My old Nan used to say ‘as one door closes another one opens’ and no truer words have been spoken. As everything came crashing down around me (when our second adoption match fell through) a shiny new opportunity (in the form of a job prospect) presented itself and sparkled amongst the debris. The way I saw it, I had two choices. Option one, I could allow the rubble to consume me and spend weeks trying to dig myself out. Or alternatively I could rise up from the ashes (stronger and wiser) seizing the opportunity with both hands as I went. Life has a funny way of taking you in different directions and this time my path saw me doing something I vowed I would never do again………go back to school!
Now my relationship with school is a complicated one to say the least. Growing up (in the 80’s) in a deprived area of London for the first six years of my life, you may be surprised to learn that the initial two years of my education attribute heavily to my fondest schooling memories. Enrolled in a school with a high proportion of children with English as an additional language (EAL) my early years education was unorthodox to say the least. A high proportion of my time was spent learning about differing cultures and religions and learning songs in multiple languages which still to this day I can remember reciting animatedly to my parents on an almost daily basis. Whilst others may view this experience negatively, I strongly believe that this is where my aspirations to travel grew and my curiosity for the big wide world outside of the City of London developed. There are some lessons that we learn through our life experiences and this one taught me the value of acceptance and the ability to embrace and celebrate diversity.
Now it might be interesting to know that whilst there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that EAL students underachieve at GCSE’s in comparison to their peers where English is their first language, statistics do indicate that they are notably disadvantaged in Primary school (in particular at Key stage 1). So returning to my own classroom experience and taking this into consideration I can now understand how it was possible for me to miss some of those important educational building blocks at the time. With not a single Teaching Assistant in sight back then, I can only describe my bilingual teacher as inspirational and the way in which she navigated the classroom naturally swapping her languages (in an attempt to meet the children’s individual needs) can only be described as commendable. It didn’t however take long for me to develop the ability to be able to switch off to the stuff I didn’t understand. A coping mechanism which has remained with me even into adulthood.
At this time both my parents were very much working class and we lived in an area surrounded by other disadvantaged families and varying degrees of poverty. Research and statistics aren’t needed by me to link poverty to other negative outcomes and as a result of being subjected to some of these outcomes personally from others outside of the family unit I learned from a very young age that I needed to be tough in order to protect myself. It’s funny how some memories are lasting and shape us as people, one of my most vivid recollections of conflict from that time is a woman spitting on my Mum in the supermarket for having a black African child (she child minded) with her. Needless to say, even to this day spitting invokes an incredibly emotive response within me. A little quote from one of my favourite books may help you understand the neuroscience behind this ‘what fires together, wires together’.
As a family our fortunes changed for the better when we were able to buy (and eventually sell) our council house, relocating to a more affluent commuter town, it is here that it transpired that both myself and my older brother could, comparably to our peers, barely read or write and my own personal battle with the educational system began.
As we grow we learn coping mechanisms in order to survive in our environment and this is exactly what we did. Too far behind (with parents who were unable to support due to their own educational struggles) and failing to keep up with my classmates, I learned to detract from my feelings of inadequacy by being disruptive or when it felt like my teacher was speaking a different language, I would of course switch off. Things were financially looking up for my family but we were still unable to keep up with the ever changing trends and this resulted in a string of fashion faux pas for me, which generally saw me being tormented (who knew callots could cause so much pain and shame). Naturally this only fuelled my feelings of inadequacy and in order to cope I learnt to protect myself verbally and if necessary by using my fists.
Back to to the present day and leaving the security of my work family (at the Adoption Agency) behind, for the last few weeks I’ve been facing the daunting task of reintegrating myself back into school life. Not one to be scared of a new challenge, I was actually surprised at how overwhelming this experience has been and how easy it has been for those feelings of inadequacy to resurface and bubble within (even after many years). Believing vehemently that there is always an underlining reason for behaviour (in children and adults) it dawned on me that some of the students I’m working with remind me not only of my misunderstood younger self but of my brother (who’s educational journey was cut short) and my adopted children who are all fighting their very own personal battles within the educational system themselves.
Turning to my social work bestie for some much needed advice she was of course on hand to offer words of wisdom (not to mention job opportunities!) as always. She reminded me that I’m currently walking in the shoes of the new students who attend the school and how this experience will truly enable me to empathise with just a few of the challenges they face (picture me knocking on a toilet door thinking it was a classroom). Her advice to me was when things get tough take some time to think about Fostered and Adopted children and how they are asked to repeat my current experience over and over again as they move around the care system.￼
The truth of the matter is that many of the the memorable experiences we face in life remain with us forever and continue to form a small part of us. We all have triggers and reflecting on some of the challenges I have faced over the past few weeks it suddenly occurred to me that my past has in fact been influencing my present in a negative way.
Taking the time to explore my feelings and revisit my childhood (in this blog) I have come to the conclusion that whilst my early life experiences have most definitely shaped me, I have not allowed them to define me. By bringing these memories into my consciousness I now understand that it is in fact this very narrative which has drawn me to my work with disadvantaged families and continues to provide me with the empathy, understanding and acceptance that I need to continue to truly make a difference in the lives of others less fortunate that myself.
And so, over the last few weeks I have been subjected to one of the toughest endurance tests to date. This has seen me being frozen (when the heating packed up), being overheated (when the heating was fixed), tortured by the same music playing over and over again in the sports hall below my office (ear defenders worked a treat in blocking the concert rehearsals out) not to mention having to wear a dodgy Christmas jumper!
Yet despite all this (and the fact we are still very much winging our way through adoption process number four) you’ll be pleased to hear that I have officially survived my first term.
Every day is now a school day and this term saw me revisiting one of the most valuable lessons I took away from my therapeutic training which applies to us all. Sometimes in life we need to go backwards (to find the root of the problem) in order to move forwards in a positive way.
To my form tutor Mrs D – It transpires the girl who had an answer for everything was not destined to be a second hand car dealer after all.
Coming soon the blog that’s been a long time in the making (a whole year to be precise) ‘Baby E number three’ 🦄 👶 🌈 🤞 🤞