Tag Archives: teacher

All Different, All Equal

This week is Anti-bullying week and this year the campaign has adopted the tagline “All different, All equal” to promote difference and equality in schools. As the Anti-bullying Alliance’s website states, the idea behind this is to “…help children and young people celebrate what makes them, and others, unique and help them understand why it’s important that every child feels included in school able to be themselves without fear of bullying...” This has struck a particularly resonant chord with me as feeling different to classmates is something that not only do I recall from my own school days, but something I am aware both G and M have felt over the years.

For me, and let me be brutally honest right now, I hated every moment of living with T1D as a teen. Not only was I having to deal with the challenges of impending adulthood and puberty like all of my peers, but my T1D added another layer to the emotional mix that I really didn’t want to have to face. At school I felt like the odd man out. I didn’t really know anyone else my age with T1D and I was the first diabetic in my school. I suffered extreme teenage angst about not being able to buy sweets and chocolate from the break-time tuck shop and that seemingly small thing became a massive problem that I struggled to overcome. My friends accepted my differences far more readily than I did and yet I felt alienated from them. My own anxieties and poor self-image became mountains I just couldn’t scale, particularly when some of the other girls in my school year began to exclude me from friendships that had been there since I was little and threw cruel words in my direction which hit incredibly deep.  Whether they had truly identified my lack of self-esteem as an easy target for their unkind comments and actions or not, I can still recall just how devastating that time in my life was for me. I’m sure that I was not on my own with those feelings, but I felt isolated in a world that seemed to be quite happy without me.

Sadly, G struggled similarly during her Infant school years when so-called friends who had helped ease her move to a new school, discovered that her health issues could be used as a taunt against her and caused her unbelievable emotional pain. Thanks to a fantastic and supportive Year 2 teacher, G was encouraged to tackle the bullies and their behaviour head-on and she learned to stand up for herself, something I didn’t learn until I was much, much older. I know that her gluten- and dairy-free diet still makes her feel too different to the rest of her tutor group for comfort and she has struggled with sticking to the restrictions, especially when her friends are enjoying treats that she would love to be able to eat. We’ve worked to fill her lunchbox with foods and snacks that make her feel a little more “normal” and a part of the crowd, and I will continue to hope that this doesn’t become a cause for bullying as she moves her way through secondary school.

Likewise, M’s complex medical needs have left him being subjected to cruel words and unkind actions in the past, something that is not unusual in the world of chronic illness. Whether it is an obvious physical difference, or something more hidden like T1D or allergies, the sad truth is that children can, and will, be cruel. All children are fighting to find their place in the world and will look to find their footing without regard for those surrounding them and especially not for their feelings. As parents we need to teach our children about the beauty in diversity and encourage them to be kind in their thoughts and deeds. My children are wonderfully unique as are their friends and that is something to embrace wholeheartedly and without reservation. This year I will be making sure that they understand the truth in these words: All different, all equal.

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UnSATisfactory Pressure

Since the introduction of the National Curriculum to UK education in 1989 and the creation of the Standard Attainment Tests (SATs) in 1991, everybody has had an opinion about them and few are afraid to make that opinion known. For 25 years, controversy has raged about the value of these tests and who, in fact, the tests are really testing – is it the children or the schools? The one thing that is not in any doubt is that these tests put our children under a huge amount of pressure to perform well, even when their skills perhaps lie in a different direction and little allowance is made for those who find formal testing an unbearable strain.

Even though it’s been 2 years since G was in Year 6, I can well remember the stresses and strains that the prospect of the year-end SATs put on her. Small, but telling signs of the pressure she felt were revealed through changes in her behaviour at home and her already shaky confidence in her literacy ability took a further battering as she struggled to understand what the tests were demanding of her. Her homework steadily increased to ensure that all maths and literacy elements were taught, revised and well-established by the time the tests themselves actually happened and she spent Saturday mornings working with my 29Mum, a retired Year 6 teacher, to fine-tune those skills that were proving a little elusive to my school-loving child. Her hard work and focus throughout the year stood her in good stead and we were all proud of her year-end results, most of all because they rebuilt her belief in herself. Despite that previous experience, I knew that M’s start in Year 6 would herald a very different set of experiences and that’s absolutely proved to be the case.

M has been expressing his worries about the SATs since well before he even reached Year 6. He loves reading and his imagination and vocabulary are impressive, but the ongoing struggles with his handwriting and spelling due to his dyspraxia and dyslexia have really knocked his confidence when it comes to his literacy skills. This September saw the very real manifestation of the stress and pressure he’s put himself under and pieces of homework and classwork alike have left him in tears. I realised just how bad things had got when I received an email from his class teacher expressing her concern about his wobbles in the classroom. She knows him well, having been the school SENCo since he started at this school in Year 3 and also his Year 4 teacher when he had his NG-tube, so she’s fully aware of his additional educational needs and personality quirks and felt that his response was completely unlike him.

We have been working hard with M to develop the basic knowledge that is missing due to the delay in getting a diagnosis for his learning needs and are seeing a slow, but steady improvement. He attends weekly lessons at our local Dyslexia centre and his teacher there is working on his phonic and spelling knowledge in particular. We have agreed with school that he will only learn the spellings set by the Dyslexia centre as there is a greater need to ensure he has a good base on which to build his literacy skills, than worrying about the finer nuances of prefixes and suffixes for the time being. M uses the Nessy computer program, which was developed to teach reading, writing and spelling skills through a series of fun store_icon_nessyreading-01and interactive games and challenges. He has access to this both at home and at the Dyslexia centre and will soon be able to use it during some of his intervention group sessions at school. I have also just invested in the Nessy Fingers course, which will teach him to touch-type, a skill we are all agreed will be of huge benefit to him, especially when he moves on to secondary school next September. The ability to make notes on a laptop or tablet will ease some of the angst he already feels about the workload he will face in Year 7 and we are hoping to investigate some dictation programs that will also make his life just that little bit easier.

During Year 4, M’s occupational therapist came into school and taught a series of lessons focused on improving his handwriting and teaching him how to form his letters correctly. He now has the most beautiful joined up handwriting and, whilst it may take a lot of time and effort to do, he shows great determination to produce a well-written, well-structured and well-spelled piece of work. Even better, M recently received a certificate at school recognising his hard work with the diary entries he had been asked to write and congratulating him on some great ideas and marvellous handwriting. He was so incredibly proud of being awarded that certificate and his confidence and self-belief soared as a result. All too often over the last few years, M has been praised for his courage in dealing with his EGID diagnosis, NG-tube and food allergies, so it was great to see him receive recognition for the hard work he’s been putting in to improving his handwriting over the last 12 months.

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Truth be told, at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter what M’s SATs results are. They will not be a reflection of the bright, brave, cheerful boy that he is or of the huge strides he’s already made from an educational standpoint. They won’t show his breadth of knowledge on random topics such as the Illuminati, or expound his theories on anything Star Wars or his opinions about Brexit and the American Presidential race. They will never reveal the medical and health hurdles he’s overcome since the day he was born. Rather they will be a single snapshot of the ability of my 11 year-old to perform under certain pressures on a given day in May and will have no bearing on the journey he will eventually embark on for the rest of his life. They really are an unnecessary and unsatisfactory pressure that M and his friends could do without.

When September arrives

img_11331September can really only mean one thing: the start of the new school year and all that that entails. This year it has been just that little bit more hectic than usual as some things have changed significantly, whilst others have remained strangely static. G has moved up into Year 8 and is already embracing the addition of 3 new subjects to her timetable,very much enjoying the extra lessons of French, Dance and Drama as well as the move from Food and Textiles to Product Design. With the new school year, so there is also a new school uniform and whilst G is still a little sceptical about its appeal, I am delighted with how smart she looks, though only time will tell if that will last for the full year or not. M is at the start of the final year of his Junior school career and I still can’t quite believe that my baby is  now one of the oldest in the school. We know that this year will be full of challenges from an educational point of view, but with the continued support of his teachers at school and a full year of specialist lessons at our local Dyslexia centre, we are confident that he will be able to achieve his very best.

This September has also signified some major decisions about my own career after I was made redundant out of the blue at the end of the last school year. I am incredibly fortunate that my accountancy training meant that I was offered a new job within a remarkably short time-frame and I started that position the week before the children headed back to school. I felt encouraged by my new role and yet the last 2 weeks IMG_0743[1]have been filled with unexpected angst as one of the other positions I had applied for requested an interview and then offered me the job. After hours of deliberation and discussion and numerous sleepless nights, I have decided to accept this second role as it is an incredibly exciting and challenging position that I believe I would regret turning down. I am really looking forward to starting this new job at the beginning of October, which will bring some significant changes to our household as I will be back to working full-time hours for the first time since G was born, although I am lucky that they are happy to give me flexible hours and everything I need to sometimes work at home.

img_11381September has also been the month where we enjoyed a flying visit from Grandma and Grandpa, Mike’s parents, from Canada. G and M were so excited to see their grandparents for the first time in 4 years that they created a banner to welcome them when we went to collect them from our local airport. img_11431Mike finally finished the renovation job on our 4th bedroom, a task that had been started back in April,
but was interrupted first by the whole saga of M’s broken leg and then the demands of work and our summer holiday in Portugal. The room looks great, but his parents never got to sleep there as Mike had a last-minute panic that the futon bed might be too low for them and instead they slept in G’s room, whilst our gorgeous girlie moved to the freshly painted spare room for a few days. G, M and I all had to be at school and work as normal, but Mike spent some precious time with his parents before they returned home. It was a busy few days for us all, but we managed to squeeze in some family meals and board games where we could.

In the midst of all that busyness, there is one thing that has remained relatively static and that is the current position with M’s health, a real mixed blessing. The last year has been filled with numerous food trials, including during our disastrous admission at GOSH last December, but M is still stuck at just 5 safe foods and despite our hopes to start challenging him again soon, he is not even close to being symptom-free, something we’ve been striving for since his leg came out of plaster at the start of the summer. We are surviving in limbo with minimal medical input as the plan to start some shared gastro care with our local hospital has not yet materialised and we are not due back to GOSH for another couple of months. It is very difficult to see where the next few months will take us, particularly when you add in the added stresses of his Year 6 SATs, and so Mike and I are hoping for the best, but preparing for a bumpy ride.

When home life met the school science class

It does sometimes take a while for me to catch up on my blog with what’s been happening in real life, but a near 4-month gap to report much be something of a record, even for me. I’m not entirely certain why it has taken me so long to share this story, but I can only imagine that the constant stream of events since the start of February pushed it out of my mind and it was only thanks to a search through some old photos last night whilst I was looking for something else, that my memory was jogged and the subject for today’s post settled. What now feels like many moons ago, G was set a creative homework, something that she was excited to do, but a little stumped as to the direction she wanted to go. The task was to make a model of a cell for science and the options available were seemingly endless. checkThere were no strict guidelines as to the type of cell to be created and she had free reign as to the medium of her model, with even cake being a possibility if she so wanted. As is often the case when tackling the more challenging pieces of homework set, G and I spent some time discussing at length what she could do before reaching a decision.

She had made a few uninspired suggestions, but I could tell her heart wasn’t really in them and her enthusiasm waning. G loves being creative, art being one of her favourite lessons at school and I knew that if we could only settle on the right cell, she would soon warm to the subject and give her all to making the best model she could. So often I’m reluctant to drag EGID into G’s world any more than is necessary, but this time I wondered if researching and then making a model eosinophil would be the answer to her dilemma. 10562609_10153256228956123_3212893174847273723_oTo my relief, as my fount of inspiration was certainly beginning to run dry, she loved the idea and instantly sat down to research as much as she could as, whilst we know all about what eosinophils do in the body, we didn’t know what an individual cell looked like.

Having found some good images on the internet, G then addressed the matter of her model-making. Despite an initial yearning for cake-baking and decorating that appealed to her 12 year-old senses, although a lot less to me, we instead headed off for a trip around our local craft shop and pinpointed the few essential items that would effectively illustrate the structure of an eosinophil without requiring too much parental input and inspiration. A quick tutorial once we were back at home on how to best construct her cell gave her all she needed and I left her to it at the kitchen table, whilst I busied myself in the same room, preparing packed lunches and dinner. Her finished model was fantastic and the diligent labels indicating the different part of the cell were the result of her focused efforts and careful work. What’s more, her model eosinophil proved to be the catalyst for other work that she chose to similarly link to her experiences of EGID and which ended up with her showing last year’s NEAW video to her science class to teach them more about the condition. G has been rewarded for her hard work by her science teacher with some much coveted house points and we’re so proud that she felt confident enough to share an aspect of her home life with her school science class.

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NEAW 2016 – Teaching the world

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It’s what this week has been all about. A daunting brief when you think about it, something you never expect to have to do, but sometimes life has a funny way of turning all your plans and perceptions and pre-conceived ideas on their head and sending you off in a completely direction to the one you expected to take.

Without a doubt, every new parent looks forward to the journey they’re about to embark on, albeit often with more than a little trepidation about how they will cope and they start with ideas about how they will deal with feeding and sleeping and routines. They might plan to follow in the footsteps of parenting gurus like Dr Spock, or Gina Ford or Jo Frost, after all they’ve read the books and seen the TV shows; or perhaps they think they will take a more relaxed approach, where routine is dictated by the child and everything becomes an opportunity to learn. Of course, you quickly realise that however much you’ve studied the subject beforehand, your baby hasn’t read the same manual and your best-laid plans go out of the proverbial window. No matter the milestone reached – that heart-melting first smile, the scent of your newborn as she snuggles into your arms, the infectious sound of his giggle, 858052_10151297690626123_2130461112_othat quizzical first taste of food or teetering first step – as Mum or Dad you’re there to love and encourage and cheer them on.

When we started our family, Mike and I prepared ourselves to answer their every question as best we could. We anticipated having to deal with the never-ending whys and knew we would need to find truthful words to reply to the most personal questions with simple honesty. We understood our role was to teach them about the world surrounding them, even the unpleasant bits, and equip them with knowledge and understanding and the skills to withstand the buffeting winds that life would inevitably send in their direction. We couldn’t know what storms we would need to weather together

There’s no question that having the responsibility of educating our community about the most precious of subjects is often scary, but it’s one I embrace wholeheartedly and honestly feel that it’s a privilege to have found ourselves in this role. It’s about so much more than being M’s advocate or defending G’s corner, although those form the greatest part of my job. It’s about sharing the lessons I’ve learned and, with that, it has become about explaining to others the nature of M’s chronic illness and the impact it has on our lives. This morning we spent a few hours at our community market, our information boards proudly on display, leaflets ready to hand out, a few bits and pieces placed to try to raise even the odd penny more for Over The Wall and most importantly, a smile on our faces that meant we were willing to answer questions, to explain, to share even the tiniest bit about EGID.

By the time we finally gave in to the cold and the rain, packed up and left, I had spoken to over a dozen people, who wanted to learn a little more and were genuinely interested in what we had to say. Not only had we had opportunity to teach our community, but I found that in response, people had felt able to share their stories and really talk about things that were close to their hearts. A lady whose daughter had been oxygen-starved a birth over 30 years ago and who had sadly lost her last year was able to empathise with the challenges of juggling family life and meeting G’s needs as much as we do those of M. Another woman, who had been diagnosed with Coeliac disease a few years previously, shared her disappointment that those around her still struggled to offer gluten-free options, d5de7-screenshot2014-05-14at20-22-03instead simply opting for something “safe”, but infinitely less satisfying such as fruit or yoghurt to replace the cakes and biscuits they were enjoying. And a family, who had seen our story in the paper and were longing to talk to us about their daughter, who had been struggling with gastro issues, eating disorders, anxieties and food intolerances since she was 11 and even now, at 37, found the medics lacking insight and understanding and unable to help. I don’t know that really I could give more than a sympathetic ear and insights from our own experiences with M, but I also know just how valuable those small things can be.

Have we achieved what we were hoping from this week? I think so. I’m proud that we’ve worked hard as a family to raise awareness of EGID and hope, that in some small way, we have taught our world a little more about it.

It takes a village

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Do you know that quote?  There’s a chance you might associate it with American presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton and her 1996 book of the same title, but in fact it comes from an Igbo and Yoruba (Nigeria) proverb and has a sentiment that is echoed by numerous other African sayings.  It recognises the great value of having community involvement in a child’s upbringing, not just for the child and immediate family, but for the extended family and local community too.  As I have mentioned so many times before, we are incredibly fortunate to have an amazing community surrounding us, who are unbelievably supportive, and none more so than our fantastic village school.

Since day one, when G first headed in through their gates, we knew that this was a place that would offer our children not just a great education, but also a safe and secure place to grow and develop, all within walking distance of our home.  The children have had the opportunity to build strong friendships with others living nearby that will hopefully continue into their teenage years and beyond.  In the 2 years that M has been there, we’ve seen time and time again just how invaluable the school community is, not just to M, but to G and to Mike and me too. The impact of M’s ever-changing health has been particularly profound in the last couple of years and there is no doubt in my mind that the unfailing support of their school has been a steadying force for us all.

Without the readiness of the Head and other key members of staff to accommodate M and all his needs, we would have struggled to keep his education a priority this year and I doubt I would have been able to continue working.  Their willingness to have M in school as normal and to learn the intricacies of his NG-tube and feeding regime has allowed me to stay in my job, confident in the fact that this is a group of people dedicated to including M in every planned activity and who have taken on that intense in loco parentis responsibility without a second thought. This year in particular has tested their mettle with the demands of not just feeding tubes and complex allergy requirements, but of occupational therapy, dyspraxia and dyslexia added to the mix too.  His teacher, Mrs M, has been amazing and she approaches every new challenge with great positivity and an unparalleled sense of humour. www.amazon.comEven the minor hiccups encountered along the way – non-stop beeping, blocked tubes, leaking pumps and soaking wet clothes to name but a few – haven’t derailed her and that attitude has helped M cope remarkably well with all the changes this year has thrown at him.  I cannot thank her enough for being the rock that M has needed during school hours.

Equally, Miss K, G’s lovely Year 6 teacher has been a real blessing to us as a family and to G in particular.  She has encouraged G every step of the way and helped build her confidence throughout the year.  M’s hospital stay in December was difficult for G as he and I disappeared off to London for 2 weeks and couldn’t be around to help celebrate her 11th birthday or enjoy the end of term build-up to Christmas.  What made a big difference was Miss K, who was fully aware of all that was going on, made herself available to G whenever necessary, understood that emotions were high and made allowances when needed, and stayed in regular e-mail contact with me during our stay and also during the Christmas holidays, so she was as prepared for where things stood with M as the rest of us.  She is moving on from the school at the end of this term and I, for one, will miss her, especially as I was hoping she would be M’s teacher for his Year 6 year.

It’s not just the teaching staff who have done their utmost to give us the support we depend on, but the parents and children too and this past week I was left speechless by the thoughtfulness and compassion of M’s class.  Following his presentation during EGID awareness week, this group of enthusiastic 9 year-olds discussed different ways they could support him and focused their attention on the fact that he has to wear a backpack all morning, which contains his pump and his “food”. This is what happened next:

“We decided, as a class, that we would all wear a backpack for a morning so that we are able to understand a little of what M has to go through each day. Therefore, on Friday 10th July, it would be great if all of 4M could wear their backpack to school and keep it on for the whole morning!  If you can make it weigh about 2 and a half kilograms that will be amazing as that is the weight that M carries around each day.”

20150710_111650On Friday I had the privilege of going into school to see this amazing group plus teacher and teaching assistants with their backpacks on and to express my thanks, not just to the children, but to Mrs M and the school for encouraging and allowing them to show their support in this tangible way. His classmates have adapted well to M’s tube and accept it as an essential part of him.  They’ve asked questions and been interested in the whys and wherefores about it and then just forgotten all about it and carried on with day-to-day life, which is exactly what M has needed.

There have also been shows of support from parents, including one from a Mum I’d never met before and doubt I’d recognise again.  We were travelling back home late from our last GOSH appointment after a long, hot day in London and arrived back at our local train station.  As we reached the stairs of the railway bridge, I became aware of a fellow passenger catching up with us and smiled with her as she chuckled at the inane chatterings of my night-owl.  I paused to let her go past, but she slowed her pace to match mine and started an unexpected conversation:

“I just wanted to tell you that my children are at the same school as your son and came home and told us all about his presentation. They both raved about how amazing it was and how much they had learned from watching it and asking him questions.  I just wanted to tell you how impressed they both were, especially as they now understand a little more of what he’s having to cope with and we all think he’s incredibly brave.”

The conversation carried on until we reached our cars and said a quiet good-night. This for me is the advantage of having not just a child who stands out from the crowd because of his tube,Colorful solidarity design tree but also a community who is brave enough to have the confidence to speak out words of encouragement to a near-stranger because of a shared experience and the desire to add their voice to offer support.

From helping take G to school early in the morning to having my tubie home for tea; and from working hard with M to improve his handwriting to encouraging G to reach her potential and aim for the stars, our school, its outstanding teachers and the families who go there have helped us out along the way. This academic year has been a tough one, but we’ve survived all the bumps in the road with the loving support of the truly exceptional community that we live in.