So the end of the year is nearly here. It is that time when we look back on the year and look forward to the new. Last year I wrote a #Nurture1314 post and found it interesting to look back as well as give my hopes for the following year, so let us see how I got on.

1. I hope that I can continue with my juggling act of mummy, wife, teacher, friend and Nichola!
So I think I am managing this! It is a very hard juggling act but there we go.

2. I hope that my boy continues to grow in to a kind, funny and crazy boy. He turns four in 2014 and starts school. Scary for me but I am sure he will rise to the challenge.
Ben has taken to the challenge of school with both hands. He loves his school, his teacher and his new friends. His language is developing all the time and he is already learning to spell and do some basic writing.

3. Continue to spend quality time with my family. I just love spending time with them but it is hard when life gets in he way.
I write this post from the comfort of my mum and dad’s snug. We are here for Christmas and I believe we have spent lots of time with them, though there is always room for more time.

4. Holiday. We have 2 holidays booked again this year. One in February in St Ives with my inlaws, brother in law and his girlfriend. It is to celebrate my MILs 50th birthday and I am sure that will make for fabulous memories.
The trip to St Ives was a memorable one. It was a LONG drive from Manchester to St Ives, even with a stop in Bristol on the way there. However, we were very VERY lucky with the weather. The floods of the weeks prior had gone and the sun came out for us nearly every day. It may have been February but from the photos you’d never know. Such fun times, though I can’t say I’m in a rush to do that long journey again! That holiday also saw me see a friend in the Winter Olympics in the Bobsleigh for Team GB. Amazing to see someone I know become an Olympian.

5.The other is in my childhood memory home of the area of Norfolk near Cromer. My parents may join us for some of this holiday if possible. Either way I hope the sun shines and memories are made.
My parents did join us and we had a great time, although B and my parents’ dog, Max do wind each other up when in close proximity for long periods of time. The weather wasn’t quite so kind (typically British summer weather!) but it didn’t stop us enjoying time on the beach, fish and chips on the front and a trip on the Steam train.

6. I hope that one of my friends has a fabulous wedding day to her lovely fella and we are part of it.
Her wedding was fantastic. The forecast had been rubbish but in the end it was a lovely day, with the rain holding off until the evening. The venue was stunning and it was lovely to have live music in the form of a brass band and a choir.

7. I hope to continue to enjoy choir and maybe talk our conductor in to us singing some of my favourite music.
Sadly choir took a long break this year and I only got to sing until February. Our conductor had to take some time out. Choir is back on again, though other things I will talk about later mean I haven’t made it back yet. Maybe in the new year!

8. I hope to grow as a teacher. Increasing my knowledge and experience.
I have met some really interesting people, read a lot of articles and continue to learn from those around me.

9. I hope to stay within pmld and sld teaching, especially pmld as my love for it is growing all the time.
I had a lovely 2nd year with my class, saw some special things with them, and have now got a mixed PMLD/SLD group who are very different but bring their own challenges and delights.

10. I hope to increase my online work relationships. I feel they are really helping me to grow as a teacher and help me feel not so isolated as it is so easy to feel in the world of special ed.
I have spent quite a lot of time on Twitter this year, and most of it has been spent engaging with fellow teachers, learning from them. I am hoping to go to Oxford in February for the SEN TeachMeet, so we shall see if I manage to make it there.

11. I hope to find the time to go to the theatre. I love musicals and saw not nearly enough in 2013, though Wicked and Rent were fabulous.
I did get to the theatre a couple times this year, not as many as I would like. Fascinating Aida has to be my favourite. If you haven’t seen them, I suggest you look up some of their work, especially the Ofsted Song, Cheap Flights and Dogging! Not for those of a sensitive disposition! I do have several things booked for the new year, fist up is Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time at the Lowry in early January.

12. I also hope to see more live comedy. It is a great night out. Comedians such as Greg Davies, Ross Noble, Dara O’Briain etc have made me cry with laughter over the years.
I have some comedy tickets booked, but I can’t say who as my husband is reading this (probably) and they are a secret! Didn’t make it to anything other than Fascinating Aida on the comedy front.

13. I hope to spend time with my friends. Some I haven’t seen for months. However, they are there for me and me for them regardless.
I’ve had some lovely times with friends this year. Always wish there was more time with them, but life, work and family get in the way.

14. Most importantly I hope to have fun. In work, home and play!
Fun is always important to me, especially when things are tough, and there have been tough times.

5 Positives from 2014:

1. I moved house! This was not at all on the radar this time last year, but thanks to some money from my parents, we have moved to a lovely new area, about 20 minutes from where we were. The house is fab (despite some problems when we moved in) and it really feels like home.

2. B has started and loved school. Due to number 1, we had to get a last minute place for him, so he could start with all his peers in September. Thankfully there was a place in one of the local schools and they welcomed us and B with open arms. We have been made to feel a part of the school community, even though I don’t do pick ups and drop offs. Nights out with some of the mums have been lovely and it’s great to see B when he has been to a few birthday parties, seeing his new friendships blossom. He has a real love for learning (oh and a love for being outside!). It’s great to see. He is trying so hard with his reading and writing and for a summer baby, he is doing really well. Proud mummy.

3. I know I am good at what I do. This year I applied for 2 jobs. I got interviews for both. I interviewed well, had great feedback from my teaching in class, but sadly did not get either job. This really upset me at the time, but I lost out to someone much more experienced than me for one, and I think to someone who could start sooner for the other. It is always good to know that what I am doing is good, especially from outside of my own school. I still want a change, but the right jobs are few and far between. So I am crossing my fingers and we shall see what the next year brings.
4. I have rediscovered a love of cooking/baking. I mean I’m no Mary Berry and I will never be a Great British Bake Off contestant but since moving house I have been trying to cook more from scratch (mostly in my slow cooker due to lack of time) but it is quite fun to do.
5. I have spent lots of time with my family. This is always a positive. We try and see at least one set of B’s grandparents each weekend, sometimes we squeeze in both. I have such happy memories of times with my grandparents and I want B to have some amazing memories too.

5 Wishes for 2015
1. I hope to continue to grow and develop as a teacher. I have a few Teach Meets planned, hopefully the SEN TeachMeet in Oxford in February and I have booked my ticket for Northern Rocks 2015 in Leeds for June. Always good to meet others. New challenges are always around us.
2. I hope to make my home more my own. We have only been in the new house for 3 months and there is still so much to do to make it truly our home. The first job is to paint B’s bedroom as it is rather flowery and girly at the moment, not that he minds!
3. I hope to continue to spend as much time as possible with my family and friends. They bring me such joy and happiness and I wish I had more time for them, especially B.
4. I hope to get back in to performing, of some kind. I miss it. I miss singing, playing, dancing, performing full stop. I need this in my life.
5. I hope to get a bit more exercise. I need to get in to a routine. I promised myself I would get in to Aqua Aerobics or something similar as I struggle to find things I can do thanks to my previous ankle, knee and hip problems!

One day in my life.

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.

Teaching and the media

Teaching and how people perceive it is always in the media. ‘You only work 9-3’ and ‘You’re always on holiday’ are just two of the commonly heard phrases. Government policy on teaching is always changing, or so it seems. I qualified in 2002 and have seen goodness knows how many changes to the curriculum, strategies, policies etc. Each secretary of state for education seems to see it as their mission in life to annoy teachers as much as possible whilst wanting to come across as doing right by the children in the system at the time. 

At present there are huge changes going through and proposed for secondary education. I do not teach this age group so I can’t speak with any confidence about it, except to say that everything appears to be happening at breakneck speed without speaking to those who it affects; the teachers. How are they supposed to do the best for the children when they are having to redesign all those long, medium and short term plans that take hours and hours to put together? 

In primary the curriculum has big changes too. Some of it positive and some not. I have been away from mainstream primary education for 9 years now so I’m not up with details. Again however, teachers will be spending more and more time once the children have gone home and in the holidays replanning everything. 

Our professionalism is put under scrutiny all the time. Believe it or not we are professionals though you’d never guess by the way we are treated in the media. 

Ofsted’s agenda appears to be changing by the month and what they look for when they visit schools seems a mystery or bizarre at best. (Rapid progress in a 20 minute session for children with profound learning difficulties anyone?)

Licensing for teachers is the latest story to hit the headlines thanks to Tristram Hunt MP. Instead of listening to teachers and other staff in education he has gone for something yet again which appears to be teacher bashing. We are all ready subject to regular inspections, our pay is now linked to our performance (my feelings on this are maybe for another post) and are accountable in so many ways. We are always trying to learn and develop and continuing cpd is part of every school’s life. Why do we need licensing? 

Many feel that 2 year olds should be in school to help them have the best start. As an early years teacher and mother to a 3 and a half year old I can not disagree with this more. Our children need time to explore and play and be nurtured and cared for not in a school environment. 

I challenge anyone to find a teacher that is happy with the state of education at the moment. All we ask is that we are listened to and respected. We want what is best for the children in our care. We want them to achieve their very best. We want them to learn. Please please let us do this. 

Emotions and teaching

I am an emotional person. I’m not ashamed to say that plenty of things make me well up and be in need of a tissue! Heck I’ll even admit to crying when Helen Daniels died in Neighbours! 


So what do I want to say? Well the media is full of all sorts of teacher bashing at the moment from every angle you look. Emotions never come in to it. For me, emotions are a huge part of teaching. I connect with the children and the families of those I teach. I can’t help it and nor do I want to change that. 

I teach in a school for children with severe or profound learning difficulties. I have been here a while and have absolutely found my niche. The children require me to be creative with my planning and teaching. I love this as that is the kind of person I am. I have to think about each individual and how I can help them achieve the targets I have spent hours setting for them. I have to think about their physical and developmental limitations and their sensory needs. All this brings me close to the children. I currently have 7 children in my class, this is an average size for the school. I get to know my children so very well that when something changes I spot it or even pre-empt it happening. This can be positive but it can also be tricky and scary too. Many of the children I have taught/teach have huge medical issues that impact on their and their families daily lives. They also affect me. I have had more than my fair share of chest infections, coughs, colds and snotty noses but that doesn’t bother me. Part and parcel of the job. 

However, I have also had more than my fair share of children admitted to hospital, spend time on ICU and sadly also a number of children have passed away. 

This is tough. Really tough. I am emotionally connected to these children and their families and when they do become very poorly I worry about them. I have spent time sat next to them in ICU and at their bedside and I have cried buckets and buckets of tears. Saying good bye to a pupil is just so tough and never gets any easier, even for those who we know it is likely to happen to soon. 

However I have also cried tears of joy as I have seen a child take their first step independently, make their first attempt at crawling, say your name for the first time or something else equally moving. 

I wanted to write this down. I am not exactly sure why but I felt I should. I guess it is part of the job that doesn’t get mentioned in the media. We care. We all care. We really couldn’t do our job well if we didn’t!