That teacher

It will heal

We’ve had that teacher. The one that yells, the one that whispers quietly and furiously in Poss’ ear. We’ve had the one that refuses to talk to our specialist team or read their reports, who declined to implement any of the changes we asked for and insisted that if we just discipline Poss more, that the ‘so called Autism’ will go away.

We’ve had the teacher that allowed, Poss to sit under the table for most of a term. Too scared to come out, too overwhelmed to participate, too confused to be able to make sense of the world around her. The table was a comfort to her; a physical barrier between her and the rest of the classroom.

Other days, she’d be made to stand in the hallway on her own. For hours at a time. Not allowed to be a part of her class, not welcome to learn with her peers. Told she was less than, she was naughty, she was beyond hope.

Then there were the days, and there were lots of them, when I’d drop her off and then be back to pick her up before the bell rang for recess. She’d be sitting sadly in the chair outside of the office. She’s too much, too hard to handle, unmanageable, they’d say.

The bullying started not long afterwards; the other kids followed the example set by the teacher.

Eventually enough was enough, we could no longer stand by and watch Poss slip away from us. We involved extra help; our paediatrician, our specialist team, the Catholic education department and eventually, a lawyer.

That was a long time ago now, although I don’t have to reach far back to find the memories. Four years and it still feels raw, kind of like a wound that keeps having the scab knocked off it. Each time it hurts less, but you just know you’re going to end up with a scar.

The teacher ended up leaving the school, while we stayed on to try and repair the damage. But of course it was already done. She was the naughty kid, the kid that the other kids blamed for their mischief, the kid that was the easy target in the playground.

While some things got better, others stayed the same. A new teacher took Poss under her wing and for a while she started to come out of her shell. But it didn’t last. The wound was too wide and too deep to close over, and things just kept opening it up again.

When we started at the new school we knew it would be hard. That there would be risks. That we might end up with another teacher just the same. That running away from things doesn’t mean they go away. You just carry them with you.

But these days, Poss’ teacher doesn’t yell. Nor does she exclude, or ignore, or whisper angry words into her ear. Poss has never spent time in the hallway on her own, in fact her teacher has yet to send Poss from the room, let alone the school grounds.

Instead she sends her little notes home in her diary, telling her how valuable she is. How proud of her she is. How much she loves having her in the classroom. She emailed over the holidays to let Poss know she was thinking of her and how excited she was to have her back in the classroom again this term.

She is keen to learn who Poss is; not just the bits that relate to the diagnosis, but who she is and what makes her smile. She encourages her interests and supports the areas that need work with a gentle hand.

And just like that other teacher; the other children follow her lead.

I try not to pick at old wounds, it’s not good for anyone to be always looking backwards; but every now and then, especially when I hear about other families dealing with awful situations, I can’t help but scratch at the scab.

But when you find a teacher like the one we have this year, it’s like a soothing bandaid has been applied to the old wound; a salve that starts to take away the pain and shows you that eventually it will heal.

It will heal.

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  1. Catherine says:

    I’m glad you have the teacher you have now – so very glad. She is the kind of teacher every student deserves.
    As for “that teacher”, oh I find it hard to put into words… You have, on the other hand, described the experience so very well.
    Best wishes to Poss for this term.

  2. Renee you made me cry.

    I was the different kid too back in 1970 I was the wog boy that the nuns and religious hurt for years. Physically and emotionally.

    I’m so glad that you were able to fight for Poss but so sad that in the 21st century you had to. I’m glad that you persevered ad I’m especially glad that at the new school you found a teacher who was so in tune with the impacts of her actions and the understanding that Poss is a person. That understanding is the most important thing anyone can have. Whatever their interaction with others, be they a teacher and their pupils or us as we interact with our colleagues, our friends our peers.

    Thanks for sharing and thanks for reminding us that we just need to show some love and non judgemental care for each other. I hope that tomorrow is the start of another good week for Poss, for you, your partner and that each day brings you all a tiny morsel of joy.



    • Oh Patrick – thanks for your comment. I certainly didn’t aim to make anyone cry, but appreciate all the support.
      Renee recently posted..That teacherMy Profile

      • PatrickC says:

        I know that wasn’t your intention but that’s the beauty and truth of your blog. Its raw intensity is something that we can all identify.

  3. Tears are blurring my typing here Renee, it’s so wonderful that Poss has the right kind of teacher now to bring her into achieving everything she is capable of, and knowing she is valued and loved outside of her family, but how desperately sad that you have to write about this person as being special. ALL teachers should value every one of their pupils, and find ways to let them know.

    Sadly, there are too many people in the teaching profession who went into it for the wrong reasons or who have lost their way badly and forgotten just how large they loom in the lives of our vulnerable citizens ie our children.

    May Poss have a succession of teachers who appreciate her and continue to boost her in every way xx

  4. This is one of my biggest fears for our little girl. We are in an amazing school with great teachers & support, so I hope it continues. I am so pleased that Poss is now so happy where she is and is getting the support and encouragement she desrves at school from her teachers & peers. xx

  5. We have been there too and is is amazing what a effect a teacher (and in our case, the principal too), can make, both for good and for bad. Our son changed schools halfway through year 2 from a very small school to the largest school in our area, which supposedly had the best reputation, when we moved due to hubby’s job. Right from the beginning, my son struggled to break into peer groups and we also had a lot of things happening in our lives apart from having just moved, we had just had our fourth child, his cat who we had actually had before him and so he grew up with, passed away just before we moved, our baby was diagnosed with a number of medical issues and disabilities, requiring a lot of my attention and travel to medical appointments etc, and then two grandparents were diagnosed with cancer, with one ultimately losing her battle, six months later. My son battled through year 3 but had an amazing teacher who understood how everything was affecting him and would give him his safe places to retreat to when the bullying on the playground became too much. Then when he went into year 4, he was in a 4/5 composite class, as one of two year 4 boys. The teacher was a deputy principal and the head sports teacher, so was away from class quite regularly and was totally opposite from the warm, mothering teacher my son had had the year before. The bullying began to really intensify and the way the Principal and class teacher dealt with it was to label my son as having autism. We talked about moving our son to a small, private school at the end of the year, as both our school aged sons were finishing their stage and we had our third child beginning school the next year, so it was all good timing for each of them, and we wanted to help our child develop resilience and conflict resolution and to learn that you don’t just run away from issues but to develop solutions. Eventually we knew that for our sons mental well being, we had to get him out of there. There had been many incidents where my son had just had enough, that he became physically violent towards the other children and when he was removed from the class, he began running away from school. So three days before the end of term when we had just received another call from the school to say that he had run away from school again, we knew that we had to act and were happy for him to stay at home the last few days of term. We had already had an interview at the new school and so rang them to see if he could start the new term there. They were more than happy for him to begin the next day and we said we would see how our son felt about it. The next day he was out of bed, had had breakfast, and gotten dressed by 7:30am, until then, we had had such a huge battle each morning getting him ready to go to school. He was so excited to be going, which was such a relief. Since starting at the school, he has still had a few issues, with finding his feet and where he fits within the school, but the school has an amazing anti-bullying policy and my son has been on both sides of the policy, but has now settled in really well and has his love of school back. We have also had multiple paediatrician appointments where autism has definitely been ruled out. Two years on and I am still cranky and extremely disappointed in the response of the class teacher and especially the principal, and can’t help but think of the psychological damage they allowed to happen to my son.
    I am so glad your Poss now has a wonderful teacher who understands her, and I hope both you and her can continue to heal from the effect of the other teacher.

    • Wow Belinda – what a ride for you and your family! I can’t believe that you had to go through all of that… but I’m so pleased that your son has found his place, it makes all the difference when they find their place in the world.

  6. This made me so sad, but then so happy. Teachers are very, very important. x

  7. I’m shocked that such a teacher existed, even 4 years ago. I’m so sorry you had to go through such a rough time. So glad you have a good teacher now.

  8. Hi Renee, I was reading your article and I could almost taste bile – we’ve had that teacher. In fact, we had that teacher twice…two years in a row (albeit different names and faces). We, like you, fought it with reports, specialists, tutoring, volunteering efforts, peer support (ie playdates, playdates and more playdates) and constant attempts to bolster self-esteem. Our gorgeous girl was only 6 years old and was diagnosed with clinical depression (in addition to an ASD and co-existent anxiety, the combined behavioural effect being selective mutism), due solely to the irresponsible and bullying behavior of her teacher/s. It wasn’t until we offered to fund a part-time teacher’s aide in the classroom (to be used primarily for transitioning between tasks, something that seemed to be an issue for the teacher in question, but to be available across the classroom) that the Principal baldly told us that she didn’t want our help and didn’t want to set a precedent – if we could afford that sort of thing, we should be in a private school. We were then subjected to a series of significantly disgusting events (our daughter being forced to stand in front of the class for making a mistake in her writing, being sat in the hall and made to colour in with crayons while her peers did their work, being constantly told that she was low IQ and needed to be in a special school…despite the fact we had a psychometric test which said quite the opposite). We (her parents) were actually being bullied. But we weren’t alone. By the time we decided (at the end of year 1, after 2 years of this nonsense) that enough was enough, we left the school – along with 2 other children in the same class. The criteria for their explulsion – difference. In the saddest moment of all, a friend told me in tears that her daughter was so upset because she’d said “I can’t play with {my girl} at school Mummy because my teacher hates her, and I don’t want her to hate me too.” How that teacher sleeps at night is beyond me. Especially when you understand that the primary behavioural problem attaching to my daughter’s ASD is selective mutism ie. she doesn’t say a word. Doesn’t interrupt, shout, isn’t aggressive, doesn’t tantrum. She just withdraws and shuts down. Having said all that, fast forward a few years and the difference is remarkable – our gorgeous girl has absolutely flourished in a new school, she has beautiful friends and generous, caring teachers who constantly see the good, the value, the difference as a positive thing. Does she have issues? Yes. Are they insurmountable? Absolutely not. We are in such a significantly better place, and along with a desire to share our story (and agree, the healing happens when you remove yourselves from the toxicity), in our experience the teacher does not work alone. And anyone who waits it out (like we did), hoping for a “better teacher, better year” needs to know…the attitude to difference starts at the top – the Principal sets the cultural tone, and if they are intolerant of difference….get out now! I am so sorry that you and your daughter experienced that teacher, and very glad that you’re in a better place too. The hardest thing any parent will ever suffer is to watch their child not thrive – and the wounds it inflicts run deep (hence my reaction to your article…my heart aches still).

    • Oh Kathryn – your story could have been ours. Poss was also diagnosed with depression and the spiral just continued downwards. And you’re spot on – it doesn’t matter how well intentioned the teacher, if there isn’t support at the principal or school board level, then you can guarantee that the issues will filter down. What’s that saying? The fish rots from the head. And in my experience it’s true. Thanks for sharing and for taking the time. x

      • It was actually quite cathartic writing it all down – at the time that we were going through it, we felt so alone. Thanks for sharing your story in your blog, and encouraging and supporting others, it can be a long, lonely marathon some days. x

  9. Oh my goodness, I have just read this and was in a flood of tears. This is our story also – but not with one teacher. Over 7 years of school my son has had 3 such teachers … all at Catholic schools. I must say that I have lost all respect for Catholic education (I am an inclusive education teacher).

    My son’s year 5 teacher was the final straw. We had just moved back to Australia as we knew the Australian education system was far superior to where we had been living. I found what I thought would be a caring, supportive ,small catholic school that would support my boy’s educational and behavioural needs. I had discussed with the school at length my son’s Asperger Syndrome, Anxiety Disorder and OCD, as well as the concerns I had with the massive changes he would be facing moving countries and schools. I believed he was in good hands, but I could not have been more wrong. Both his classroom teacher and the school Principal quickly made it very clear that such a child was ‘not the right fit’ for their school. He was ostracised, treated with a level of intolerance that I had never previously encountered and his academic progress completely halted. An older student started to physically bully him, yet my son was accused of lying. Apparently bruises were not enough evidence. My favourite official behaviour report sent home was for my child squashing a grape in the playground. This was by far his most serious offence recorded. To this day I cannot understand why the school accepted his enrolment application when the Principal is clearly intolerant of difference.

    We quickly moved him to a private boy’s school, where he is thriving. There have been no official behaviour reports and academically he is progressing wonderfully. Just before the school holidays we were informed that he was selected to represent the school in a statewide science competition. It is amazing the difference a good, progressive school can make.

    • I’m so pleased that you found your place but horrified you had to go through all of that. We were so worried when we moved to her current school that we’d find a similar thing, and I spent many a sleepless night wondering if I’d properly explained all her challenges. But we’ve been so impressed, time and time again, how they’ve managed to find the things she’s good at, and build those things up, while still supporting the things she needs help with. It’s a huge relief – no doubt like what you have discovered… Thanks for sharing your story!

  10. I read your post and my heart just clenched. We are currently looking for a primary school for our son who is high functioning and to say it’s been a challenge is an understatement. On a tour of one school the principal asked if he my sonad funding before I had even sat down. I couldn’t believe it. We have put him down for 2 independent schools but we need a Government school as a backup just in case and so far, I am not liking what I am seeing.
    I am so glad that the teacher this year has an approach that is working for Poss. A good teacher who uses a different approach and actually cares can make all the difference in the world.

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