My family are all teachers. Mam, Dad, Brother, Sister-in-law, cousins, aunties, my two best friends. Having been surrounded by them all my life, I probably took them for granted. I saw how hard they worked , sure, but you know, no biggie, great holidays and all that. I was a bit of a teacher’s pet at School, eager to please, hardworking, clever. Whilst I had excellent teachers who I remember still, I don’t think I was ever a massive challenge to them, nor really pushed them to their full capabilities.
After this last year, though, I’ve realised the importance of good teacher. Maybe it’s the case that the bright kids don’t really need to be ‘taught’ so much as guided. But for kids like my son, a good teacher, a great teacher, can be the difference between falling behind and achieving your full potential.
Last September , my son began his second year in School. For context, he was 4 and a half when he started School the year before; the School has a cut off of March birthdays and he is 4th March, so he is the youngest in his class. There are 19 boys in his class and 10 girls.
In his first year, I had been called in a couple of times by the teacher, a few playground incidents, the usual scuffles. Nothing of major concern.
I think it was the second or third day back at school in September when I received a call from his new teacher, expressing concerns about his behaviour and describing him as ‘violent.’ I was shocked and upset by this, but mainly put it down to settling back in after the long break.
The phone calls continued. Every week, two or three times a week. Negative reports on how he had behaved at playtime, during PE, during Art. I began to get frustrated. Why was she calling me with every misdemeanour? How could I do anything about it after the fact? It’s her job to discipline him at School; I was finding it difficult enough to manage his behaviour at home, without having to cope with an overspill from School as well.
I’m not really sure what the turning point was. When she turned from being his greatest critic to his greatest ally. Perhaps it was when, during the course of one of our many meetings, I began to tell her how much we struggled at home with his behaviour, and how I had approached my GP with my concerns. She then began to tell me of issues she had noticed, not just with his behaviour, but with his ability to focus , or complete a task. She also thought he had low self esteem, and was perhaps not bonding with his peers as he should. She had been watching him closely. She had not dismissed him as ‘the naughty boy’. She saw he was struggling and wanted to know why.
As we continued to meet during the year, she told me about things she noticed about my son, and things she did to help him in class. ‘Body breaks’ where he does a quick burst of a few push ups to bring his energy back up; heavy lifting to release some energy and enable him to then focus on his next task more clearly; giving him a fidget to play with in his pocket; sitting on a special cushion, a little like a bean bag, so there is still movement under him , rather than sitting on a hard chair. She began to tell me not of his wrong doings, but of his strengths. How he was always approaching her to tell her about his weekend, or his sister, or showing her his shark project. She spoke of him with genuine affection, and tears sprang to my eyes. Here is someone who has his back, someone who likes him. It got to the point where I felt she understood him better than I did.
It was with her encouragement and support that I went back to my GP and asked for a referral to the Lucena Clinic, which is the local Childhood and Adolescent Mental Health service. At the end of this academic year, my son was diagnosed with ASD and ADHD. (I wrote about the process here)
And so yesterday we came to the end of this year (yes, 8 weeks of summer holiday here in Ireland, let joy be unconfined) and a new teacher in September. I don’t know who his teacher will be. For some reason the School carries a policy of springing it on you in September. Apparently this is to avoid lobbying by the parents, but for kids like my son it would really help with the transition to know in advance. Transitions are hard for him – and it turns out for me too. I had to stop myself from blubbing when I was thanking his teacher yesterday, as I collected him on his last day. I am apprehensive about him going into a new class, with a new teacher. Someone who will have to get to know him from scratch, and learn about his behaviours and how best to manage them. But at least now we have the diagnosis which acts as a starting point for understanding him.
I’m so grateful to his teacher for paying attention, for caring, for not dismissing him. For making it her business to help and support him through the school year. I’m not sure we would be where we are now if he had been assigned a different teacher last September. So here’s to great teachers – and their great holidays, the bastards!