It is good to hear the tales of those who enjoyed their school years because I hated every one of mine– oh there was one exception. After all of these years I remember my very first year of school quite vividly. My teacher’s name was Miss White and I remember her telling me often how clever I was. The next four years are a blur and I began failing and it is only in hindsight, and a great deal of therapy, that I have I been able to understand the reasons why I had succeeded so well in my early years and yet this success had not been sustained.
I think I decided fairly early in my school life that, if I could, I would become a teacher, to prove that it was possible to give kids a good time at school. Maybe a strange reason and I do hope my pupils, besides having a good time, did learn something, but one thing I am sure of, I showed them how important it was to care for each other. I wanted them to leave my class with a healthy dose of not only respect for others, but also importantly, a healthy dose of self respect. I know that if I had been my teacher in those years when I began to fail, I would have been alerted to a situation that was causing an otherwise promising student to fail and become totally introverted. Sadly in those days teachers were not trained to be aware of these things so the abuse, which began for me at the end of my first school year, went undetected by the outside world.
Whilst this abuse caused a great deal of turmoil in my life, I am grateful that I have been able to turn it into a positive. It certainly shaped my career, especially when I was able to move into special education. I often wonder if I would have been as effective in helping students if I had not had the experiences of my difficult early childhood.
I have been reflecting on this a lot recently as my daughter’s partner has a child with autistic tendencies who is struggling to fit in at school. I am often shocked at the way this is being handled and while I have sympathy for the difficulties a teacher has coping with a child who does not fit in, I am disappointed by the advice given to this father who is very keen to do the best thing for his son. He has been given a very negative prognosis about his son’s future where as I have found him to be a delightful, extremely bright little boy who looks at the world through a different lens. We took him to a health and wellbeing expo last weekend and he was fascinated with everything and completely in tune with singing bowls, intuitive processes and the American Indian drumming. There was a look of wonder on his face and he understood everything that was going on.
I have been reminded of the children I have fought for over the years. David, who was told by his family that he was dumb yet was able to fix up every motor on his father’s farm; Robert who was severely dyslectic and couldn’t read, but who went on to become an electrical engineer. I did have a fight with TAFE over his entrance but thanks to a very patient principal who agreed to read his assignments to him, he obtained excellent results; Annie who began to learn visually when we discovered her ability to learn through art – there are so many wonderful stories and I feel that the dear little boy who has been given such a poor prognosis could and I believe will, become another success story.
One of my favourite experiences was with Trevor who was born without ears. He was quite distraught because he felt he was unable to learn to read. He was dismayed that his teacher said he could read but he knew he was only reading from memory and not really engaged with the print. He nearly broke my heart when he confided that his mother had said if he learned to read he might get a pair of new ears for Christmas.
It was an exciting day when this little fellow burst through my door brandishing a book and proclaiming that at last he really could read. I can’t remember how long after this he received them, but I do remember how handsome he looked with his new ears.
When I was 55, after years of battling the system, I retired to begin my own business working with ‘big kids’ in the corporate world, these are the experiences I missed. It has been good to reflect on the opportunities that have come my way in spite of what was a very unpromising beginning. Lots to be grateful for.