klaxon

As my husband will confirm, I tend to have vivid dreams which wake me up, sweating and sometimes gulping for air or shouting. Not a pretty sight, I am sure.

I have a few recurring dreams in my repertoire:

1. Maths O’level exam
I recognised nothing familiar when I turned the exam paper over and went into a panic. I did calm down eventually and produced enough correct answers to scrape through with a Pass grade.

2. Being late for university Finals exam only to realise that I had no idea which building I had to be in and also realising that I had not revised at all for a whole Paper. This one still haunts me at times of stress, 30 years later!

3. Miss Klaxon.

Let me explain. My son had the misfortune to have Miss Klaxon (not her real name, but with a foghorn voice, she would have been aptly named) as his teacher for one year, in primary school. I’m sure we can all remember some amazing and inspirational teachers as well as some nasty ones from our school days. We as children are at the mercy of our primary school teacher. If he or she doesn’t like me, it becomes a very long and miserable year for me. If I am scared of him or her, tough, as there is no alternative.

Miss Klaxon believed her way was the right way and Miss Klaxon decided pretty early in the school year who were her favourites (those who toed the line and offered to sharpen pencils or run errands and fawn over her) and who were clearly and consistently ‘trouble’ and needed to be brought into line. SonOne was diagnosed autistic two years later, and the signs were definitely already there, but she was refusing to acknowledge anything. This boy needed to ‘man up’ (yes, she actually said that) and grow a pair (she did not say that). For an already sensitive child, this was a death sentence and he learned quickly to be silent at school and try to keep under her radar.

Unfortunately the powers higher up were no use either in those days, and saw me as an over-anxious mother no doubt, or a trouble-maker. They kept insisting that the class teacher has observed nothing of note, nothing to cause any concern.

The reason Miss Klaxon figures in my list of recurring nightmares is this: towards the end of the school year, when we had nothing to lose, I requested a meeting. She phoned me in the morning saying that he was being ‘defiant’ and that he was insisting he had not done anything wrong in some altercation that was supposed to have taken place in the playground. So, I already knew that my son would be very agitated and upset by the time we saw him. My husband took the afternoon off work, teacher insisted SonOne was to be present at the meeting. We got ushered into the classroom and had to sit on the ridiculously small chairs while she sat on the normal-sized office chair. Intimidation tactics. Then started the most excruciating half an hour of my life. She proceeded to ask SonOne yes-or-no questions which were impossible for a young autistic boy to answer honestly under pressure. The questions kept being fired at him and he was getting close to tears. And here’s the thing. I did nothing. I was so stunned by this torture, I was waiting for it to end, and it felt as though it would never end. It felt like some awful film clip I was watching as a passive observer. SonOne was stuck between a rock and a hard place: if he told the truth it would displease the dragon he had to spend 6 hours of each day with. If he lied, he knew I would not be pleased. Poor kid.

Finally, I was able to speak up. I told her this was a disgraceful way to speak to a child and to put pressure on him. I told her I was pleased that my husband was also in the room, as was the student teacher, because it meant it was not just my word against hers. She did flinch a little bit at this, but was unrepentant on the whole. We were dismissed.

I didn’t send SonOne to school the following day or for the rest of the week, as he was in a heightened state of stress.

My nightmare, still, comes from my guilt of not standing up to her properly in that meeting, adult to adult. I didn’t confront her enough, I didn’t speak my mind enough. She was smug and confident enough to know that the management would support her side (they did).

A few years later, my son had another overbearing teacher with no empathy skills. Things were a bit different at school by this time, the management had changed hands, and there was a much more nurturing atmosphere. I complained, politely of course at first and through the correct channels, but my son still had to get through the school year with her. At least my complaints were set on record in writing.

Never again will I let his vulnerability be abused. I am his only advocate, I must speak up for his wellbeing, his rights and above all his sanity and happiness.

One would think that the main qualification for a primary school teacher should be to actually LIKE children, and to respect their diversity and individuality.