I’ve survived my first month as a teacher, and while I honestly can’t say “thrived” just yet, I wanted to update you on how it’s been.
Dyspraxia is associated with pejorative words like “impairment” and “disorder”, which bring to mind the deficit approach – a focus on what we can’t do, which can often be internalised. I certainly internalise it at times. As someone said to me last week, it can be hard to shake off the “dys”. Diss. Dissed, even by my own students, as they erupt into laughter when I collide with the desk and make the computer wobble. Another three bruises, thank you. Or when I send the board rubber flying halfway across the room (out of my red and yellow danger-taped teacher exclusion zone), or when I start trying to write on the board with the pen lid still on.
Finally, my shaky hand crafts an illegible scrawly script across the board. As soon as I’ve finished, cue the complaints and chuckles from my honest students: “Miss, we can’t read it.” Another interruption, and even worse, since it’s one I hear on average once a day: “Miss, the date is wrong again… why’s the date always wrong?” Here we go again. First impressions are everything, they say. Four weeks in and they know me now. It’ll be the same story for the rest of the term, and year. Don’t smile before Christmas? More like don’t cry before half term.
The one way system has been another adventure, with the yellow-painted arrows causing me to arrive minutes late to my own lessons in classrooms across the whole building. Lost year 7 students bombard me with questions of “where’s my Science room?” and “how do I get out of the building, Miss?” In my most convincing fake-it-till-you-make-it teacher-voice, I create the illusion of knowing exactly what I’m talking about, going on a very thorough round-trip of the whole science department with one student, before being picked up by the Head of Year. And when one nervous Year 7 had to escort me to the library, it felt like the blind leading the blind yet again.
“Consistent” is a word you hear a lot during teacher training. Teachers are meant to be scrupulously consistent. But being consistent requires a pretty good working memory too – something that not all of us are blessed to have. My mind wanders onto several questions in the same second: did I give X student a sanction or not? Was it another? Which student arrived late? Which student was talking over me? What was I going to tell them again? Despite lengthy planning, I forget which bit of the lesson I’m on and have to talk myself back through it in a cringey monologue, with everyone thinking I’ve lost the plot. Just like how I forgot to set any homework in my first two weeks. But the kids were probably grateful for that slip-up and for the free laughs I give them on a daily basis.
My Parisian traumas of disasters with the photocopying machines are fresh in my mind now too. I have had no more success with the printers at school – 10 takes to scan a document the right way up, then printing 30 double-sided A3 sheets instead of 15 single-sided A4 ones. My poor printing budget, but I’m used to this. The trimmer isn’t my friend either – I’ve cut through endless copies of sheets, splicing words in half and having to start from square one, five minutes before my lesson is timetabled to begin. Speaking of which, one teacher wasn’t well amused when I picked up his 30 test copies and mistook them as my own, leaving him without any tests in the next period. “Miss Praxic, did you happen to see a pile of test papers on the desk in our shared classroom? And did you take them?” In another one of my eventful test lessons, I had managed to leave the tests upstairs in the office. By the end of the day, the whole department had somehow heard about Miss Praxic’s latest dyspraxident.
The intense processing involved in decision-making has left me feeling drained on a daily basis, as I put all my energies into my strengths: being creative, being empathetic, being thoughtful enough. But my fragile processing system senses the strain and it lets me down. What do I say to student A with the challenging behaviour? Student B asks to go to the toilet – but is it genuine? Do I left her go? Instructions on how to record test data, or how to set work for isolating students all fades into dust collecting at the back of my mind, unless I record or write down my to-do lists.
The new routines, however, are at the forefront of my mind. Hand-sanitising seems to be an all or nothing activity – on one day last week, I didn’t only squirt it all over my worksheets, my board pens, my dress, but also all over my face mask, just for good measure. Don’t ask me how, but on the positive side, at least I was definitely 100% sanitised, unlike most of my students.
Before I left for London in August, my neighbour asked me if I had ever had a “transformative moment” – apparently, the “TM” comes when, at some point in a lesson, you suddenly realise that the class is enjoying this, and that you are too. He told me, “You always know that you have it in you to be a really good teacher, and you have an inner confidence that you can deal with anything that comes up in the classroom. The next thought, perhaps at the end of the lesson, is, ‘Oh my God, I’m actually quite good at this!'” I haven’t had such a moment yet, but I think I have been close at times.
During my teacher training, we were frequently reminded to go back to our “why” in challenging times: the reason I decided to become a teacher in a global pandemic. On some days, I have to search deep within to recall my “why” – but my “why” resurfaces in the form of emails of gratitude from my dyspraxic students’ parents, from my New to English students’ parents, and in comments from students who have decided that German is now their favourite subject. These little things make up a “why” that is just strong enough to make you keep going another day.
I’ll be back again on Monday with a short daily post to mark Dyspraxia Awareness Week – I will share a poem with you every day, to highlight different dyspraxic traits and how they can manifest in everyday situations.