I teach children with Special Educational Needs and Autism. We often find ourselves picking up the pieces after a failed mainstream placement, where our special children and their parents have experienced a lack of understanding, a lack of adjustment and lack of support. This leads them to being placed in a school for children with severe learning difficulties, but these children do not always have severe learning difficulties. They represent a growing number of children with learning differences, who are being failed by a poor introduction to education.
I was shocked and saddened by the ‘Secret Teacher’ article published by ‘The Guardian’ yesterday (18/04/15)
‘Secret Teacher: why do some parents expect us to toilet train their children? We can’t teach children properly unless parents send them to school with the basic life skills. We are teachers, not supernannies.’
You begin by talking about a home visit,
‘Sitting in a family’s living room last September, I watched my school’s reception teacher force a smile. We were on a home visit for a soon-to-be student and the mother asked, “Is there anything I need to do before he starts?” A sensible question with an obvious answer as the child on her lap was wearing a nappy and drinking from a training cup.’
This parent does not need your judgement or forced smile. You are in her home and judging her parenting by a nappy and a training cup. Did you ever consider that the child wearing a nappy may have an invisible disability such as autism, which has made toilet training a very different task? Did you ever consider that this Mum may have spent hours researching, been through every type of potty and training seat and also tried a zillion different cups to get her child to stop having bottles? Whatever the circumstances this parent and this child clearly do need school support.
‘This wasn’t the first home visit that had left us mentally replanning our early years curriculum.’
If an Early Years, setting that sees toilet training as not in their remit then it is high time to think and rethink. Home visits are times to assess children’s individual needs and work out how best to support parents.
You mention another home visit,
‘The day before, we’d helped one desperate mother rescue her child from climbing on top of the kitchen cupboards.’
Could this child have a hidden disability such as autism or ADHD giving them a sensory need to climb? Was your presence causing anxiety? Could you be thinking of ways to support this child’s sensory needs with climbing equipment, a trampoline and more access to soft play? Could you be supporting a Mum, you observed as ‘desperate’ by telling her that she is doing an amazing job and helping redirect the child’s attention. You enter her home and judge her. You have no idea!
You say that you,
‘conducted another meeting in whispers because the child was still having her afternoon nap.’
Do you have children? Maybe this child is not yet properly sleeping through the night. Maybe the child is bouncy, hyper, non stop and exhausting. Maybe Mum knows that if your meeting wakes her sleeping child then you will really have a reason to judge. Maybe when she meets you and senses your lack of empathy she wants her child to keep sleeping. Maybe she is right.
‘These represent part of a growing issue my primary school is contending with: an increasing number of children are not “school ready”.’
I believe that you represent an unfortunate number of Early Years teachers who are not “child ready.”
‘Home visits for new starters are a relatively new phenomenon. They were introduced as an opportunity for parents to meet their child’s teacher and discuss any concerns either party may have to make the whole process a more positive experience. In reality, they allow us to suss out the extent of a problem before it arrives at our door.’
Using a home visit to ‘suss out the extent of a problem before IT arrives,’ suggests to me that you are completely the wrong person to conduct home visits.
‘I’ve had to ask parents not to send in cold Happy Meals for packed lunches, and known several children who have been put on school dinners so that we can “make them eat properly” (one notoriously having eaten nothing but potato waffles until the age of nine).
Are you working collaboratively to support these children to combat their eating issues rather than sitting back and judging their parents? Are you aware that some parents have children who will only eat one thing and it is NOT due to their parenting skills?
‘Unfortunately, in a group situation you have to meet the basic demands of a few children who are not coping, rather than the learning needs of the silent majority. This year, four families withdrew their children from our reception class after their first visit, citing the behaviour of other children as the reason. I didn’t blame them.’
Of course you cannot blame parents for withdrawing their children from a setting where the teacher seeks to blame and to judge rather than nurture and support. Have you asked why the children aren’t coping? Have you sought to accommodate their individual needs, to investigate the reasons behind their behaviours?
‘Parents arguably have far more influence on their child’s development than a class teacher, yet the government attributes a child’s progress almost entirely to their teachers’ performance.’
Vocational teachers do NOT allow governments to affect their performance. They will teach individual children from the heart and try to set them up to succeed no matter what their background or ability.
‘There are measures being taken to promote good parenting and there are also (thankfully) many wonderful parents who work tirelessly to do the very best they can in the world’s toughest job. They’re the ones who allow us teachers to do our jobs effectively by bringing us children ready to learn – and we salute them. But, for those other parents, please keep your end of the bargain. We are teachers, not supernannies. We care about your children but some jobs just aren’t in our remit – and toilet training is one of them.’
I will conclude by saying that the other day my class team went into joyful celebration when a four year old with autism did a wee on the toilet at school for the first time.
Maybe you would say, ‘that’s because I teach in a special needs school?’
Maybe you would say that ‘special’ child would not belong in your mainstream class?
But then maybe with the right structures, the right supports and a little empathy that special child could learn to cope in a mainstream setting.
Maybe these children who YOU are failing and the parents you keep on judging so harshly are doing a great job. Maybe they are coping with an invisible disability?Maybe that is what’s causing them not to be ‘school ready’ by your standards.
The fault may be with the professionals, who are not picking up on the real issue or offering the early support, which would make such a difference to so many lives.
In Early Years it’s our job to support ALL areas of development. These include eating, drinking, speaking, listening, co operating, dressing AND toileting. Teachers are not ‘super nanny’, but neither are most parents.
Having children is a lottery, but finding the right teacher, who can support children based on their individual needs, should not be.
The full article can be found here: