A puppet in search of answers and pulled by the strings of Long Covid

CW: Long Covid, anxiety, medical gaslighting

When I say I will write in a few days, I usually mean a few months. Or several. I had the best intentions for new routines in 2021, hoping to blog every month. It started off well in my first term as a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT), when I could depend much more on my energy levels. I should know better than to promise you updates, though; my first year of teaching forced me to work on being more realistic with my expectations, both of myself and others. I frequently put off tasks for weeks and months, especially when I am rundown or under pressure. A seemingly simple task like washing up yesterday’s breakfast bowl gets left for longer than is sanitary. And you can add to that list: paying council tax in time to avoid incurring a summons, putting out the bins before collection or even pressing ‘Send‘ on a simple message draft to a friend. I am ashamed to say I put it all off and no amount of to-do lists or post-its seems to work, as I seem unable to prioritise anything other than my job. 

Previously, I had always turned to Google to guide me through the challenges in my life. Google was like a non-judgemental friend, with its comforting guarantee of answers just a click away and always on hand to help me navigate overwhelming new cities abroad, instruct me on how long to roast potatoes for, and talk me through how to change batteries in a smoke detector. Google was a comfort, at least, until I tested positive with Covid-19 in December 2020, on the last day of the school term – just when I thought I had made it through with less drama than some of my unfortunate colleagues. When it comes to the matter of catching a new infectious disease at work, though, there is only so much that Google can really help with. The answers do not exist for anyone – Covid-19 has defied Google and medical science, and disturbingly, its seemingly never-ending supply of symptoms has defied me and my sense of self. I know myself pretty well, I thought, I am mentally strong and consistent. But after nine months of learning what my physical limits are, I am still finding my way on this journey with ‘Long Covid’. 

A puppet in search of answers and pulled by the strings of Long Covid – ink and watercolour

What is ‘Long Covid’?

The broad term refers to long-lasting symptoms that continue to develop more than 12 weeks post-infection. Over 500 symptoms have been recorded and can include – but are not limited to – fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, muscle aches, gastro-intestinal issues, and neurological symptoms such as headaches, brain fog and dizziness. The list goes on and the symptoms can change over time. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), approximately 114,000 of the million people living with Long Covid in the UK work in education (2021). In the context of low vaccine take-up among young people aged 18-34 and amid increasing research into the long-term effects, I hope that sharing my experience can raise awareness and provide comfort to others struggling. 

When you find yourself sitting on the floor to clean, or allowing deliveries of shopping bags to congregate at the bottom of the stairs for days, you realise you are well outside of “normality”. You have a problem, and accepting that problem can be difficult. I only realised I hadn’t washed up for three weeks when I had no clean cutlery left – I had completely let myself go; I had lost control and my usual dyspraxic coping mechanisms were just not working. Friends noticed the difference too and told me that I seemed very out of breath on short walks when we met up. One said they didn’t think it was right that I was working full-time in this condition.

Beyond a collection of irritating physical symptoms, the experience has been unnerving due to its unpredictability; it is anxiety-inducing to wake up each day and not know quite how I will feel or how a certain activity will trigger a symptom in the future. My energy levels still seem to fluctuate each day, so while teaching full-time, I find the symptoms distracting and challenging to manage without regular rest breaks. When faced with low-level disruptive behaviour, the pressing sensation in my chest intensifies the lack of physical control, at just the time when I am in most need of reliable energy levels to exert my presence in the classroom and meet the Teaching Standards. There is certainly an uncomfortable tension involved in prioritising what feels good for my body, over what feels right for my students’ education, and vice-versa.

And what about Dyspraxia? 

How Long Covid might interact with pre-existing conditions like Dyspraxia has not yet received much attention by medical professionals, though through support groups I understand that other dyspraxics also notice that their memory and processing has worsened since Long Covid. Whether or not dyspraxia is a “neurological disorder” has been subject to much discussion. Forgetting my best friend’s birthday, for example, was a catalyst for me realising that I was not functioning at “normal” capacity, as I had never forgotten something so important before. So was this ‘brain fog’ – a reportedly common Long Covid symptom, affecting cognitive function and memory and most likely caused by inflammation to the functional nervous system – or just dyspraxia, the coordination disorder I have lived with for years and for which I have found my own coping mechanisms? To what extent is dyspraxia a permanent part of my ‘personality’, or as Occupational Health described it, something I am ‘suffering’ from, like symptoms of a disease? 

It can be hard to explain the impact, though mild, on my daily life. Narratives tend to dominate that such symptoms might be ‘just stress’, when someone looks ordinary on the outside. After all, I am certainly not ‘ill’ in the sense of having a cold or the flu. But I am in a different body, a shell of the person I once was. I can no longer exercise properly without chest tightness, pain, and shortness of breath. Intermittent tremors, headaches, earaches, tingling, crawling, itching, and electric shock pains that pulsate through my body make me question my sanity on a daily basis. How can a new part of my body be zapping; where is the logic in this twitching when I grasp my hair straighteners? Muscle weakness when I struggle to open a jar? In my head and hands deciding to go numb as I try to fall asleep to switch off my body and fall asleep? Why is it that my brain is still wide-awake and now fizzing, like the contents of a bottle of coke left out in the sun? I have felt like a puppet whose strings are tugged at and pulled in all directions, whilst I am determined to throw myself onto the stage and pretend that I can do this and ‘teach as normal’, desperately wanting to be ‘fit for work’.

But this is my stage, I repeat as a mantra borrowed from a close friend whose grounding words helped me get through my first year in teaching. I have tried to ignore the symptoms, meditate through them, exercise despite them, and continue as ‘normal’ (whatever that means) – but however I seem on the outside to my students or colleagues, it is a different story on the inside. Mild as the symptoms are classed as, they are real and they still interfere with my life, worsening when I over-do it. I have to be much more mindful of my ‘spoons’ and how I choose to spend them (click here to read more about Christine Miserandino’s helpful Spoon Theory analogy to explain chronic illness). It took four months of blood tests, ECGs (heart tests) and chest scans coming back as normal before I could be diagnosed by exclusion and referred to a Long Covid clinic, and nine months before I was seen by the clinic. When seen by the clinic, it was disappointing to not be offered any sort of ‘quick fix’ for the discomfort and fatigue, yet I was also grateful to learn that Covid has caused a dysfunctional breathing pattern, known as a ‘breathing pattern disorder’, which could be exacerbating my symptoms. This is apparently common in ‘Long Haulers’ and I learned that I must now retrain my breathing pattern and reduce how much I do, in order to support my recovery from symptoms.

Throughout the past months, though, I have felt a major gratitude for my baseline health. I was never hospitalised, never left bed- or house-bound. I am fortunate to be able to walk and manage to work in a job I love. I can go about my daily life still – even if ‘functioning’ certainly means something different to what it meant in November 2020. These are things that huge numbers of people with Long Covid are not able to do. In its own way, this gratitude has been healing for me, much like painting and writing as an outlet for untangling my body’s warped state. Ultimately, my own Long Covid experience is just that – and can only be that – just one experience. It has heightened my awareness of the experiences of thousands of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) sufferers, whose voices have been gaslit and silenced for decades. The struggles of chronic illness are multiplied when they intersect with race and gender inequalities, where people living under greater oppression struggle for their voices to be heard. I share links to some other voices and advocates below, so please do have a read.

In light of how frequently women and also people in the neurodiverse community are subjected to medical gaslighting, I also feel fortunate to have had a patient and understanding doctor who has listened to my concerns and made me feel heard each time I phoned her about a mysterious new symptom. Even when she didn’t know the answers to my disgruntled whys and hows, she took steps to refer me for further testing and to the Long Covid clinic. The professionals at the clinic were incredibly reassuring as they had heard my symptoms so many times before. “You will recover from this”, they promised me, “it is just going to take time”.

Long Covid Kids

Of course, Long Covid does not only affect adults. As many as one in seven children (14%) who test positive with Covid still have symptoms 15 weeks later (UCL, 2021). Developing Long Covid as a teacher has made me more aware of the long-lasting symptoms in the children I teach. It is concerning that increasing numbers of young people who contract the virus are presenting with an array of long-lasting symptoms after weeks and months post-infection. One of my students came to see me at the end of a lesson back in May: “Miss, my chest feels tight”, he said. “I feel a pressure on my chest and my arms are also tingling. I’ve had blood tests and I’m waiting for the results…” And another student the following week: “Miss, I have virus-induced chest pain, I need to take some time out…” These are just the students who are able to or choose to articulate their symptoms aloud. If my brave students can talk about their experiences then I think I can, and should, too. After all, they are what push me to get up in the morning and drag up my reluctant body into school everyday, so it matters to try and make them feel less alone in their experiences. 

Finally, please feel free to reach out to me if you are affected with lingering post-Covid symptoms and would like to share your story with me. Your experiences are real and valid, and I promise you are not alone. Be kind to you.

This time, I will avoid the rookie error of promising to write again in a few days… But I hope to write again soon.

Take care everyone,

Misspraxic

Links to further reading

Support and information:

Articles:

Instagram accounts to follow:

@longcovidsos

@long_covid_kids

@jasminehayer_

@wearebodypolitic

@_coronadiary

Petitions you can sign:

Please let me know of any others and I will add to my list.

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

Long, dark November: Held back but holding up

During teacher training, I was warned all about the challenges of getting through November as a new teacher. This phenomena was referred to as something along the lines of “long, cold, dark November”, when October half-term is a distant memory and the Christmas holidays are too far away to count down to just yet. And here I am – this is no longer a figure of speech! The “cold” part is definitely exasperated by the current requirement to push all classroom windows wide open…

It feels like a small milestone to have already made it past October half term, though, as living a daily contradiction with the label of “lockdown” leaves education settings stretched and squeezed to the limit. I tried to reflect this absurdity in this week’s poem, and hope that it might be relatable for some, whether you identify with dyspraxic traits or otherwise.

Take care everyone,

-misspraxic

Held means Hero

they make a bee line
for the C line tube
where we are all squeezed in:
them with their juice cartons from concentrate
and me with my brain cells concentrated
on just getting through the day,
on getting through to them
in an hourglass squeezed full of sardines
stuck against the frames
wedged open and our few screws
have come loose again
as they shiver the words:

"Miss, do we have to keep them open?"

but coats and mouths are zipped to close
down mentions of the C-word,
for this tube is held
by bleak Outlook pings
and crippling reminders 
that 'Held' means hero in German-
  Held back with 'can't's streaming down my cheeks,
  Held up through the missed minutes 
and unsaid pep talks on weary late nights
Holding us up through the missing links
that test us in tubes
squeezing to burst.
This tube is held…

Creativity in the corridors of coping

I am the teacher tired of paceman-style manoeuvres that create chaos in the corridors of not coping

Creativity tends to be a major strength in dyspraxic adults and young people alike, as we can think “outside the box” in highly valuable ways. These ways might include, but are in no way limited to, creativity in art, music, and our use of language. Creative writing can be a cathartic practice for all of us, particularly in testing times, and I know that this is certainly the case for other dyspraxics too. When you are pushed to your limits, your struggle can fuel a creative energy that enables others to feel and connect with your experience. My students sharing their own powerful poems on handouts in the staffroom this week has motivated me to do the same.

This first poem is entitled “Corridors of coping”, and expresses some of the logistical challenges involved in starting as a teacher this September.

Corridors of coping

armed with dog-eared downside-up seating plans

scrawled with hieroglyphs that hold your gaze –

today’s performance is masked by a face drenched

in sanitised regrets. i only tried to  

sanitise my mind, yet my mind is a magnet 

for lost words stuck down the back of yesterday’s trimmer.

i misread my timetable and arrived five minutes late,

asking you to fill in today’s missing pages,

not to fill the room with your fits of giggles.

but i can decipher the codes      clues to your 

barrier to learning       familiar to my own    barrier to teaching

for i am the teacher who catches you 

dropping      to the floor without a back-up plan 

like a pile of clumsy papers lost       along the 

one-way maze at rush hour on a weekday.

i am the teacher tired of pacman-style manoeuvers

that create chaos in the corridors of       not coping.

i aim to be the teacher who builds a bridge past the haze, 

that unexpected rare breed of teacher, like the 

novelty of a poem unfinished

misspraxic © 2020

As always, feel free to get in touch with your thoughts or any questions via the website and do take care everyone,

– misspraxic

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:

Miss Praxic has lost the plot

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.

-Miss Praxic

Misspraxic returns: A journey from dyspraxic student to teacher

Madame Catastrophe à la fête foraine (Monsieur Madame) (French ...
Mademoiselle Catastrophe…
my francophone partner in crime?

When I was still a languages student at university from 2014-2018, I posted very actively to this blog. I took you through many of the frustrating yet amusing dyspraxidents that occurred during my time at university and on my Year Abroad, and aimed to prove what is possible in spite of a dyspraxia diagnosis. During this year, I survived and thrived as a language assistant, a volunteer teacher with refugees, a trilingual administrative assistant and an au-pair with French children. My Erasmus-funded year abroad feels far ago now. When I started writing this in the midst of a suspended teacher training placement and Brexit on the horizon, my distant memories of setting off security alarms in Paris and colliding with lampposts in Germany a few years earlier felt almost like a luxury. Following my year abroad, I successfully completed my undergraduate degree and a Master’s. I then went on to train to be a languages teacher, and regret not having returned to the blog to share the ups and downs with you all.

When I was still a languages student, I didn’t think or know that the path awaiting me was that of a teacher. In fact, it’s fair to say that I never wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a journalist, an interior designer, a translator. But never a teacher. Partly because it was a profession I didn’t think I had the “right” character for. And indeed, earlier this year, when I was told that I might consider “changing my personality” (reinforced after being told to “leave my personality outside the door” in the corporate office I worked at in Paris in 2017), this doubt somewhat solidified the following itching thought: What if I am too dyspraxic to be a teacher? What if I just can’t do it?

Back in June, I took part in some research into student teachers’ perceptions of “success” in schools, reflecting on what “success” meant to me as a neurodivergent trainee teacher. It feels more necessary than ever to continue sharing my journey from a student to now teacher – and a lover of languages and the arts, despite the odds. Late diagnosis remains an issue, with many students slipping through the net. Language-learning for dyspraxics has yet to be explored in depth by previous writers and not much research has been conducted into the language-processing of people with Specific Learning Difficulties. Dyspraxia tends to be associated with “problems of perception, language and thought” (“speech apraxia” or “articulatory dyspraxia” can affect how people express themselves verbally and their pronunciation of words). But this doesn’t have to mean that dyspraxic people are automatically less able in language-learning – an argument I will come back to in future posts.

I’m very grateful to the people closest to me who encouraged me to start writing this blog again. The world has never been such a complex place, and having once been where my students are today – albeit in a less complex world context – I hope I can provide some encouragement. I continue to speak to fellow dyspraxics who might be put off languages in light of their reputation as “too difficult” for those with “language problems”. But I also address those who might never have heard of, or do not understand, dyspraxia and its implications for the mind and body, and for learning and teaching. In this way, I’m addressing my past teachers and lecturers, my current colleagues in teaching, and my family and friends. Above all, I write for myself – I might not be a student anymore, but I seek to continue learning about how dyspraxia affects my life and that of my students. I hope to be able to offer various perspectives from a learner and a teacher.

In this series of blog posts, I’ll continue to bring you reflections on my experiences as a young person / adult / student / teacher. This time, I’ll intersperse my reflections with humorous stories, poems, my own art and also research about dyspraxia. As I venture into a baptism of fire, learning how to be a new teacher in a London comprehensive in the middle of a pandemic, I aim to also provide some hope to those in similar situations and to improve understanding about what dyspraxia means for learning and teaching.

I hope you’ll join me again on my journey!

A bientôt,

– misspraxic

The “rentrée” and my “départ”

Chantilly
Dramatic clouds at Chantilly

I started writing this post in mid-August, when both life at the office and life in Paris were considerably quieter. What people say is true: the city tends to empty out each August as a large proportion of parisiens go on holiday, leaving mostly tourists. The métro was generally quieter because of that, but it remained as busy as ever during rush hours. A year on from my summer school in Heidelberg, one thing has certainly not changed: I still find myself losing balance, slipping, and stepping on peoples’ toes. It makes it harder to “laugh along with myself” in Paris, though, because there are rarely smiles of amusement when this happens.

Louis Vuitton
Finally got around to visiting the excellent exhbition at Fondation Louis Vuitton: ‘l’Art africain

I mentioned in my last post that the family was going on holiday for most of the month of August. In their absence, I attempted to water their garden. Supposedly, this should be a manageable task that doesn’t take too long. The reality for me, and I imagine for many others who struggle with their coordination and spatial awareness, was the opposite. The greatest challenge was not tripping up in the hoops of the hose pipe as I moved from one area of the garden to another. I can only hope the family remained blissfully unaware of the stalks that snapped as a result of my awkward maneuvers around the garden… On a few occasions, water wouldn’t stop spraying out everywhere from the hose pipe. It took many attempts at fiddling with the setting and turning the lever backwards and forwards before I managed to stop the fast flow of water, by which time it was not just the poor patio that was covered in dispersed soil, but also my legs… thank goodness no neighbours were about at the time to witness the drowning.

Galerie Chantilly
Château de Chantilly – galérie des peintures

I made the most of my final month in Paris, by exploring most of the remaining musées and parcs on my to-do list. I was fortunate to have a few visits from friends and family during the final six weeks of my placement, which made it a lot easier to focus on office work during the week. I saw an incredible cabaret show at the Moulin Rouge, and experienced some great classical and jazz concerts indoors as well as at the Parc Floral. I have increased my tolerance to loud music – oddly enough, it hardly bothers me now (depending on the quality of course!). I enjoyed a few wonderful days with one of my German friends who came to visit – the photos above are courtesy of her talent! We had a great day in Chantilly together, visiting the château pictured above. A few days later, I travelled out of Paris by train again, to catch up with one of my French friends in the town of Auxerre. Back in Paris, I also fitted in some final visits to art museums before the end of my placement. My favourite museums within central Paris include the following: Musée Marmottan, Musée de l’Orangerie, Musée national Eugène Delacroix, Musée d’Orsay, and Musée Rodin. Go and visit their exhibitions if you get the chance! Needless to say, of everything I know I will miss, I will miss Paris’ vibrant arts’ scene the most.

arc de triomphe

It is now the beginning of September, widely known as “la rentrée” to parisiens, who have been reluctantly returning to work – and school – following the quiet month of August. The métro is no longer so calm. The office is no longer empty. There is once again a sense of colleagues buzzing around the office, after two weeks of less activity. The rushing-around starts all over again, and fortunately, it is now that I leave – just in time! My départ from the hectic world of Paris was not dramatic at all – my year abroad ended quietly, in contrast to some very loud moments along the way.

I feel a mix of relief and pride as I claim my seat on the Eurostar train back to London. I saw my final placement through to the end, an achievement which at times felt doubtful. I have proven to myself that I can often accomplish a lot more than what I initially consider to be possible. With the right support along the way, a year abroad can absolutely be realistic for a student with specific learning difficulties.

I intend to continue my blog in time, with advice on some of the practical challenges I have not been able to detail in my posts, and more reflections on what I have learned this year. I will also update you on how my final year at university goes! Misspraxic adventures, although not abroad for the time being, will definitely continue.

Thank you to anyone who has read my posts this year. Thanks to your support, I have achieved my biggest challenge yet. I will now be taking a break from scanning machines for the foreseeable future!

Love,

misspraxic

 

 

A weekend in Normandie for La Fête Nationale

Granville 4Bonjour tout le monde !

In my last blog post, I said I would be going to Normandy with the family for the long weekend to celebrate the la Fête nationale.

We set off by car shortly after I got back from work, and I have to admit, as I am sure you can imagine, I was running about like a headless chicken sorting everything out. The journey took about three hours, and involved more broken crayons, a lot of maquillage (children’s make-up), and more arguments about music choice. The little ones won, and were over the moon to hear the classic Magic in the Air on repeat and full-volume. The music filled the car with life. The toddlers’ dancemoves increased my morale, if not everyone else’s too. The songs the children have introduced me to will stay with me when I leave Paris, as they provide a sort of soundtrack to my time in France.

We were welcomed with kindess and generosity by the grandparents at their house in the countryside, not too far from the port town, Granville, marked on the map below:

Map Granville

For this long weekend, we were a smaller group than usual – just the two youngest children, plus two of their cousins, were staying in Normandy with us. This meant that dinner and bedtime routines were a lot more manageable than the previous two weekends I have spent away with the family. I also had company and help, in the form of the aupair who will take over from me when I leave, and the cousins’ nanny.

As always, though, I felt a great responsibility to keep an eye on the four under-fives racing around the garden on their bikes, and to run over whenever there was the slightest accident or crash.

On the Saturday, the two other nannies and I enjoyed a day in Granville together – we visited the old city including the cathedral, went for a walk along the coastal path, and visited the Musée d’art moderne Richard Anacréon for a Courbet exhibition…

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I enjoyed the long apéritifs before dinner, listening to the grandfather’s stories (which reminded me a little of my own grandpa’s story-telling, from which I have learned a lot). We had some lovely meals altogether, in which I go to know the other side of the family. We sampled some delicious seafood typical for the Normandy region, including snails, langoustines, and crab. The taste made up for my allergic reaction to the shellfish!

On the evening of the 14th of July, the fête nationale was celebrated across France. Months ago, I was expecting to be in Paris for this day, but instead I ended up having a very different experience: I stayed up to watch fireworks from the top floor in the house, which although was undoubtedly not as magical as the real deal, was still special. I watched the processions taking place in Paris live on the grandparents’ television, with the whole family.

Granville 3Back in Paris, the réceptionniste has just returned after two weeks’ holiday. Although I had the company of the other stagiaire réceptionniste for the first week, which was a great help, I was by myself for the second week. Sorting through and stamping the post, a task that would normally take up to two hours on a normal day, took me five hours on the Monday. I got there in the end, though, more efficiently than the last time I was alone. The German assistant was, as always, happy to help me when I had questions. I admit that I did panic that same afternoon, having to multitask by myself: colleagues’ demands, phonecalls, packages arriving, messages to leave, clients to be welcomed… After leaving the desk to run an errand, I had misplaced the key to the reception desk drawer. Inside the drawer was my bag, including my phone. The spare key was also locked inside the drawer, and I had to stay at the office until I had calmed down enough to begin rationally looking for the key.

I am convinced that this sort of juggling, the phenomena I described in a previous post, would overwhelm anyone. It really can be a struggle to remain calm, efficient, and logical. The colleagues who stopped at the reception desk to tell me that I have been doing well and that they will miss me when I leave, or the postman who smiles and mouths “bon courage” (good luck/keep going motivation) reassure me that they maybe do understand, to some extent, this struggle.

The family has just left for their holiday, and whilst they are away, I have been tasked with watering the garden… Wish me luck!

I aim to write another post next week, as I prepare to leave Paris in exactly one month’s time. How time flies!?

Merci à tous de suivre mon blog ! (Thanks again for your support in following my blog).

Bisous,

misspraxic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Return of “La Petite Anglaise”

Hello again tout le monde !

I planned my favourite sort of trip for the beginning of June (une visite surprise !): I went home for the weekend to surprise my family.

The Eurostar train from Paris to London was delayed, so I missed my connecting train, and arrived home somewhat later than I originally planned. In my haste to grab my tickets from the self-service machine in the two minutes before the train was due to depart from Paddington Station, I left my return ticket in the machine. It was a classic misspraxic mistake, and I was very lucky to have both tickets reimbursed by the kind and understanding station staff. Such treatment would not have been the case in Germany or France, where rules and regulations tend to override when it comes to transport, in my experience.

Next time, I will try even harder not to rush around, because it is not worth the trouble in a big, busy station. I would also recommend booking a connecting train with a departure time of at least two hours after your first train is due to arrive! That way, you can sit back with a book instead of anxiously sprinting down escalators. You can also arrange to pick up your tickets in advance of the journey, or pay extra to have your tickets posted directly to you. If you’re like me, it might be worth it!

Home 2
Surprise visit home: wandering through an orchard by the sea

Despite the unfortunate timing, my visit home was a great success. A couple of  weekends later, I returned to London again, but this time I didn’t go home. I went to a conference on something I care a lot about – the future of languages and cultural relations in the UK post-Brexit.

I can understand why some might be skeptical about the idea of interrupting a placement abroad with a visit back home, and all that entails (planning ahead, travel complications etc.). For me, though, the occasional return to the UK during my year abroad has been very worthwhile. It has sunk in just how much I have learned and achieved within a short period of time. My mind was overflowing with colloquial French expressions, even in the middle of the British countryside. I realised how immersed I had been in the language and culture, which in turn boosted my morale on my return to Paris. Dyspraxics are often known for having a particular attention to detail – this applies to me, as I am aware of being more sensitive and critical to cultural differences, for example reflecting more on the behaviours of people around me…

Party
Big corporate summer party with clients and colleagues – there was even a red carpet, would you believe!?

Back in Paris, I have developed a nickname in the office – I am known, particularly to the other réceptionniste, as la petite anglaise (the little English girl)! The name amuses me, as I am actually plus grande (taller) than many of my colleagues. The past few weeks have honestly been testing and tiring, following more débâcles with the scanning machine and its frequent bourrages, as well as disappointed and disgruntled colleagues following my inadequate phone messages or manner. There are some days when I feel like I will never be good enough at the job due to the nature of it: I need to stop blaming myself for saying or doing the ‘wrong’ things, as some of the tasks or knowledge expected of me is not reasonable. Dyspraxic or not, if you are in a similar situation to me, I hope it helps to know that you are not alone in struggling with a stage (internship) in a high-pressured office environment.

During a year abroad or during any stay in an unfamiliar place, it is likely you will feel isolated or stressed or both. Each week I try to make sure I go out to a new place, or let myself enjoy strolling around a new art gallery, or going to a café for lunch. It makes up for long and often tedious hours at a computer. Recently, my free time in the city has been completely enriched with art, music, and culture! Let me tell you more…

Last weekend, I enjoyed a visit to Emile Zola’s house in Médon, a small rural village to the west of Paris. Although the house, museum, and château that inspired Cézanne were unfortunately closed, I enjoyed chatting to the local people in the village, and relaxing on the bank of the Seine. I suggest checking the website thoroughly for practical information before getting carried away at the prospect of visiting a new place (which, in my case, is easily done)!

 

A couple of weekends ago, I took the children to a public farm at Saint-Cloud, where we got to watch the animals being fed. Afterwards, we had a lovely picnic in the Parc de Saint-Cloud (outside of Paris in the banlieues – suburbs). All was going well until the little ones decided to take the older ones’ lead to climb trees in the farm’s garden! I didn’t have enough eyes to follow all the children’s fast movements, and was afraid of someone falling. I had to step in – that led to more tantrums, and my glasses fell to the ground, but thankfully none of the children got hurt, and my glasses survived to tell the tale.

Ferme
A Sunday afternoon in Saint-Cloud

 

I also enjoyed la Fête de la Musique on June 21st there were all kinds of concerts and performances all evening in Paris, as well as in other towns in France, and in other countries. A concert called Komm, Bach attracted me – it was probably the German title, or the prospect of harmonies involving an Organist, a soprano singer and an African Djembe drummer. On the night of the festival, I made my way to a church in the 8th arrondissement – an area I don’t know very well. It was an absolutely incredible concert, and without a doubt one of the best I have experienced during my year abroad. A few days later, I had another great evening at the La Défense Jazz Festival with a friend, and got to know one of her Germans friends too – it was fun to all chat in German together, and it was a welcome change from French.

Have a look at the photos from la Fête de la Musique, as well as other events and exhibitions I have recently experienced:

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For the long bank holiday weekend next week, I am going to Normandy with the family to celebrate la Fête nationale also known as Bastille Day on 14th July. I will let you know how that goes!

Bonne semaine et à plus,

misspraxic