There's no doubt that being a carer and a teacher is ridiculously hard, but it's been the making of me
Who’d be a primary school teacher? What with all the SATs and the Ofsteds and the triple marking in every colour of the rainbow. Not to mention the personalised reports, endless parents’ evenings and assessment without levels (but still with levels secretly – shh!) I pity those poor guys.
Who’d be a parent of a child with additional needs? What with all the-never-being-invited-to-parties and sleepless nights and mountains of paperwork to complete. Not to mention having to feed, wash and dress them, fight for every single scrap of support, and the woefully inadequate respite provision. I pity those poor guys.
Who’d be a primary school teacher and a parent to a child with additional needs? Oh rats – that’s me.
Elliott was my first born and I can well remember the night – 12 years ago now – when I held him in my arms and, like most new dads, promised him the world. The world however, promised him something very different – autism, severe learning disabilities, sensory processing disorder, a complete inability to talk or communicate meaningfully.
Elliott is a lovely, handsome, giggly 12-year-old who just happens to think like a two-year-old. If you get to know him well enough to be able to pre-empt the stimuli that are going to set him off he’s great company 95% of the time. But get it wrong and you’ll be facing screams and shrieks, anger and tears, tooth and claw.
Our journey as his parents has first and foremost been our journey as his carers. Every decision about our lives and family has been filtered through how it affects Elliott: where we live, where we send our children to school, where we can go on holiday, how we can decorate our home, what we can have for dinner, whether we’ll get any sleep tonight. Every decision.
Now you might think that being a parent and carer to a child with such complex needs isn’t compatible with the demands of a career in teaching – and you’d be right. I rise most days at 4am to complete any marking from the day before and finish off any resourcing for the day ahead. From 6am till 7.30am I’m feeding, washing, and dressing Elliott before popping him on the bus to his special school.
After a bleary-eyed day’s worth of teaching, I head home around 6pm to try and spend a little time with the other two kids (ah yes, should probably find time to be Dad to them too) and manage Elliott to bed around 9pm. If we’re lucky, he’ll finally go to sleep around 11pm. If we’re really lucky he’ll stay asleep till morning. We’re not often lucky.
Now, one of the trite sayings that you often hear bandied around about kids with autism is ‘But I wouldn’t take their autism away; it would change who they are.’ What rubbish! Of course I’d change him. In a heartbeat. Without a second thought. I loathe that sentiment. And, if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I’m going to borrow it. Being a carer and a primary school teacher is ridiculously hard, but I wouldn’t want to take the caring away; it would change the teacher I am.
Having knowledge of the minefield of acronyms that populate the SEND landscape – knowing my EHCPs from my IEPs, my MLD from my SLD – from day one of my teaching career was invaluable.
The lack of sleep doesn’t always make me the most patient man in the world, but the experience of progress happening over much more than one lesson does – on balance it’s been to my benefit to know just how slow progress can be. When I’ve had to share concerns with parents about how their child is progressing, I like to think I’ve done so sensitively. I can remember that heartbreak all too well.
I came into teaching some five years ago because I needed to find a career with a better work/life balance (stop laughing). And for all the hours that teaching does demand of me (hours which, if I’m truly honest, I don’t have to give) it does allow me some semblance of the holidays to be a full time carer and occasional parent. That is something to be cherished; it is unique to teaching.
I wouldn’t wish the lot of being a teacher/carer on anyone. But the perspective it brings? I know that’s been the making of me. TP