So I felt like blogging but wasn’t sure what to write about so I asked my twitter followers what they would like to see. One asked about the complexities that my children face, another about a day in the life of my school, so here is a bit of both, whilst also thinking about me the person, the mother and teacher and how somehow I manage to combine the two!
My days always start early. I am not a morning person really, well I am, but at a time of my choosing and not when the small one decides to wake me! At present he wakes at some point with a 5 in the hour! I am not good at functioning at this time so live in a semi-awake state till my alarm goes off at 6.30 or just before if I am feeling more alert. It’s then time to make sure my husband gets up and we wave him goodbye as he sets off on his bike or to the bus stop for work. All this is done while making sure me and the small one (herein known as B as that is how I usually refer to him when I’m online) are both dressed, teeth cleaned and all ready to go. I am very thankful for the multichannel world in which we live in as there is always something on to entertain B while I run around (Tom and Jerry, Postman Pat, Ben and Holly are usually the order of the day at that time in the morning).
We then make the journey to B’s nursery where he is usually one of the first ones through the door at 7:45. Thankfully B loves it there and he has an amazing time. I will miss the staff greatly, as will he when he starts in Reception in September. He has been going for just over 3 years now and considering he isn’t 4 years old yet, that’s quite some going. I know he has tremendous fun while learning lots in a play-based way, just how it should be at his age. Choosing a nursery as a teacher is no easy job!
I get to work around 8am and one of my first jobs after signing in is to put the kettle on. Quite a normal task you’d think, but no, this is not because I can’t function without caffeine (I only drink tea and only really when I have time to enjoy it!) but because we go through one hell of a lot of cooled boiled water in my class! All the children are fed either partially or totally via their gastrostomies and we use cooled boiled water for all their flushes before and after milk and for their water “drinks”. Coming from mainstream, this was one thing that I was totally in awe of when I first started in special ed. What a clever little device it is. All my children have an unsafe swallow so those that can eat, have a pureed diet and I have spent a lot of time working with our fabulous SALT to be trained for each individual’s needs. Oral exercises and teaching how to eat were things that I had never even considered before I stepped through the school gates for the first time 9 years ago. Now they are fundamental within my day with lesson plans and the like involving them.
Once the kettle has been boiled (twice I need that many!) I settle down to do some of my many paperwork tasks. These include writing up my detailed observations of what the children have done (notes made during lessons are then filled out by me and then levelled using the P scales and if possible a photo or two added to show exactly what I was talking about!), filling in B Squared (our assessment tool of tick boxes which I hate but have to do) or creating resources or adapting lesson plans. The TAs arrive and we talk about what we are going to do that day and they set up things for the day, usually while I carry on with my paperwork.
The children arrive for the day off transport and we get all the children out on to our matted area, unless they require a feed. This is no simple effort and over the last 2 years I have made it in to a bit of a military operation which runs well for now. Some are lifted and most are hoisted and all are positioned appropriately. I work with the physios and have done a course on Postural Care to understand the importance of good working positions for each child. What works for one doesn’t work for another and it is key I use all this information to get it right. Most of my class have quite severe physical difficulties so there are a wide range of cushions, rolls, towels and some proper equipment such as specialist cushions and standing frames to help me and the team achieve this. This time is also time to say good morning. It is a key time for targeted work including switch work to say good morning, choice work through choosing an adult or a child and physical skills such as independent sitting or holding their head up while someone sings to them. The next hour and 15 minutes is all about feeds! It is crazy but again I have it honed down to a fine art, and the team are fantastic at just getting on with it all. Re-positioning each child before they are due to go on their pumps or eat, alongside 1:1 work with the others is a constant job, but allows for great individual time. Many of my class are prone to vomit if moved too quickly after a feed, so mornings are mostly chair based activities. Having a class of children who are all at the pre-intentional stage of communication can make it tricky. Many of them can’t move independently at all so working 1:1 is vital. I use music a lot in class to allow the children who are not working with an adult the chance to have a stimulus. It is also a very motivating stimulus and I am working with a couple of children who are functioning at a P1i level to try and see if there is a particular genre or artist they appear to respond to more frequently. As yet this is still an ongoing process, it could take weeks, months, years to find out, but if we can find it, what a door that is opened. Who knows, maybe they are opera fans, heavy metal fans, drum and base fans?
I have a tiny window for whole class work in a morning. These times seem to fly by in a flash and involve things like number songs with props for the children to touch and explore; art which is always multi-sensory. My favourite session with my class this year has to be our popcorn art which we are revisiting next week actually. We made popcorn in class using the machine which makes amazing noises as it whirrs and then fires the popcorn out, leaving our classroom smelling like a trip to the cinema! For those who can see, this is apparently incredibly funny! We then mixed the popcorn in a clear zip wallet with powder paint and glitter. At the time we were going frosty with blues and whites, but we are going to go cherry blossom pinks this next time. The children then spread glue with their hands on to textured wallpaper and we then added their painted popcorn to this messy mix and voila, an amazing display and sensory experience.
After the madness of the mornings, I make a concerted effort to make the classroom a quiet, peaceful place for a while. We turns the lights down, shut the blinds and play some of my favourite pieces of classical music (Cavatina, Faure’s Pavanne, Fur Elise and a couple of others) while a candle is lit and the massage creams come out. Hand massages are great for relaxing the children, especially those with quite severe cerebral palsy. During this time several are taken by our fab midday staff to the bathroom and some go on their nexts feeds and we finally reach dinner time. I feed one of the children who can still eat orally. It is so key that I watch what he is doing and listen to all his sounds. Then it is time for my dinner time! Hurray! I always go to the staffroom as soon as possible. I think it is really important to step out of the classroom and get some time away, even if I am taking my home/school books with me to write home to the parents!
Ding ding, round 2, the afternoon.
One of my favourite sessions has been the creation and delivery of my massage stories. This is the second year I have taught my current class and after being with a quite able Y5 and 6 class (P6-8) before, coming down to P1i-P2ii was quite a dramatic jump. All bar one of the children in my class are diagnosed with significant visual impairments, nearly all of them having cortical visual impairments where the connection between brain and eye is damaged. This, alongside their profound learning difficulties made me think hard about what was appropriate for them when it came to literacy. I took inspiration from people like Flo Longhorn and Andrea Muir and have created my own massage stories linked to my class topics. There are 2 types of stories I have created over the last 2 years and these are ones like my pizza making story which involved one piece of music running while we ‘made’ a story through massage e.g. kneading and spinning the dough by massaging the back imitating the movements, adding the tomato paste, actually bringing some out and letting them smell it, touch it and, if possible, taste it and look at it etc etc. The others are a mini sound scape I guess following a theme. A short piece of music plays accompanied by lights and a massage to represent something. I did one last year to some of the collection of poems called Commotion in the Ocean such as wobbling up and down the legs or arms like a jellyfish, sliding up and down the leg “jumping” up with my hand like a dolphin. I love creating and then teaching these sessions and the children respond really well to them. Other afternoon sessions include Tac Pac, Music, Gross Motor and Soft Play. I have more freedom to get the kids out of their wheelchairs during the afternoon, though there are still feeds to be done, but I really prefer the calmer feel to my afternoons!
Having said that, no two days are the same with my class! With 5 children with a diagnosis of epilepsy there are quite often times where ambulances have to be called and my heart races that bit faster. Aspiration and choking have also meant I have seen more paramedics than I would like! The TAs I work with are fabulous and I really couldn’t do my job without them. They inspire me with their ideas and their passion and they work so hard to do everything that needs doing. A big thank you to them must be said.
At the end of the day once the children have gone, I crack on again with my paperwork till around 4.15/4.30 and then go and pick up B and find out all about what he has been doing. I love that he is always happy when I arrive and has always been up to so much, even if it does mean my washing machine gets a thorough workout every week! We then make the 10 mile return trip home and spent an hour or so together as a family (my husband gets home around the same time thanks to his early starts) and bathtime is always a family time, though B wont share his bath with anyone! Bed time for him and then tea time for us (B eats at nursery) and then a bit of TV and some school work again and then bed, ready to be woken with a mummmmmmeeeeeeeee at some ungodly hour.
It’s hard work. Working full time is hard with a small son who appears not to like sleep, my class challenge me emotionally and as a teacher but I love it.