ‘the’. Everyone, surely, is baffled by ‘the’ world, but most people cope (just about) with their own worlds. My current bafflement concerns people. Everything can be great one day; and everything can be seriously not great the next. Sometimes, on waking in the morning, I get a very crisp sense of having just got back from some escapade. I open my eyes with a ‘bang’ and think ‘phew … just made it’ but I attribute this to a trick of my senses. But maybe I do go somewhere in the night … maybe I spend my nights sabotaging relationships, whether they are friendships or otherwise, because again, there are times when I feel that my investment in a relationship has gone down one big metaphorical plughole. No – make that a sinkhole.
Again, if you have followed my blog, you will know that I have invested considerable chunks of my time to Open Mic. I rehearsed with my first accompanist for some months before we hit the Open Mic circuit (or so I thought) only for him to bail after just one night of Open Mic. I attended the next one on my own and sang a Capella, thereby gaining two alternative possible accompanists. Possible Accompanist Number 1 seemed keen and we had several interchanges via email, to discuss potential songs to perform together. To date, we have played at no Open Mics. Possible Accompanist Number 2 seemed keen also and we have rehearsed A LOT and, to be fair, played at several Open Mics, hence his elevation to just ‘Accompanist’. But we haven’t played together as often as I would have liked; it has been mostly at pubs of his choice and we have rehearsed an awful lot more than we have performed. One of my shower songs (songs good for singing in the shower, for the shower-singing virgins) is Thinking of No-one But Me from the musical ‘Me and my Girl ( https://youtu.be/pcKddtQLP5s ). It has the line: ‘a little investment and plenty of return’. Well, my experiences with Accompanist have been the polar opposite: ‘plenty of investment and a little return’. Must blow the dust off that that guitar of mine …
Lastly, I have invested most of my free time since the summer in a project that I have enjoyed immensely. I gave my time freely and it seemed appreciated. But sadly, just as the project took off like a big, shiny space shuttle into boundless success, my services no longer seemed required. I thought I was on the rocket; I don’t know how I could have got it so wrong. I guess I was Ground Control to everyone else’s Major Tom.
When one has been rejected, or, actually, to be more emotive, abandoned, one is vulnerable. It is easy to see how one’s self-esteem can be affected. Friends and family rally round and tell you how ‘you’re worth more than that’ etc and it is important to hear those words. I am very appreciative of the support I received in the early days of my (now) ex-husband leaving and I feel I’ve recovered somewhat. But sadly, there’s a whole other world out there, just heaving with people who can’t wait to polarise the view presented by one’s support network, knowingly or not. Our self-esteems are precious indeed and I have reached the conclusion that the only people in whose hands they are safe, are our own. Decisions protect our self-esteem. Many people call me scatty or ‘ditzy’, but one friend recently challenged this and called me a romantic. Who knows, but I can see his point. I think it takes me a long time to learn from my mistakes, a bit like Ed Sheeran and Michael Buble (if their songs are to be believed) which gives rise to the scattiness/’ditziness’ tag but essentially, without wishing to boast, I think I am an optimist. Up until recently, I have found it easy to move on and start afresh with renewed hope, which gives rise to the ‘romantic’ tag, but I fear that some of that optimism has become tarnished with a smattering of cynicism. Actually, it is more serious than that. I was holding onto that optimism so tightly that I crushed it.
It isn’t really a decision to stop investing. I don’t think I have anything left to invest.