Back In The Swing Of Things

We started work again on Monday. So quickly the holidays have come and gone and now we wait another eleven months until our next long break.

Though I am still at the school I’ve been working at for the past three years, I am no longer with my Ladybirds. At my request, my boss moved me to the toddler group (The Ducklings). It wasn’t because I no longer loved teaching 3-4 year olds; I just really needed a change. The oddest thing is how people look at me and assume I’ve been “demoted” or am being “punished” or that I can’t “cope” with the bigger kids any more.

It couldn’t be further from the truth.

No age group is any more or any less challenging than another group. The pace is slower with the toddlers, but their independence level is far lower. I can still do the same amount of creative work, but it’s even more of a challenge to think of stuff that is stimulating for this age group, and is stuff that they can do themselves without too much help. A totally different outlook, mindset and skills set is required.

It’s something new. Something different. And I NEED this.

So far, only four of my children have arrived. Two will only be starting in February when they get back from holiday, and two are still in the baby centre as they can’t walk yet, having only turned one in December. Others may still enrol.

The four I have are all boys.

Neo (pronounced Neh-woh, not Nee-oh, though my boss has already nicknamed him “Matrix”) is the oldest, and the smallest. He’s never been to school before so it’s a huge adjustment for him. He’s at his happiest sitting in your lap while he plays with your mouth with his fingers. On day one, he cried constantly. Now, on day three, he’s confident enough to play with and talk to his class mates, and move more than a meter away from me. He still cries when I leave the room, however.

Langa has been at the school since he was a few months old. He’s turning two in February. He’s naughty as anything and loves to see how long he can ignore me before I will actually start chasing him. He’s got a brilliant sense of humour and is very clever. He can sing the whole of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “Jingle Bells”, as well as count all the way to ten (He will only do this if you’re not looking at him – if you try to ask him to count for you, he just giggles).

Tawfeeq is a sweet and gentle little boy with a butterfly obsession. Seriously. The kid goes NUTS for butterflies. I gave him a free-drawing task yesterday and he looked at his scribble and excitedly squealed, “It a buttah-fie!!!” He’s not as rough as my other boys but he enjoys playing with them. He loves coming for cuddles. Not too keen on eating though.

Stephan is my current youngest. Absolutely adorable and he knows it. It’s very hard to be cross with him because all he has to do is smile and hold out his arms and my heart melts (Note to self – get a stronger heart…). He is a typical boy – loves cars and trucks and is constantly raiding the shelves with the big trucks – no matter how many times you tell him no. Insofar as kids this age form bonds with each other, Langa is his best friend. He, along with Langa and Tawfeeq, form our class’s Three Musketeers. All for one – unless you get caught, then it’s every kid for himself!

I didn’t have the excitement towards the end of the holidays that I usually do. But it’s just set in late. I am so excited to be with this group. So excited for the new challenges. I’m loving it.

(Ask me again in a few months and I’ll be begging for the holidays).

Highlights

While there are some downsides to teaching  – the occasionally emotional days, the ick factor, working with 11 other women which means there’s ALWAYS someone PMSing… there are some awesome moments, too. So I thought I’d share them with you.

Today, I got my kids to draw their faces, since I’ve been focussing a lot on body awareness the last few weeks. Rethabile started colouring something in, and I couldn’t figure out what she was doing.

Me: Whatcha drawin’, Retha?
Retha: Red eyes.
Me: O___o; O… okay…

Where she got the idea from, I don’t know, but next thing I knew, her entire group all had red-eyed drawings.  A trend setter in the making!

See, I studied anthropology for a few years, so teaching absolutely tickles the part of me that is an anthropologist (my gods that’s a complicated word to type!). Last year, for insance, I saw first hand the development of slang: there’s a TV show on Cartoon Network where a main character eats bananas to gain super powers (laser beams shooting out of his eyes). The character eats a banana and declares, “I am Mighty Ray! FEAR MY EYEBALLS!!!” and then it’s smack-down for the baddies. So one of my kids, upon bringing a banana to school, said, “Hey, I’m Mighty Ray! Fear my eyeballs! Shwooooom!”

Within days, all the kids were referring to bananas as Mighty Rays. It’s what’s for lunch. For the whole year.

I also love when I set a task for my kids where they really excel beyond what I expect.

Last week, I asked my kids to assemble a torso, legs and a head on a piece of paper in the right order. Some were… interesting…

Yet by no means not good!

 

The rest were simply awesome.

 

 

 

This kind of thing makes me so happy I actually have no words for it.

And then there’s this:

Munaishe has an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). I’m not sure what was going through his head, but he opened his yoghurt at snack time and decided to put the lid on his head. Then he dribbled yoghurt on the table and set about wiping it with his sandwich plastic with a look of absolute, focussed glee.

Cleaning up is honestly no chore after that. Seriously.

And lastly this:

This is Calvin, and if you’ve read that post, then this picture needs no other words.

 

Calvin

“I don’t know what I’d do with a special-needs kid.”

“You must have loads of patience to deal with him.”

“Oh shame, can’t he go to a special school for others like him?”

“Is he safe?”

“Why is he here, can’t he go somewhere else?”

“It’s a bit unfair, isn’t it? How do you manage to teach the other children when he takes up so much of your time?”

And my answer?

“It’s my job. And I love him.”

I have a little boy in my class who is classified as special needs. He has foetal anti-convulsant syndrome, because his mom has to take Epilem, a common anti-seizure drug. Many, many children are born this way because doctors don’t have a choice when it comes to managing a mom-to-be’s epilepsy or bi-polar disorder and ensuring the safety of her unborn child. They choose to ignore the data. So many moms have to deal with such guilt and pain, and the struggle of raising a child who, despite everyone’s best efforts, will always have a harder time than other kids. And it’s not their fault. Not at all. But try telling them that.

Calvin has clubbed feet.

He narrowly avoided spina bifida.

He is 5 and a half, and still on nappies much of the time.

Mentally, he is about 2 years old. Physically, he’s a big, strong boerkind.

He battles to swallow, so he drools a lot, and has to wear a bib.

He wanders off, and all the staff know to keep an eye out for him, especially when I am working with one of the other kids.

He gets frustrated because he knows that for some reason he can’t do a whole lot of the stuff the other kids in the class can do. The other kids are all 2 years younger than him.

He bites himself when he gets upset. He lashes out at other kids who tease him. He has to constantly be reminded to be gentle.

Calvin also gives the best hugs.

His smile can light up a room.

His laugh can bring smiles to the faces of people on the other side of the school.

He can tell a joke.

He loves doing work in class, and even though he can’t perform at the level of the other kids, he tries.

He loves to see smiles on other people’s faces.

He is perceptive and can tell when someone is upset. Then he’ll hug them.

He’ll greet other parents with lables of “Papa”, “so-and-so’s Mama”, “Oom” (uncle), “Tannie” (Auntie), “Ouma” (Granny) “Oupa” (Grandpa)

He’ll hug them, too.

He has this way of staring through you with this puzzled expression as he figures out who you are and your place in his world. Then his eyes focus, and he give’s the statement, “Calvin’s Teacher Kirsten”, or the like. It means he likes you. It means you’re a part of his world.

There is no special school for him. Not until he turns 7 and is in grade 1. And by that time, the formative years have passed and the brain settles into the patterns that will define a child for the rest of their lives.

He comes to our school because his mom had nowhere else to turn.

And I believe that some higher power must’ve sent him to me. And I thank that higher power every day.

I look after him because I love him. I love him so much my heart aches. He’s special. In more ways than one.

He has taught me so much about a world of things.

He has taught me patience.

He has taught me to see the funny side.

He has improved my ability to speak Afrikaans.

He has taught me to appreciate the beauty in simple things.

He has taught me about the strength of the human spirit.

All the people who’ve ever asked those questions at the beginnings of this post… they’ve all become his biggest fans, because they see how his joy, his sense of humour, his boundless energy and bright spirit enriches the lives of them, and their children, and their children’s teachers.

When he first came to me, I was uncertain.

I was stressed.

I was afraid.

I didn’t know how to deal with him.

I cried most nights for the first couple of weeks.

Not because I didn’t want to. But because, as his teacher, I wanted to do right by him.

Because that’s my job. My vocation.

And I won’t lie, this one child has affected me more than any other child I’ve ever taught. In the few short months I have been Calvin’s teacher, his spirit has become inexorably bound with mine. And even once he’s long gone like the others, gone to big school and a bright future, I will always remember that I was his teacher.

And when I remember that I was his teacher, I want to remember that I did all I could to make sure that future is as bright as I can possibly make it.

Woot, an Update!

Such a great day today with the kids! We did our first workbook sessions today, and most of them managed to follow the instructions without a hitch! The only ones who struggled are the ones I’ve already put into a group for more intensive work, so it makes me happy to know my initial perceptions of them were correct. They all did me so proud today. I can’t wait to do more work with them!

Tomorrow is Baking… haven’t quite decided exactly what we’re going to make, but I’m banking on something simple. Our colour of the week was red, and the shape was circle, so I’m thinking of putting red icing on a marie biscuit and giving them circular sweets to stick on… maybe some jelly tots and some marshmallows. When we do more complex themes like the seasons or animals, I get a lot more creative. My favourite thing to make is trees. ^_^

On that note, it’s pretty late for me. I’m off to bed, but I wanted to post something before I do. Blog every day and stay disciplined – I’m determined that this blog shall be my procrastination cure!

One last thing though: I was introduced to the following video via http://www.gaystarnews.com. Being a lesbian, and knowing what others “like me” face every day is heartwrenching. To see people attack us for who we are, and condemn us, and drive children to suicide while murdering others… this is something that needs to be shared, so share it I shall. Maybe things will change for us, if only the perceptions of us change first.

I am gay. I am not a monster. Ask anyone who knows me.

Storage Space Woes

OK, so, we have this thing at work called “Termly Requirements”. Basically, this means we ask parents to supply wet wipes (even big kids, those things clean faces really well), tissues, toilet paper etc. It’s a system that works really well.

At the beginning of this year, I worked out how much of each requirement I needed, put it in a letter and sent it home.

Man, is this class so much more on the ball than last year’s.

Last year, I had to practically beg on my hands and knees for parents to bring in stuff – you’d think they’d jump at the chance to make sure their kids had snot-free noses, clean faces and wiped bums, but no. I never really had to worry about where I was going to put everything because I was using up requirements at roughly the rate they were trickling in.

Not this year.

Man, and it turns out boxes of tissues, packs of wetwipes, bogrolls galore and plasters in case of minor injury take up a hell of a lot of space. Also, my cupboard is disorganised.

I have a big cupboard in my class, but it’s filled with all sorts of crap in the first two shelves. Yes, it’s my fault, and yes, I know that I should take more care to chuck what is not needed… but I did that already and it didn’t make much difference.

Oh well.

Guess I’ll just have to get creative.

Oh, and in other news, I’m really really sleepy! And instead of using my lunch break to sleep, I’m updating my blog! Now that’s dedication.

And Now Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programing

For once, unusually for a journal/blog belonging to me, the hiatus was not of my own doing. We recently joined a new internet service provider and had a few hiccups and only got back online yesterday, and I haven’t had computer access until now. I’ve wanted to write, I really have, but I can’t update this thing on my phone. I get to the “New Post” screen, and can’t go any further. It was frustrating.

We’ve been back at school for nearly a week now. The kids are all in and settling – I only have one more child who hasn’t come in for the new year yet, but she should be in tomorrow once the primary schools go back and her transport service starts running again.

Barring some screamers on the first day, I haven’t had any hiccups. I have two children who cry in the mornings, but only when they leave their parents. They’re happy and playing within minutes. They’re getting used to my routine and they’re actually more organised than my last group was this time last year. We’re settling into class work (I had them make Ladybirds yesterday – it’s our class symbol, plus I was able to integrate this week’s shape and colour – circle and red). We’ve had some disruptions from the external exta-murals who come in and do demo-lessons, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.

My current perceptions:

Abigail: Clingy, cries for mom in the mornings, but it seems mostly to garner attention from her as her little brother Josh cries. Otherwise well-behaved and is learning that it’s my way or the high-way – no exceptions!

Boikanyo: The oldest (save Calvin), already turned 4. Well-adjusted, bright, mature, polite, but a bit quiet.

Calvin: Has Fetal Anti-Convulsant Syndrome, which leads to some physical and mental delays. The actual oldest at and 5 and a half. Very sweet and affectionate, but is still a toddler in a big boy’s body. Big project this year – get him into a remedial school as opposed to a special needs school.

Catherine: Well-behaved and chilled little girl. Mom going to have a baby in a month so it’ll be interesting to see how she reacts and if she becomes emotional and/or clingy. I really need to work on her slow eating habits.

Farhanah: A staff kid (Teacher Faridah’s daughter), with all that goes with it, but she seems a lot less high-maintenance than some other staff kids I’ve taught. Quiet but sweet-natured and clever. Very gentle little girl.

Gabriel: Emotional in the mornings, but usually fine once Mom and Dad have gone. Has some problems with speech (he garbles his words) but is otherwise talkative with a good vocabulary. He enjoys taking on responsibility so I think I’ll give him class Leadership slightly more often to build his confidence.

Hlumisa: The ever-elusive child who has not come to school yet! Last year’s perceptions are that she very much has a mind of her own, but she is very clever. I want to try to get her into a gross-motor movement extra-mural to try and combat the fact that she’s far too overweight for a 3 year old.

Jack: Does not speak when I talk to him, but talks up a storm with his friends – need to work on that! Screamed blue murder on the first day but has calmed down. He’s another one expecting home upheaval in the form of an imminent little sister so again I’m curious to see how it affects his personality.

Jade: Former staff kid, and still acts like one. Very much a little madame and wants her own way ALL THE TIME. She’s learning that I’m no push over and that respect is the number one rule in my class. She’s talkative and clever and VERY charming. If I can get her out of the sulks she has when things don’t go her way, I’m going to have a real gem.

Kagiso: Very sweet little boy and very funny. Can be naughty but all little boys are. Needs to develop confidence with his shapes and colours, but he’ll get there.

Munaishe: My fairy child. Fairly sure he has an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) but he is such a character! In his own little world and smiling 90% of the time. Next step is to convince Mom and Dad to go for assessment to work out if there actually is a disorder. Not going to be a fun conversation.

Olwake: Does not speak and very shy, but play him some music and he’s away. I’m definitely getting through to him when we sing. He loves it.

Ofentse: Doesn’t understand English and is way behind in where he should be… unfortunately leaving at the end of the month so I won’t get the chance to work with him.

Rethabile: Dynamite comes in small packages. She’s tiny but she knows what she wants. Ignore her at your peril! Very confident and verbose – talkative children make me happy.

Riley: Very fun little boy with a whip-like wit and great sense of humour, has a bit of a stutter so I may recommend speech therapy if he doesn’t show improvement by June or so.

Sanelisiwe: Well-behaved and mature, slightly shy. Can talk but doesn’t put herself out there. Very clever though, I just need to get through to her.

Sophie: Total angel (and I’m not just saying that because her Mom reads this blog!) Can be quiet at times and talks softly, but has the best general knowledge of the class – I’m hoping she rubs off on the others, especially Abigail and Jade.

Thabang: Can talk but chooses not to talk to adults. Very shy and insecure, but there seems to be instability at home. I’m working hard to make sure he feels loved and safe in class and with me. He responds to praise, so I’m hoping that’s the key if I just give him simple tasks that he can easily do and work from there.

Wihona: The youngest. Red-haired and a total fire brand. Very strong leadership qualities, mothers the rest of the class like nobody’s business! She’ll definitely be a big help through the year as she follows instructions and requests very well.

I have a feeling it’s going to be a fun year!

Oh, and in other news, I held fifty million Dollars  in my hand yesterday. Pity they were Zimbabwe Dollars and worth about R2!