Making A Change

age 4 at Astley Park, Chorley, England

 

I just walked away from my profession.

You know what?  It wasn’t the first time.

I am a teacher who left the classroom this week (again), leaving a cohort of children behind.  They felt sad, so did I.  They didn’t know how to respond to their emotions, I let them express in whatever ways they felt able.  They told me they loved me and picked me daisies in the playground.  We sang their favourite songs. I read them a book reminding them to follow their hearts and always be true to who they are, and then I left them.

 

A day later, I heard from another teacher friend.  She had just done the same.  She had left a class of children in early years, as I had, partway through their year – a very difficult decision for us both, yet one that felt right.

 

We both adore working with children in education.  We worked hard to gain the qualifications needed to teach in our country’s classrooms.  So why walk away, one might ask?  Why leave a job that is making a difference to children, with a stable salary attached, and regular holidays?

Schools are conditioned to prioritise attainment over everything else.

Working in a system that does not acknowledge childhood trauma and complex adversity goes against the grain of our passion to help these children who need a different approach, and who need caring individuals to acknowledge how tough things are for them.  For highly sensitive, empathetic individuals, being in situations that cause us to compromise our values and everything our hearts believe in, starts to wear us down.

 

The education system in this country – it’s one size fits all.  For the children and for the teachers.  Most of all, it creates a widening gap in attainment between the children whose socio-emotional needs are met while they are provided for physically in a safe home with stable finances, and the rest of their classmates.

 

Oh, yes.  We provide for children with special educational needs and disabilities, and rightly so.  Inclusion, we call it.  But children with trauma?  Children living with neglect?  Children in poverty?  Children who are being sexually abused and no one knows?  Children of mothers struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental illness?  What about them?  How are they included?  How are their learning needs supported in the context of what they are coping with?  How are they meant to keep up with their peers in relation to academic attainment?

 

My mother, who lives overseas, recently cleared a cupboard and found some of my things.  They arrived in the mail the day after I left my school.  Coincidentally, in the package was a school exercise book from when I was a child.  The dates showed it was the school year in which I turned 11.  The year when, shortly after my Dad moved out, our house burned down, we lost everything, we were homeless, we went to live with friends, the husband turned violent one night and we were homeless again for a few days with all our clothes and things in the car (things we had been given after the fire.)  During that time, I never had a day off school – well, not physically at least.  And I was a “bright child”.  But the deterioration in my handwriting and my academic output is painfully visible in the pages of this book, as my daily survival became more important to me than my learning.

 

Children who are experiencing neglect, poverty, abuse, trauma – anything, will be affected.  They will.  Even if they look like they are not.  Even if people label them as “resilient”.  Even if they smile and do their work.  They will be affected.  Our education system needs to accommodate this and currently it doesn’t.

 

I worked with a child once with complex trauma.  I tried to support colleagues to help the child learn ways to self-soothe and how to regulate his emotions, I translated research for them so they understood how to navigate his “textbook” trauma responses.  In the end, the head teacher told me simply “He still needs to comply.”  This is the result of the pressure put on schools by our central government to make sure children reach uniform attainment levels, no matter what.

 

There is no doubt that trauma in childhood, including identified Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), have a lasting impact on children.  But with valuable relationships and the right support in a climate which accepts their challenges, children can still learn and achieve.  My own ACEs score was 7 out of 10 by the time I was just twelve years old.  I have degrees, post-graduate qualifications and am living proof that a high ACEs score does not mean permanent limitations.  Though it certainly explains why I skipped a lot of school in my teens, and developed certain coping mechanisms over the years.

 

Both my friend and I are looking forward to our next chapters with positive energy and determination.  I feel humbled to be able to contribute to being a source of hope in the lives of children with trauma and adversity, whose wider needs are often unmet in schools, despite quality teaching and caring teachers, because of a system that refuses to acknowledge the impact of their experiences.

 

I look forward to starting conversations with others who feel the same.  I look forward to going into schools to work alongside teaching staff to find ways to make school a safer, more understanding place for children.  After all, adults modelling empathy towards a child is the best way their classmates will learn to respond compassionately to those in emotional distress.

Writing in my school book in early November.

Same schoolbook in March after a housefire, homelessness and maternal depression.

4 comments to Making A Change

  • So glad you shared this, Judith. I know there’s so much more you could say, yet you’re being diplomatic about it. You can’t change a system that doesn’t thrive on compassion – which is most of our world, sadly, especially when it comes to education.

    You’re brilliant and I hope your spectacular gifts will help children in other ways. I’m glad you made a decision to help yourself and your family, too. xx

  • Sandra

    This…This resonates within me so deeply. For all the children “who need to comply” but who are actually fighting for survival.
    Thank You for writing this. I wish every teacher in every school could read this.

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