Monday 9 November 2020

What I've learned from working in schools

Did you get any of those 'how to be a parent' books before you had kids or when you were pregnant? I didn't.

I did the standard antenatal classes and was probably more into maternity rights / pay etc than actually how to take care of baby or then children.  It's just there's a lot to take in.    In addition to all the 'regular' requirements, such as keeping the kids fed, clothed... alive effectively, there's been all the extra things.  

The many medical appointments and the all the chasing of paperwork and everything else around their education mounts up.  Two out of three of our kids have additional needs and learning about this and trying to get them the right education has felt like a steep learning curve. 

Prior to school is was all NAS Early Bird courses to learn about autism and meeting other parents and organisations to help with the minefield of what then was 'A Statement of Special Educational Needs' and is now a 'Education, Health and Care Plan'.  Then online research to find out about ADHD and the rest.

I started teaching in Further and Higher Education when our first son was about a year old.  I taught marketing and then also business which made sense as my career prior to the kids was in marketing.  And I loved it.  And as the kids grew and their needs changed, my skills grew too and I thought I could put them to use.  

Teaching in Further Education means I have taught students who have paid to be educated, who have qualified for the course I'm teaching and who apart from support are largely independent.   It's not the same in schools.  I'm not a teacher in a school, I haven't completed a PGCE or high school teaching degree.  So along with working in FE I've also worked in schools.  Here is a few ways it's opened my eyes. 

The days are different

Every single day in the school is different.  Even though we have many routines to help kids adapt, the routine is constantly changing and broken up with school trips, activities, celebrations, sports days, and sometimes something unexpected. 

This means the staff and pupils are having to adapt to change all the times on top of all the normal transitions that happen throughout the day.  So I've recognised how difficult this must be for kids like mine with ASD or ADHD. 

Kids often have a fresh outlook

There aren’t many places where you are able to rely on the people surrounding you to be enthusiastic, energetic, and speak their mind. Some people might think sitting and stacking blocks and finger paint activities with 4-year-olds is dull but children often have a level of imagination and creativity that hasn't been restricted by their experiences yet. 

Some of the most interesting ideas I've heard on literature has come from kids and I did English Literature at A Level. 

Staff work hard

The idea of the days stopping at 3.30 or having long holidays doesn't seem to reflect my experience in schools at all. There is a lot involved in educating so many young people and trying to teach them so much. I knew that preparing lessons for college took time as I'd been doing it for years.  

But with many of my college students the differentiation required is very little.  The ability to teach so many children operating as such vastly different levels requires a lot of planning and tracking along with it's actual delivery. 

Every child is different

And it's these different levels that really took me by surprise.  I knew all kids were different - I have some that are very different - but I never knew how much.  A child that doesn't need an Education Health and Care Plan but could still be receiving some extra support can be operating at an ability level that is so far from a child that is performing well in the same subject.  I suddenly understood why there were sets in my secondary school.  

And I've seen some children with true talents for subjects such as science or art that look like FE work not that from school aged kids.  It highlighted to me that yes, my kids with additional needs are different, but they all are way more different than I thought.  

It's not just about Maths and English

Kids learn so much more at school than the lessons and the academic subjects they are taught directly by their teacher. they learn about how to cope with change, with their feelings, with each other, with themselves. They learn to bargain, predict and negotiate. They learn life skills that are so essential we take them for granted... unless it's something we've not learned ourselves.

When I started working in schools I thought I'd learn about supportive strategies for my kids and be able to use the ones I knew to help others.  It's true I've done this but I've also gained an appreciation, not just for the staff that work in schools but for all the individuals I've met there, each one special and unique in their own way.   Just like my own kids.  

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