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.