A Misspraxic Christmas update

Hi everyone,

It’s been a while since my last update…! It is an understatement to tell you that this term has been a challenging one for schools, students, their parents and staff. As you will have already gathered, students and at times whole year groups have been instructed to self-isolate at home, with some students missing more months of their education and losing the structure that being in school provides. I now relate better to how it might have felt/feel for my students to be trapped within the same four walls, or to carry a confusing label with a stigma attached, or to be out of sync socially with their friends and family, especially at an important time of the year. Dyspraxia and other hidden learning differences can certainly exacerbate the anxieties associated with COVID-19, as there is a tendency to overthink situations, process them differently to others, and feel the emotions of overwhelm more intensely than neurotypicals might do.

As ever, poetry and the arts provide a helpful way for many of us dyspraxics to process this overwhelm, ground ourselves, and make sense of challenges, hopes, fears, triumphs, and our favourite word of the year, “unprecedented situations”! I know this is the case for my students, too, whose poems and courage to share them continue to energise me and strengthen my sense of purpose as a new teacher. The following poem might not be the most uplifting one I have written in 2020(!), however I am sharing it in the hope that it might be relatable for some of you, whether you are dyspraxic or not:

It is but it isn’t.
 
If it isn’t the label of disordered fine motor control,
then it’s the loss of control in a train engine
planned to stop at the station three days ago,
back before Saturn collided with Jupiter and gave me a new label.
 
If it isn’t a hot turkey dinner made for six, 
then it’s an empty plate and one absent voice
with only several paranoid ones lingering 
in the background of a laggy Zoom call.
 
If it isn’t Tiers like on last summer’s fancy wedding cake,
then it’s only a second-rate ready meal eaten alone 
and its shredded paper wrappings tossed to the bin,
right where Christmas is now, rotting away
 
in the company of crushed-up carrots that Rudolf missed, 
and chicken past its sell-by date. (Let’s not forget 
my own saliva stuck to tears that fester 
in a camouflage trap that convinces even wild animals of its safety.)
 
If it isn’t squeaky-clean laminate flooring and polished windows,
then it’s the insanity of the ones who sanitised obsessively,
who were negative about being on the positive list, 
all in a split second. 
 
You didn't break me like you broke all the others,
shattering their windows, and like you broke Christmas.
You spared me like you spared the turkey I won’t be eating,
and if it isn't Christmas, then it's a miracle that I am sparing others. 
“Next time you feel alone, remember that the season of isolation is when the caterpillar grows its wings.” – Mandy Hale

I wish you all a safe holiday period, whether you celebrate Christmas or otherwise. If you are spending the holiday alone this year, then I hope that you can find little joys and lightness among the darkness. All dyspraxics carry inner strength necessary to overcome struggle, even if it doesn’t seem like it – I hope you can recognise yours and learn something from it.

I will write again in a few days with a more detailed review of my first term as a dyspraxic teacher, including some reflections and advice for managing distance teaching and Google Classroom as a dyspraxic teacher, and managing distance learning as a dyspraxic student (along with some hopefully amusing anecdotes as always!).

Until then, do take care everybody,

– Misspraxic

Preparing for Christmas Pt 2: going home!

Hallo!

As promised, I wanted to tell you more about what I have been up to more recently. That includes a trip to München, now a couple of weekends ago, to visit a friend I met up with in Heidelberg, but had not seen since. An added bonus was being able to spend a couple of hours with my German housemate at university last year, who studies in the same city.

Visiting München in Bayern


Munich.jpgI took a direct express train from Düsseldorf to Munich, as although this was the more expensive option, it cut out some of the stress – the train was delayed by an hour, but it didn’t matter, as I had kept my meetings with my friends flexible. Delays aside, the train journey was enjoyable – after I had found a seat, at least! A good tip for the travelling dyspraxic, if not everyone, would be to always book a seat reservation for longer-distance trains… On the train, I was also able to take note of how dramatically the landscape changes from one Land to another – I enjoyed the change from densely-populated NRW into more rural Bayern.

It was so great to catch up with my friend, at the same time as seeing part of a new Bundesland (federal state), since I hadn’t been to Bayern (Bavaria) before. I was amused, though, upon arriving at the station – I couldn’t understand a word of the German I was hearing! I have grown very accustomed to the Niederrhein accent and dialect, which sounds a bit like Dutch. I even find myself sometimes accidentally slipping into dialect forms, like “wat” for what instead of “was” in Hochdeutsch (High German)!

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Time to reflect: making friends and fitting into the community with dyspraxia


Social situations can cause varying amounts of panic and stress for many people with dyspraxic traits, myself included.

I have always enjoyed meeting new and like-minded people, though I must admit I was nervous about making friends in NRW – in another language and culture. I can say that I did feel very lonely at times in September and October. I was far from the comfortable university setting in September, where it would have  been undoubtedly easier to make friends the same age.

Since I joined the Dutch class, and the German course at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, I met people of all ages who enjoy languages, like me. I got talking to a lovely lady at Dutch, and was invited to her home for dinner twice, and to a local museum with her and her husband too.

Finding the life-drawing class at the local Volkshochschule has also been very good for me. Drawing wasn’t the same by myself – I enjoyed getting to know the tutor and the others in our small group of six. Although the semester has come to an end, I will remember my seven weeks of life-drawing in Germany, and everything I learned from the experience (not least some technical art vocab in German).

Not least, joining the choir that my landlady had recommended was the best decision I made. It enabled me to feel the community spirit, and grasp how another part of society functions, as well as in a school. I especially enjoyed singing with the choir, fighting against my rough sore throat, determined to “mitmachen” at a Christmas event just down the road from where I am living. Even better was my boyfriend being there to watch. Here is the church, next to the outdoor stage where we were singing, all beautifully “beleuchtet” (lit up):

church.jpg
Not sure whose idea it was to put squish two Christmas trees onto the stage with all the singers, though… I kept knocking off the baubles as I was singing, and felt rather unstable, but luckily there were no disasters! Hopefully nobody noticed…

The school has made me feel very welcome too – a couple of teachers and pupils in particular. I was very touched to be there for Class Six’s Weihnachtsfeier (party) on Thursday, and to sing along to Christmas songs and enjoy cake with the pupils! They even gave me a gift – a sweet hanging decoration, which is now hanging on my tree.

To sum up, these are the memories that stick with me the most – the warmth I have experienced, and the friendships that have started to blossom during my time in Germany. It required some patience and searching to find groups like the above-mentioned, but I feel much happier for it. When I return in January, I want to try something new before I leave at the end of February.

Home, sweet home


I arrived safely home yesterday, and it is wonderful to be back with my family again, as well as all my favourite foods that the German supermarkets don’t stock…

I do still seem to be stuck in Deutschland Modus, though, as I accidentally took out euros to pay for my cider at the pub. “That in’t English?” said the understandably perplexed barmaid, and a man at the bar had to check, “She must a just come back from holiday”.

Ah, yes, that’s right. A holiday, I thought!

Thank you to anyone who has been following misspraxic‘s adventures abroad since July – your support means a lot. I wish you all a peaceful and relaxing Christmastime with your friends and families, and best wishes for 2017.

Love,

misspraxic

Preparing for Christmas Pt 1: Nicholaustag and the Weihnachtsmann

Hallo zusamen,

I’m still safe and well, but I’ve been slow updating my blog because of all the different things I have been doing, and like usual, I start writing but don’t get very far. I never forget, though, and I have a lot to tell you.

I know I am not alone in struggling to maintain motivation at times, with the heavy knowledge that the world is in chaos in most places you look. But, my small personal achievements this term are keeping me going to the Christmas holiday, which is now in sight.

 

Festive preparations at school


nicholaus

In the past two weeks, my school has been getting into the festive spirit. December 6th was Nicholaustag, and the Weihnachtsmann made an appearance. I felt priviledged to creep into one Year Five class (the youngest children) to watch him read out a special letter. Each teacher prepared a thoughtful letter evaluating how well the children had settled into school, and some goals to improve upon as a class for next term.

The Weihnachtsmann’s sack contained a chocolate Santa for each child – the excitable, surprised looks on the children’s faces took me back in time to the Christmas excitement I felt as a child.

It was also very kind of the Schuleitung to place a “Weckmann” (see above) on every Lehrerzimmer table, also to mark Nicholaustag.

 

Christmas party (Weihnachtsfeier) with the choir


In the advent period, and in the lead up to Christmas, I have enjoyed learning lots of German Christmas songs with the choir. I was even invited to their Christmas “Weichnachtsfeier” – surprise Christmas party! We were all given a vague address of the meeting-point for the evening, which was where two roads met. As always, I left more time than I needed to arrive at the mysterious festive gathering, and my friend Google Maps was there to help, but I couldn’t see anyone else I knew.

I waited and waited, feeling anxious by this point, thinking I’d made a Dyspraxic Mistake and misunderstood something. But before long familiar faces appeared. A table was brought out onto the pavement, and a dancing, singing Father Christmas placed there too. Someone poured out the Glühwein, and we began to sing Christmas songs together as we were waiting for everyone else to arrive.

They led us into a mysterious place… through a garage (lots of beautiful old cars, mind), converted into a vintage, American-themed diner. I was mesmerised by where they had brought us. Look:

 

I think everyone enjoyed the evening – great music and company. Towards the end of the night, the Weihnachtsmann said a few closing words. What I was least expecting, though, was that he would ask “and who is new in the choir this year…?” and for everyone to point at me! I had to go up to the front, and was hugged by Father Christmas. I was both touched and in shock, to the extent that I couldn’t find the words to answer his so-called easy question “tell us a random fact about you?”

Taking a trip over the border, en nederlands spreken!


maastricht-map

The day after the choir party was yet more eventful. I had spontaneously arranged to meet an old friend in Venlo, the city just over the German-Netherlands border, but was not expecting to be travelling much further. I was wrong! My friend was much more familiar with the perplexing train and ticketing system (thank goodness – the “Inchecken” and “Uitchecken” rules were complicated). My heart was racing when my friend suggested we catch a train to Roermond, and then on to Maastricht. I was amazed by how much we managed to fit into just a few hours – I usually give myself the whole day to explore one town or city. I also only resorted to English when we got to the art museum. My two months of learning Dutch was enough to make my understood in shops, cafés, and asking directions in the street. So that’s proof it is possible to learn a foreign language in a foreign language! That said, now that the Dutch semester has come to an end at the Volkshochschule, I have decided not to re-register, as I would rather learn Dutch in English, and start a course in England.

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Time to reflect: progress getting from A to B with dyspraxia


My confidence navigating and using public transport has improved since August (albeit with an arguably unhealthy reliance on my friend Google). You can probably tell that from just reading my first blog post in Heidelberg. I also managed to get to Munich and back just over a week ago without a problem – I want to say more about that in my next post.

When I remember that I struggled to cross roads just a few years ago, I feel like I have made progress in this area, and want to share it with you. I don’t want to speak too soon, as I know travelling will never be completely stress-free for me, but this term particularly I have successfully planned trips to visit friends in different cities. That’s involved processing often confusing bus/train timetables in German, getting used to new U/S-Bahn and ticketing systems, often changing between platforms rather than direct journeys, and most importantly keeping calm when things don’t go completely as I plan.

I have tried to make an extra big effort with my time-organisation to keep in with the important Punktlichkeit culture (though not always taken so seriously at my school, so maybe I can relax a little!) As someone who was constantly rushing around like a headless chicken to get onto the school bus in the mornings, it baffles me that I have rarely been late (for anything important at least!) in Germany. My coping strategy is setting multiple alarms, and I have also got used to planning in “late time” of about half an hour, so I always arrive early in the event of a train delay or something.

The next part of this blog (detailing what I got up to in Munich, as well as the last days of school before Christmas) will be coming up really soon, so keep following.

Bis gleich,

misspraxic

Adventzeit and Weihnachtsmärkte

Guten Abend zusammen,

What a week and a half it has been!

candles
Advent Kerze (candles) ready in my village

As expected for late November weather, Germany is now sehr kalt. Maybe even kälter than England. For this reason, it was distressing to have “lost” my favourite hat, crocheted for me by my grandma. I decided to buy a new warm German Mütze at a Weihnachtsmarkt to make up for it. Typically, though, Grandma’s hat was only mislaid, and showed up the next day in the messy corner of my apartment!

Advent in Germany began this weekend, and I am surrounded by Christmassy vibes – whether in my village, at school, or at Weihnachtsmärkte. I think the children are already getting excited for Christmas (Weihnachten in German), and so am I! I was surprised to find that each classroom has a lit advent candle in a wreath (to mark the first weekend of advent). In England, surely this would be considered a breach of health and safety regulations. At least I wasn’t trusted to light the candle. Then perhaps it would have been.

Studienkompaktkurse


I spent last Monday-Wednesday in Duesseldorf with the other assistants, for a training course. I was worrying a bit about how I would manage this training course, as three days away from the routine I had grown accustomed to seemed like a long time. But actually, I enjoyed myself! All the assistants under the Regierungsbezirk Duesseldorf were there, so I met some wonderful new people – from Spain, France, Italy, Russia, USA, China, as well as the UK. I enjoyed chatting to everybody in German – getting in a muddle with all our languages – and exploring the Ruhrgebiet together.

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The best part of the course, aside from the new friendships, was definitely learning more about the area in which I am living, and appreciating it from different perspectives. We had, for example, an interesting tour around the Landtag (State Parliament) and learned about how the building’s architecture was designed with a view to greater involvement of citizens to observe the discussions, and therefore greater democracy. We visited the Zollverein Museum near Essen, which focused on the coal mining (Zeche) and geological history of the Ruhrgebiet (Ruhr Valley). It was interesting, but very hard to follow, because of all the subject-specific vocabulary!

oberhausenAfter an enjoyable lunch spent eating Bratwurst at Oberhausen Weihnachtsmarkt, and chatting with the Language Assistants from Italy in a mixture of English and German, we went on to the Gasometer (formerly a gas holder but now a museum) at Oberhausen (see map to the right).

The current exhibition is all about Natur – incredible photographs which represent the natural world in some way. A projection of the earth dominated the main exhibition room, which was almost in pitch darkness – my description of the atmosphere does not do justice to how it felt. I took a deep breath and hopped into the glass lift that took people up and over the earth projection. I was in awe as we zoomed up ten floors, in darkness. It made for a surreal experience, transcending the Ruhrgebiet and going up into space. It was most definitely worth the anxiety involved in stepping into the lift.

globe        globe-2

Talking of getting to know the local area, I think it’s fitting to briefly mention my trip to Moenchengladbach’s textile factory the previous weekend, with a friend from my Dutch class and her husband. On the third Sunday of every month, the textile factory (Textiltechnikum) opens its doors to visitors, and gives a tour around all the machines… again, the language was very technical, but we were taken on a fascinating journey through the textile manufacturing process. Apparently, Germans used to spy on the textile workers in Manchester, to steal ideas to take back to Germany! After the tour, my friend invited me back for dinner. She had made a delicious Flammkuchen, and I appreciated their good company and conversation.

Mainz


mainz

After what was already a few very busy days at the training event last week, on Friday I travelled by train to Mainz to visit my friend for the weekend. I had a very happy time in Mainz, catching up with my friend. We wandered around the Weihnachtsmarkt, visited the Gutenberg Museum on the history of printing, and my friend showed me around her university. It was great to experience a new area of Germany.

Although the timings for the train were a bit tight, I got there and back in one piece, with my friend’s help at the station to see me off. Before it got dark, I enjoyed a picturesque view along the Rhein river from the train – the best way to experience it, perhaps. I also met an interesting man on the way home, who talked to me for about two hours, in fast German, about his experience on the Trans-Siberian Express from China to Russia. His anecdotes rambled on but were immediate and full of life. A shout out to my friends currently on year abroads in Russia, perhaps I can relate a bit more than I could before. When I got home I was exhausted from all the intense auditory processing, and slept very well!

…and similarly to the man I got to know on the Euro City train this weekend, I have rambled on too much too. I will give another update soon!

Bis bald,

Misspraxic

Sense of community: Martinstag and Lehrertag 2016

Guten Tag Leute!

Today I feel tired after a busy week – let me tell you about it! This week’s experiences have got me thinking about community, participation, and how it makes me feel.

15050257_1179076542130055_1116128113_nLast Friday was Carneval in Germany. I was in Dusseldorf after my morning German course, and decided to take a trip into the city centre to watch the afternoon celebrations. A big group called the Regenbogen were all dressed in colourful costumes, and performed some great traditional carnival songs in German, such as “Min Ding is Din Ding” and “Düsseldorf macht sich fein“.

I was by myself and stayed away from the Bier tent, but nevertheless it was a fun atmosphere, if a little chilly!

The following day (last Saturday) the traditional Martinstag was also celebrated throughout the country. St Martin’s Day. Saint Martin was a Roman knight who, legend says, shared his cloak with a beggar on a cold night to save him. You can read more about the tradition here.

horse-st-martins-day
Blurry photo, but you can see Saint Martin parading through the village on his white horse!

I had my own unique experience of Martinstag in my village in Nordrhein-Westfalen. At 18.00, most of the village’s young children and families gathered at the village cross: the central meeting point in the village. The children had made their own paper lanterns at school and everyone, young and old, were involved in the parade (called Laternelaufen). In keeping with the legend, a man dressed as Saint Martin rode a horse through the village, and was followed by a brass band. The village was lit up with the warm glow of all the children’s lanterns, and everyone started to walk and sing together:

Ich geh’ mit meiner Laterne
Und meine Laterne mit mir.
Dort oben leuchten die Sterne,
Hier unten, da leuchten wir…

15046226_1180253895345653_1500264126_nAt first I wasn’t sure where to stand, where to walk, what to do, as I felt like an outsider in this important annual tradition that connects families in the village. But once I chatted to a few people, and the music started, I felt at ease. I felt so happy surrounded by the warmth of the bonfire, and the bold rhythm of the brass band.

When the procession came to an end and the children received their sweets, I was welcomed into my landlady’s home to enjoy Gluhwein (mulled wine) with her and her family, and then ended up staying for some delicious soup and more wine. I got to know her children and their children, and a couple of members of the choir were there too!

I felt the community feeling again on Monday, as most of Lehrerzimmer 5 (staffroom for Class 5 teachers) went out for lunch together at a local restaurant before Lehrersprechtag (parents’ evening, which I thankfully was not involved in). Of course, I selected the Schnitzel option! I hope we can go out together more, as I would really like to get to know some of the teachers better.

On Tuesday evening, I enjoyed another practise with the warm-hearted choir group. It doesn’t matter that I get some notes wrong, or mix up the German lyrics, because I’m joining in with them, and I get the feeling they welcome that. Practising all the Christmas songs reminds me of being in the school choir, and although I am sadly not available to sing at the choir’s concert, simply practising the Christmas songs with everyone is enough for me.

lehrertag

dortmundThe big highlight of this week was yesterday. I woke up early and travelled to Dortmund for Germany’s annual conference on education (Deutscher Lehrertag 2016). Interestingly, this year the overarching theme of the conference was integration and inclusion in schools. I attended some workshops on the integration of refugees in English lessons, as well as a stimulating podium discussion between politicans and education representatives, including the Kultusministerin (Minister of Education) for Lower Saxony. I met a few interesting new people, including a government advisor for Special Education, whose son also has dyspraxic traits. Many publishers were present with their book stands, too – I couldn’t resist buying a few more books to add to my collection…

Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) have now started in many places – I’m looking forward to feeling the Christmas spirit over the next few weeks, when I visit a few of my friends in other cities!

Schönes Wochenende noch,

misspraxic