Oh, the tired…

Oh gosh the tired.

It’s to be expected, I suppose. Here we are, in the midst of a global pandemic, both kids at home, trying to run a business AND home educate a teenager AND provide on-tap therapy for a traumatised pre-teen who is getting really fed up about being left with dad all the time AND look after myself and make sure I have enough time to rest and recuperate, because by the way my list of health conditions is nearly as long as my arm… it’s feeling like a lot today.

In fact, it felt like a lot yesterday too. After two reasonably good days where Alex and I managed maths, English, and BSL together, I could barely open my eyes yesterday morning. Alex was looking equally as thrilled at the prospect of starting the day off with maths again, so I suggested we ditch the plan and do some art instead. Which is all very well and good, and it’s great that home-ed lets us be that flexible, but I’m not sure I could get away with that every day..!

In actual fact, today Alex has gone to spend the day with Gran, armed with reading book, guitar practice, and art, and an optional history lesson. I have eventually managed to drag myself to my office and turn on my computer, and I’m making myself write this so that the day doesn’t feel completely wasted (and because writing helps me process things) and then I’m going back to bed. I’m supposed to be doing about three hours of work on the business in the afternoons; today I have done the grand total of: sent one email. It was a good one, but still.

I’m worried I can’t do this. But at the same time, I’m telling myself that’s a stupid thing to say, because I haven’t even got a clue what ‘this’ is. People often define themselves as either a ‘big picture person’ or a ‘detail person’ but I am both – I love detail, and I’m really good at it – but I’m useless unless I know what I’m working towards. Maybe that’s the problem; maybe in my head I’m trying to achieve the task of ‘Educate Alex’, and any day in which I feel I have not Educated Alex Sufficiently feels like a failure. Alex is thirteen, but at the back of my mind I already feel like I’m responsible for getting them through to university.

My mum would tell me I should make SMART targets, which would be perfect if I could remember what SMART actually stands for. I think one of them is ‘measurable’. (Probably the M, now I think about it.) I do need to break things down, I know I need to get specific, but as I said before – Big Picture – my end goal is to get Alex ready for university/further education of some sort, or a job or apprenticeship if that’s what they want to do, and unless I know what that looks like how can I possibly break that down into small achievable tasks?

When the whole education system is built around achieving a certain outcome at a certain age/stage of education it’s really hard to retrain yourself to think outside of that box, but what if I were to set some goals with different outcomes? What if my goal was for Alex to become a confident, independent learner? I touched on this in a previous post, I think, about approaching this as a facilitator rather than a teacher, but I’m finding it hard to visualise what that actually looks like – and in my head I’m already measuring it against imaginary criticism from other people and trying to work out how I would justify it.

I remember very distinctly the experience of finishing my degree (fuelled by chocolate and sheer bloody-mindedness) and feeling completely deflated. I remember crying on the shoulder of an older friend, asking what it was all for? I’d worked my backside off for YEARS, struggled through some incredibly difficult mental and physical health challenges (not knowing I was autistic really didn’t help) and at the end of it all they’d given me a number and sent me out into the world. What the hell am I supposed to do now?? I’d followed the prescribed path through GCSEs, A levels, and university, because that’s what I’d assumed you had to do, and all of a sudden the path had come to an end and there was no one there to tell me what to do next. I was (am?!) an intelligent person, so everyone assumed I would understand the choices I had, and the choices I’d made, but I didn’t. I remember being really surprised by a friend going off to college to do a BTEC instead of staying for A levels, because I didn’t know there was another option, and weirdly even having discovered that there was, somehow didn’t think it applied to me. Everyone expected me to do A levels, so that’s what I did because I am a GOOD GIRL and I do as I’m told and I don’t let people down.

It’s funny, in a way, that becoming more involved in Alex’s educational journey should bring up so many unresolved issues from my own. Another thing I hadn’t expected.

Let’s take stock: currently Alex wants to be a writer, and although it’s not strictly necessary to have any education in order to achieve that, it would most likely be an advantage. If Alex is to continue in education beyond the next few years they will need to be able to work independently, be self-driven, set targets, explore new possibilities, have confidence in themselves and their abilities, and know how to access help when they need it. (The irony is, of course, you’d be hard pushed to find any of that being taught in mainstream education.)

So is that my main goal here? To cultivate my little learner until they don’t need me any more? How does one nurture educational independence? Creativity? Problem solving?

This is going to need a bit more thought. I’m tempted to start by looking at educational pedagogy outside of the UK, as I’ve heard one or two interesting things about certain countries and the way they approach learning that definitely merits a bit of looking into.

In the meantime… maybe what we actually *do* day to day doesn’t really matter that much? Perhaps the important thing – for now – is that we’re doing it, together, and Alex feels supported and safe to explore different ideas and concepts, whether they be simplifying fractions, or discussing the inherent fallacy of the American Dream and the ableism in Of Mice and Men.

As for me, getting this all out of my head has really helped. I’m still going back to bed, but I might take my new book on educating autistic girls with me.