Out of time and one step behind: Misspraxic misses Awareness Week

Storms of coping

I had planned a series of daily posts for Dyspraxia Awareness Week 2020, including sharing my own poems and illustrations to raise awareness of dyspraxia in these challenging times. However, I missed that boat, which sailed away three weeks ago in the storm that is coping as a new teacher in a pandemic – my endless to-do lists scrawled onto post-it notes lay strewn across my floor, alongside literally hundreds of dog-eared worksheets destined only for the recycling bin… To make up for missing Awareness Week, here is a timely(!) post about the challenges of managing your time as a dyspraxic adult, along with some worked strategies that can help.

Time seems to be in short supply as a dyspraxic teacher, yet time feels like the secret ingredient to survival. There needs to be sufficient time and mental space away to reflect on the “bad” lessons, to properly process the criticism from observations, and to feel satisfied enough with the “better” lessons. According to the Dyspraxia Foundation, time-management, planning and organisation are issues that present in most dyspraxics to some degree, and affect their experiences in both education and work. A quick search shows that time management tends to be a challenge specifically for dyspraxic teachers too. Timing and pace come under the Teacher Standards, yet a greater understanding of how dyspraxia affects timing and pace is important in discussions of teaching and learning. 

Teaching is a great performance, but I don’t pretend to be a perfect performer: I tend to be one step behind my beady-eyed students at least half of the time, and I know they know this too! The sound of “Miss, the date is wrong”, “Miss, we don’t have that on our sheet”, and “Miss, the board is frozen” are only too common occurrences in my classroom, which leave me wishing the remote-control could freeze the whole lesson at times, Hogwarts-style. Or even better, a rewind button to back-track on my dodgy explanations. This week, when I was in full flow with my noisy Year 8 class, I could have sworn I had ten more minutes left. I was determined to get my silence, insisting on “five minutes silent working” – I even dared to put a timer up on the board. But to what end? In less than a minute, the brief tranquility was shattered – most of the class was shouting out over my gentle voice: “Miss, the lesson is OVER. We’re going to be LATE. We need to GO”. I felt a deep sense of self-frustration with my mess-up of timings, yet again, despite thorough planning and best intentions to get this right.

To top things off, last week I lost track of the time and nearly paid for the consequences. I was multitasking again, trying to achieve five different tasks with ten different tabs open, flitting between them all and in reality achieving nothing. It was half past three and my teaching was finished for the day and I had the innocent aim of taking less work home with me – I was catching up on some lesson-planning, logging reports, tracking student data, marking tests, and then thought why not stick around to make some phone calls home. I was utterly caught up in an all-consuming bubble: somehow, it was now half past five. My line manager had made it clear to me at the start of the term: you must leave before 6pm, or the doors will lock. But this wasn’t clear enough for me. I seem to have to learn from experience…

Lockdown 2.0: Misspraxic is locked in school.

Armed with two Tesco bags full of exercise books to mark, I wobbled along to the School Reception at 17.50. I was in a state of panic when my keycard refused to open the doors. I took a deep breath, consoling myself, this can’t be possible, and I tried the outside doors. They were padlocked too – no luck there. I was reminded of that time in Paris, when I set off the emergency security alarm by pressing the big red button. Only this was worse, because there wasn’t anyone at the end of the intercom to hear me. Trapped. Just as I was starting to despair and give up on my hope of leaving the school for the evening, envisioning the worst from horror films, I was very grateful to see a member of the site team emerge. She wasn’t best amused, but did let me escape. It is in these moments that you either laugh or cry. Choosing to laugh comes from a place of strength and resilience, knowing that it could always be worse – after all, I know that I won’t have been the first OR last person to have got locked in the school. Hopefully – can anyone back me up?! 

Dodgy organisation anecdotes aside, here are some time-management strategies that really do work well for me: 

  • Break down to-do lists and use separate post-it notes for different classes – ideally different colours, to keep my thinking separate between the different groups. I recommend the strategies on Twinkl, to compartmentalise your to-do lists and prioritise. So as not to feel overwhelmed, limiting the list to 3-5 key actions can help. Organising the tasks in terms of priority (from non-negotiable to thing that can wait) helps me to feel less overwhelmed too. I have to physically tick off each task once I have completed it.
  • Stick to “cut-off times” – each evening, I aim to not to work beyond a certain time. Accepting that at some point you have done all that you can and sleep is more important. 
  • Prepare 1) lunch, 2) clothes and 3) bag the night before school – again, as a list of three actions to do before I can sleep, this makes it easier to remember.
  • Create mini-rewards for ticking off tasks on to-do lists – this helps me resist the urge to procrastinate. Easier said than done to complete one task properly rather than flitting between five different ones and not finishing any of them, but I try to complete tasks as they arise.
  • Similarly, plan the next lesson as soon as possible after the previous one – this logic also works for things like essay-planning and preparing presentations. When information is fresher in mind, you can make your future self grateful by at least setting up the steps for you to come back to later. In this way, I make use of ready-made templates for emailing, which might help you if you are a slow emailer like me!

My dyspraxic students struggle with timing and pace too – in their daily routines, this often presents itself in them arriving late to my lessons, mixing up which lesson they are in, having the right equipment or books but for the wrong day, and seeming like they are “in the clouds”. A large part of me being a teacher, of course, is needing to be the teacher I didn’t have myself – a teacher who noticed what made me different, for the right reasons. I find myself in the unique position of identifying with the student who can’t remember where he sits in my class, and take it seriously when the other students snigger at him. I feel for the student who bursts into tears about the low grade she got in the test, because I can see that she defines herself by it. I have admiration for the student who comes to my classroom to show me her purple Irlen lenses with pride: “Miss, look what’s finally arrived!” She puts them on for me and grins. I feel a surge of purpose and my why re-surfaces once more, after being knocked to the floor minutes earlier by my relentless year 9s. I think to myself, if only there could have been a teacher who encouraged me to use my coloured overlays and wear my coloured lenses, a teacher who could see beyond my quirks.

I’ll blog next with some thoughts on maintaining a sustainable well-being in the face of anxiety in education settings during this second lockdown. Take care everyone, and do reach out to me via the website if you have a comment or question.

– Misspraxic

Further links and research on time-management and dyspraxia:

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