How Was Your Week?

Mine was CRAZY. But I think I’m doing just fine. The first full teaching week for the year didn’t exactly go to plan, as we had so many new enrolments that the Stage 3 classes all ended up with well over 30 students in each. Thankfully, we got enough bums on seats to qualify for an extra teacher, which meant restructuring the Stage 2 and 3 classes. Others fared worse than I did – one teacher had planned her teaching and learning for Stage 2, and ended up with a cross-stage 2/3 class. On top of that, she hasn’t taught Stage 3 before, so she was swimming without a life jacket! Compared to that, my week has been a breeze.

Image result for creek no paddle

As I’ve reflected on the week that was, however, I realise how momentous these first days with our little humans are. Now, mine are fairly large little humans, being at the end of their primary school journey, but the things I have seen this week remind me that even those kids who are too cool for school are still just that – KIDS. What an intense path we are on! Helping them to grow, but trying to get them to slow down. It’s such a fine balancing act, and we are so privileged to be a part of it.

What I did realise very quickly was just how big a class of 33 is. On that first day when we were walking to the classroom and I stopped to look behind me, I thought “holy cow! Can I do this?”. There were so MANY of them! And they were so BIG! There are a few who are already well taller than me. But, I took a deep breath, and jumped in.

This morning’s musings have been particularly satisfying. Despite my daily meditations, and my boundaries allowing for a clear finishing time and no bringing work home, my head was still so busy taking in all of the needs I could see and wanted to meet that my mind just constantly jumped from one thing to the next without pause. I realise now that I need to take more moments of stillness. I have decided to take 5 minutes to sit and write my reflections at my desk after 3pm each day. I’ll try this next week and see if it helps me to step out of auto-pilot mode. It might help me to switch more seamlessly into Mum mode for my own children as well. Even though they’re almost fully cooked, they still need their Mama to lean on and draw the boundaries for them.

So, here are some highlights (names have been changed)…

Probably the most challenging for the week is Jack. He is in out of home care (OOHC), but has been there for a long time and has a solid relationship with his main carer. Jack has ADHD, as well as a number of other letters that often accompany OOHC kids. He is normally medicated, but came to school without having taken his tablet for the first couple of days of term because they were out of them. The class were getting used to ignoring his constant movement and speaking, but he began to show up as a different kid once the supply of meds was replenished. Suddenly we had this calm, quiet, co-operative student on our hands, and only during the middle session, when meds began to wear off, did we see the Jack we’d previously seen.

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On Wednesday, however, Jack was, once again, unmedicated. He started the middle session coming and going from the classroom, and the Principal had a chat with him when she stopped into classes to say “hi”, and then the Wellbeing AP tried when she was coming by to check on another student. Both times Jack stood still for 5 minutes after they’d left. I finally gave up trying to teach through the constant interruptions, and sat the kids on the floor to read another couple of chapters of Wonder. This is when Jack reached his crescendo. He took himself into the withdrawal room, saying he wanted to lie down on the cushions in there. Next thing he’s yelling out at the top of his voice “f*** your mother, your mother’s a c***” and similar statements. There wasn’t enough time to find an executive to pull him out before the bell rang for second break, and the students filed out looking a little shocked and uncomfortable, despite hearing this kind of language regularly in their community. I guess it’s a long way from normal to hear a child using it in the classroom! I am so thankful that I have a supportive Principal. When I reported the incident to her she called home immediately and told Jack’s carer about the day’s events. Jack had told me himself that he had thrown his tablet under the kitchen cabinet that morning, and that’s why he was unmedicated. The next morning I was called down to the office to find Jack and his carer waiting for a chat. “Uh oh”, I thought. “This might get rough”. But carer was 100% on the same page, trying to get Jack, who insisted he hadn’t said those things, to own up to his behaviour and apologise.

The thing is, I feel so torn about Jack and his medication. He’s like a zombie when he arrives on those days when he has taken his tablet, so I can understand why he doesn’t WANT to take it. On the other hand, he is so EASY on those days! He is learning, the other children are learning, my mind isn’t so busy trying to respond to behaviours that I fail to notice other student needs. The medicated Jack is easy, and who wouldn’t opt for easy?

The breakthrough happened yesterday. Jack himself knows that once he comes in from recess, that is, second break, his medication has worn off and it’s hard to sit still and focus on anything. I had noticed on those other days that one thing that seems to calm him is colouring or drawing, so I always offer this when he is unsettled. Yesterday, when I picked up the students from their lining up spot, Jack was running all over the place, taking short cuts to class through the garden, yelling out, making silly noises. As the other students filed into the room, I pulled Jack aside and reminded him that even if he has trouble focusing and sitting still, there is no excuse for inappropriate language or behaviour, and as a Stage 3 student he needs to own his actions. I put the class to work, and Jack said he didn’t want to do what they were doing, so I just ignored him for a few moments while I circulated and made sure everyone understood and was ready for their art activity. Then I glanced over at Jack and saw that not only had he collected the materials he needed to do the activity, he was sitting on his own and had made a solid start on the task!!! He was using markers instead of pencils as instructed, but, hey, that’s not a hill I was going to die on!

So, I think Jack has done his dash. He has now shown me that he absolutely can control his behaviour and his impulses, and yesterday’s success is now my yardstick. And this early breakthrough is a MAJOR cause for celebration in my eyes!

Apart from Jack, there is Johnno, who seemed to be intent on filling every exchange with some comment involving the terms “gay” or “fag”, usually to get a reaction out of both myself and his classmates. I gave zero reaction, but pulled him aside for a chat about the difference between laughter because people are uncomfortable, and laughter because something is genuinely funny. I told him that often when people are making those comments it is because they have something going on with their own identity, and that if he needed support with anything, I’m there in a heartbeat. He seemed to tear up a little at this, and there have been no more comments during class time (the playground is another matter…but I’ll focus on the successes).

Of course, there are the usual Stage 3 girl “issues” created out of nothing. There is one student in a state of perpetual sadness because she’s at the centre of a nasty custody battle, one student I need to dig deep to find patience for because he behaves as though he is superior to everyone else and knows more about everything than anyone else does, and a hundred other issues that I am still working out how to process, but I am tackling them all one by one, doing my best to prioritise the needs for smoother teaching and learning and healthy personal growth.

Image result for greta thunberg ted talk

Apart from the successes with Jack and Johnno, the students were riveted by Greta Thunberg’s TED talk, which provided a wonderful opening for our cross-curricular unit on Sustainability. Everyone is loving Wonder, and everyone seems happy with their teacher. We had our first Choir session, and the children LOVED it, and we picked an awesome and unexpected pile of squash and zucchini from the garden. Importantly, there were loads of laughs with colleagues, and I can feel that I have a wonderfully supportive Stage team. I can see that I need to be more thoroughly prepared so that I have more room in my own brain to focus on student engagement, but overall, it was a successful week and I wouldn’t change a thing.

To be better next week, I am spending today planning and preparing, and keeping Sunday free to refill my cup. I have a student starting in the class on Monday who has a number of special needs, but I am visualising only positive outcomes. I think my systems are working. I’ll keep learning and looking for new ideas, but I refuse to get hung up on my mistakes. The biggest take-away for this week that was is that every student has a story. The behaviour is not the child.

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So, how are YOU feeling? Other than exhausted, I mean. What challenges have you faced? Does your community sound similar to the one I teach in? Do you have any advice for me? Let’s share our stories and make them all the normal. Build each other up. Celebrate.

It’s going to be a wonderful year!!!

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Dr. Eric Perry

Psychology to Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

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