A week in the life of a FSiE Education Specialist.
Ever wondered what it is like to work for Fresh Start?
Here's a glimpse into a week with one of our amazing Education Specialists.
Mondays can be tricky for students – after a relaxed weekend, late nights, late mornings, it can be hard for them to be up and ready to start at 9.00. Hence why we begin on the sofa in front of Breakfast Telly. I do my usual check-in chat. "Hi, how are you? Good weekend? How are you feeling today? Yes, I’m a bit tired too – never mind, we can yawn a bit together until we both wake up," etc. As I start to describe the tempting array of activities to choose from this morning, the family dog (a gorgeous, large, red Labrador) walks over and starts to climb onto my lap. I keep talking, trying to maintain eye contact with my student over and under ears, head, nose, paws and various legs. My arms are either side of ‘Rover’s’ body, and I’m trying to read from my notebook as he adjusts himself around me to an acceptable position. I’m trying to carry on talking as if nothing is happening, but I’m laughing because the dog is so oblivious to the chaos he is creating. Luckily, this is the ice breaker we needed, and my student decides he is ready to get up and make a start.
Today, my student is very proud of an ornate, glass bottle he has been given which has a label on it describing the contents as ‘Poison’. He has filled the bottle with water, and is enjoying telling me his wicked plans for this object. He’s going to put it in his bedroom window, so anyone walking past (and especially the despised neighbour) can see how dangerous he is. He is going to offer to make his social worker a cup of tea, and then make sure she sees him filling the kettle with ‘poison’. When we are cooking today’s marvellous creation, we use ‘poison’ to boil the pasta, ‘poison’ to dissolve the stock cube and he pops a bit of ‘poison’ into his mum’s coffee. When I am writing up the list of skills he has demonstrated today for his ASDAN Cooking Skills, he corrects my prose, asking for it to say that he ‘used a measuring jug to dissolve the stock in the correct amount of poison’. When I’m getting ready to leave, I say to him that I hope there are enough members of his family still alive to be the additional adult when I return on Thursday.
Such a difficult day today. My student is NOT in the mood for the session. He sits completely under a blanket on the sofa and when I ask if anything is wrong or if I can help at all, he swears loudly, leaves the room, and goes upstairs. There is a lot more swearing and shouting when Mum tries to persuade him to come back down. I try and talk to him from the bottom of the stairs (my student has expressly forbidden me to go any further than the hall) but he is very clear that I am neither required nor welcome today. After a fruitless hour, and a call to my Education Coordinator in the office (who is always extremely supportive and understanding) we decided to end the session before emotions get too high. From my spot in the hall, I call something positive upstairs about trying again tomorrow and I leave.
I have another session this afternoon with a different student, but I feel so gloomy about how things ended just now. I message the Education Specialist WhatsApp group as I sit by myself with a cup of tea in a nearby Costa. What a lifesaver this group is. Within moments, comes a flurry of positive messages of support and encouragement, along with similar stories of similar challenges from that same morning. I had felt very alone, isolated and discouraged. Now I am reminded of the difficult work so many of us are doing as a team, in our separate corners of the land, but united in our efforts and in our support for one another.
Cheese Straws are on the menu today – I do a lot of cooking with both of my students. We can talk while we cook, and essential practical skills are practised and improved. It’s amazing how much number work, literacy skills and science can be introduced-by- stealth through culinary activity. My student notices that I have brought ‘Mature Cheddar’ for the recipe – he points at it and asks what it means. For a nanosecond, it crosses my mind to make a naff joke about needing to use sensible cheese that won’t muck about and be silly when we use it. I decide that this might fall flat, so I explain that strong cheese works well in cooking. He says ‘Huh - good job you didn’t bring a childish one’. Excellent moment!
This is an example of the little crumbs we exist on in our often challenging circumstances. My student (who has a serious aversion to formal school work and whose speech can be difficult to follow) has made a really good joke, giving me a little glimpse into an aspect of his personality that I haven’t seen before and showing that he is relaxed and comfortable enough to do this. Once this ‘base layer’ of trust has been established through engagement in regular and consistently non-threatening activities (cooking, Uno, Dobble, model-building, activities relating to the student’s own interests) it becomes more possible to start taking the first small steps towards filling the learning gaps. By stealth. By sleight of hand. Ninja-learning.
It’s Friday! Where did that come from? Time flies when you are busy, challenged, engaged and well-supported. I’m with a student this morning and then at home this afternoon to plan and get ready for next week.
I’m back in stealth-mode in session – watching my student driving around Greenville (Roblox) delivering pizzas and parking his car inappropriately to see what response this gets from the other characters – I’m waiting for my opportunity to pounce on any teaching and learning opportunities that arise.
Success! He’s crashed his van one too many times and a pop-up box is inviting him to send a roadside recovery request. He wants help with this today – he wants to type the words correctly, so I help him with the spellings and remind him about using a full-stop and capital letter. In any other teaching and learning context, this would be very insignificant. For me though, this is a really important ‘foot in the door’. My student felt safe enough to ask me for help. Previously he would quickly type something that didn’t make sense and reject any input from me. Now he knows that I will help, without comment or judgement, and give praise. I have to hope that this will sow a small seed that we can return to in future sessions, to further nurture it and eventually encourage it to grow.
If reading this has made you want to join our team, or find out about referring a student to us, please click here to get in touch. We would love to speak with you.