I was sitting opposite her, at her desk. The tip of her nose was a smudgy black, and the area between her nose and top lip was a thick oily white, with a modest covering of black whiskers. She looked at me through her thin, black-rimmed glasses. When she stood up to make me a cup of tea, I noticed a cotton wool pom-pom tail attached to her lower back…
It had been 8 months since I had lost the hearing in my left ear. It had been 8 months since I had been living with tinnitus, dizziness, a sensitivity to loud noises, and the relentless pressure in my ears. It was almost 8 months since I had last carried out a day’s work. My headteacher had asked me to come to the school to attend a meeting with her. I was nervous. I wasn’t sure what the outcome of the meeting was going to be. I couldn’t bear to be around loud noises. Returning to my position as an Early Years teacher – a teacher of 4-year-old children – was not a possibility for me at this time. I wondered if there could be any other options for me; any other work in the school that I would be able to do. I wondered if, due to the amount of time I’d been sick, I would be asked to leave.
I arrived at the school on a sunny Monday morning. As I pushed open the stubborn metal gate, I was filled with apprehension and nervousness. I could hear children playing on the other side of the gate. As I walked into the small patio situated in front of the school, I was immediately struck by a magnitude of colour. The children weren’t wearing their usual dark blue uniforms or stripy blue smocks, but instead, they were all dressed in fancy dress costumes. It was Book Day in school. There were children dressed as Mr Men characters, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Dr Seuss’ Thing One and Thing Two, and animals, pirates and princesses. One of my colleagues promptly came to give me an all-encompassing hug. This alerted the children to look my way, and when they realised it was me, a large group of children, all of whom I had taught the previous year, ran to me and hugged me from all directions. They were chatting to me excitedly; asking me lots of questions, showing me their costumes, and screaming with excitement. My ears were hurting from the noise. I wasn’t able to focus on any of the children’s words. However, it was wonderful to see them, and to be surrounded by the energy of young children again. I stayed for a few minutes on the patio, soaking up the excitement, and receiving more hugs from children and members of staff. I had been working in this school for three years. It was a small nursery and infants school, and I had made close connections with many of the staff members, and of course, with the children. It felt so nice to be immersed again in this vibrant world. It felt so nice to absorb a little of what to me, was my former ‘normality’. I missed working as a teacher. I missed my days of creativity. I even missed the absolute exhaustion I used to feel at the end of the school day; knowing I’d applied all my energy to give my pupils the best possible start to their education I could offer.
I entered the headteacher’s office. She was dressed as the white rabbit from Alice In Wonderland. She stood up from behind her desk, and as she gave me a hug. I momentarily became aware of the humour in the situation. The irony that such an important meeting, one that could possibly affect my future work opportunities in this school, would be between me and the white rabbit. It was bizarre and felt somewhat surreal. This is the nature of working in an infant school! She asked how I was doing. She told me that because I was good at my job, she didn’t want to lose me. I hadn’t prepared for this kind of compliment, and the weight of it triggered my emotions. I could feel tears welling up in my eyes, but refused to release them; breathing deeply and wiping away any evidence of my weakened character. The past 8 months had been difficult, and my confidence was drained. She asked me how I thought I would cope as a teacher, in a busy classroom. I was honest with her, and told her I would find it extremely difficult. She said she didn’t want to set me up for failure. She then went on to suggest some other possible roles for me. There was a language school that was owned by the same company as my current school, where I could possibly work; teaching small groups of adults. There was also a possibility of working with older children. However, these didn’t seem like favourable options. My teaching background was firmly rooted in Early Years education, and it was with this age-range where my teaching passion lay. We discussed other options and came to the conclusion that working with small groups of children, away from the noise of the classroom, would be a role that could offer me the best chance of success.
After over an hour of talking about my options, my headteacher told me that she could offer me a position as a teaching assistant. It would include some time in the classroom as well as time working away from the classroom; with small groups of children who needed extra support in Literacy and Maths, and in learning English. I had an interest in working with intervention groups, and in Special Needs education. I also had experience in these areas. This role would be a way of seeing how I would cope in a classroom. I wouldn’t be letting people down or feeling guilty if I had to leave the position, as I wouldn’t be responsible for a whole class. I would earn just over a third of my wage as a full-time teacher, but this was an opportunity for me to discover my potential and also recognise my limitations, whilst doing so in a familiar environment.
It has been nearly 3 months since my meeting with the white rabbit. I returned to work for the month of June. It was difficult. It was an experience that proved to be challenging and demanding on my diminished confidence, and hearing. My ears were painful at the end of the day, and on returning home each day I savoured times of quietness. But I completed the month, and am proud of what I achieved. I will be returning to the school after the summer to start the new school year in my new role as a teaching assistant.
I am now enjoying my summer holidays; feeling like I earned them, and am now up to date with my story 🙂