Eldest was just about to start school, and his soon to be teacher had taken the decision to visit each child in their home before the beginning of term. This was in the pre-diagnosis era, and all I knew was that I had a wonderful, quirky, headstrong and (let’s face it) odd little boy. We baked cookies and practised saying hello and offering the new teacher a drink and cookies – yes, it was important to practise because none of these skills came naturally (nor do they still!). I’ve forgotten the precise conversation, but needless to say, his quirkiness was unmissable. Miss Above and Beyond was lovely, smiley, kind and immediately made me feel that I could confide and trust in her – happy Mummy!
Two weeks into that first term, Eldest was placed on the special needs register, and Miss Above and Beyond had already spent some time with him putting in place a number of strategies to help him navigate school. A poster with “Zack’s Rules” was on the wall of the classroom to his delight (and other parents’ horror), picture timetables were in use etc etc… : all the strategies you would expect to find in an autistic classroom though I did not know it then. Throughout that year, we had many incidents to deal with, and the one thing that kept school manageable and tolerable was that teacher. She “got” this little boy, understood that despite his intelligence he had very real difficulties and was extremely vulnerable. Where dinner ladies feared him, she saw him for what he was – a little boy. I strongly suspect that she shielded me from the minor incidents, dealing with them herself.
[The intervening year was a metaphorical bloodbath of trauma culminating in Eldest being removed from school and embarking on three years of homeschooling. Miss Above and Beyond was no longer his teacher, nor did she have any power to help him during that year. Dark days.]
Lucky me!! Sweet Girl would be starting school with Miss Above and Beyond. It was a very different picture: Kesia was angelic (though the occasional “Kesia strop” became legendary very quickly), eager to learn and please, very intelligent and had a touch of vulnerability as a result of her home life which frankly only made her more endearing. This was a wonderful year of celebrating successes. It was also a year in which Miss Above and Beyond showed her true colours. Opening her classroom doors to both boys when I came to volunteer, she showed a keen interest in Eldest’s progress and encouraged him to help out or play with the other children. He was much more comfortable with younger children than himself, so this proved to be a really positive experience. She was always interested in what we were doing at our homeschool, and loved to read Zack’s stories or look at his pictures. She even listened to his endless plans to build a flying car (at age 6 he had decided to build such a vehicle, which would be propelled upwards by several high powered hairdryers. Further hairdryers positioned on the sides and back of the car would give steering control… the lectures were lengthy!).
For a mother who had become terribly isolated as a result of her child’s disability, this interest and care in what we were doing was invaluable.
The year passed very pleasantly, to be followed by a third child starting school with this inspirational teacher. Third child, third entirely different picture. Where Eldest had to be coaxed into doing anything at all but was extremely capable, Sweet Girl was already looking for reading books in the Junior library during her first year at school, and Little Man arrived with considerable difficulties speaking. I’m sure parents of more than one child are already with me in the bafflement of producing such utterly different creatures from the same basic ingredients!!!
The mark of a successful teacher, I think, is to be adaptable. To be able to gauge a child’s strengths and weaknesses quickly, then address those in as individual a way as is possible given that you have thirty children to teach.
Miss Above and Beyond gave each of my very different three children a start to schooling second to none. And in each case she did this with professionalism, deep care and personal interest. Not only that, but she is able to address me as Zack’s mum, or Kesia’s mum, or Tom’s mum, with no apparent difficulty. Underneath those labels, I am obviously the same person, but when dealing with any one of my kids, I become a different kind of tigress. Miss Above and Beyond adapts to this, for which I am truly grateful.
These few paragraphs cannot do justice to the difference she has made and continues to make to my life and my children’s lives.
And now, eight years later, changes are afoot. Not least, I can see the end of primary school. Chances are that by this time next year, there will no longer be a member of our family there.
And Miss Above and Beyond will also have different priorities as she begins her own family. At this point, I find myself at a loss for words. I am so happy for her I could burst, and seeing her put herself first is very exciting. How we will miss her, of course!! But it feels like a new chapter rather than an ending.
Because Miss Above and Beyond is one of life’s very special people. She will never stop caring, nor will she stop doing everything in her power to help.
I don’t think words exist to crystallize all I would like her to know… so I’m knitting (oh yes… mad knitter alert). Into my knitting goes all that is in my heart, so it seems only apt to knit for Miss Above and Beyond. Bamboo, because it is so soft and easy to wash. Sock yarn, again because it is soft and light but ever so cosy. Blues and greens, because Miss Above and Beyond has never been a frilly girl,but with a touch of fantasy from that amazing fluffy yarn. And a dash of red, just because life mixes things up a little every now and then. A baby blanket, because those are useful, and useable every day. Not too big, so it can be used in a pram, or later as a cape… And a simple checkerboard pattern to give the blanket a gentle flow.
It’s not much, but with every stitch is a wish for good days and happiness, for strength to deal with bad times and with the blanket comes a whole barrowful of love.