I’ve managed to acquire the nickname of “Grandma Elm” by certain members of the Blogosphere – not pointing any fingers or naming any names, of course. It’s a title that I now think is well-earned: partly because I break out into rants with sophisticated language, but also because, today, I actually scolded people younger than me.
I wasn’t having a good day. I had had to scrutinise some of my thoughts and beliefs at break, had convinced myself that my opinion was not worth listening to and that when I debated with someone, I was pathetic as all I did was argue, turn away and come up with irrelevant points, and so I was feeling irritated, and entirely in the mood where if someone did something to piss me off, I would be very angry. I’d already made someone upset (still haven’t apologised for that and I feel guilty and ashamed of how childish I acted), and that put me in an even worse mood, which most likely facilitated the out-of-character situation I found myself in later on in the day.
A quick lesson about my school: I’m blind, and my school’s got a unit for VI (visually impaired) people where teaching assistants adapt work for us. There are about 10 of us in there: I’m the oldest, and this post is going to refer to a girl in year 7, 3 boys in year 8 and the guy in the year below me. I like the teachers in the unit, but it’s always been a bit of a source of conflict for me. It’s only recently that I’ve stopped actively disliking the atmosphere there, mainly because in year 11, they helped me out a lot more than they could have, and I appreciate that.
Now, my relationship with the people in there is a bit rockier. The teachers are great people: one in particular used to support me in Maths and now she and I talk not like teacher and student, but equals; I’m not close with the others so much but I do respect them, even if I’ve had issues with them in the past. For some reason, with me being the oldest, I’ve been expected to and so taken it upon myself to… Attempt to help the others, especially the four younger ones, if they need help or if I arrogantly feel like they need my help.
It’s not like I’m above the other students, because the only thing that separates us is age. I go into the unit in the mornings because I get there early and have nothing to do, and usually talk to the year 7 girl whilst doing work. Two out of three of the year 8 boys listen to me if I go on one of my infamous lectures: I chat to them, and try not to sound too overbearing. I feel guilty whenever I call any of them out on something, because it’s like I’m acting like the reprimanding grandmother (see, that bloody nickname!) and to be honest, I don’t care if they like me or not at this point. I’m harsh with them, but I don’t think anyone’s going to talk to them like this (especially if they’re being offensive, as sometimes they are) and so I decided to.
Sometimes, I come in on lunchtimes – towards the end, when if I have to get something. I came in today to ask my favourite teacher if she could help me to collect the girl I Peer Mentor because her form room is an annoying place. Like pretty much every single time I’ve come in, 5 of them were in the back room; I heard them talking. Something snapped in me: not out of anger, but out of a sense that I needed to say something and it wasn’t my place to, but it was important to me.
“Miss, are they in there?”
“Do they come in every lunchtime, pretty much – what are they doing?”
“It’s homework club today – and yes they do.”
The feeling grew, and because of my bad mood, I knew I’d say something.
I walked in there, said hi to them, listened to a tiny bit of their conversation, and then said this:
“So, are you guys in here every lunchtime, then?”
“Yeah – well not every lunchtime, but sometimes,” said one of them: I think one of the year 8 boys. I then did something which I don’t usually do, especially in the climate of the VI unit: I expressed myself plainly, passionately, without fear and absolutely refused to back down.
I told them, in no uncertain terms, that they should get outside. Perhaps it was different for them because every pouson is, but speaking from experience, I hate being viewed of as “the blind one”. It’s degrading, and whenever I have to come into the unit for a prolonged period of time, I feel out of place and not normal – like I’m simply blind and nothing else. Though they may not realise it, I don’t want them to experience that; I don’t want them to be in a situation where their classmates think of them as “those kids who just hang out in their building for people with low vision”.
If they’re shut up in that room for a fair few lunchtimes per week, they aren’t socialising with other people. They may not want to, but this is a mainstream school, and the VI unit is absolutely not their entire world, and shouldn’t be. They aren’t just friends with each other: they have plenty of friends, but they need to use their lunches and that as a time to be with them, and not to do homework in the unit: I’d have sympathy for them if I thought they were scared of socialising with other people, but every single one of them are outgoing and friendly, and one of the year 8 boys has such an interest in learning and people that he reminds me of myself back then.
There’s also the homework issue: if they keep on doing their homework in their lunches, they may have more free time at home, but they can’t get into that habit continuously. When they (the younger ones) get to GCSEs, they’ll thank everything in the world for their lunches because it’s a reprieve from working. Anyway, they need fresh air (even if it’s freezing right now) and to be surrounded by other people’s laughter. When I asked them, “Do you often do your homework at home?” they replied with an unsure “yes” and I felt genuine worry. I care about how well they do, because disability employment figures are shit enough as it is and we need to get the best education we can. I definitely got through to one of the year 8s on this point, and I’ll speak to him (more reasonably) tomorrow just to check he’s taking things on board.
I told them all this, very firmly. Teachers can only say “Get outside!” so many times, but I know that if I were in their position, I wouldn’t listen. It would have to take someone who was older, but young enough to understand, and I forced myself to be that person. I could have shown a lot more compassion, but the teachers had admitted that they’d been quite lenient with them before.
I walked out of there, most likely leaving them thinking “Who the hell is she to tell us where we can go?” and my favourite teachers said, “God Elm, I could hug you; thank you so much.”
I didn’t feel ashamed for saying what I thought, because I knew it would help them in the long run. Maybe I don’t understand them, but for once, I think that they’ll take my advice – or at least try to. I’m only there for another year and a half, and though I won’t be able to do much in that time, I can try and make them not be dependent on the unit because at the end of the day, it’s not a social area, or a substitute for your form or year: it’s a learning centre and I’m glad I saw that right from the beginning, otherwise my year-group would view me as even more of an outsider than I already do. Because I had no other VI people in my form, I had to make other friends, which makes me have this attitude.
I just want to help people in any way I can. I may appear abrupt at times, cynical or sarcastic to them, but being the oldest in there has kind of given me the (wrong) thought that I can act like that. It’s just one of the things I’m working on, but in the meantime, I want those teenagers – when they get older – to not feel like “the partially sighted ones” because they aren’t defined by their disability.
I’m not an inspiration, or even someone who’s methods should be admired: I do things how I see them, and am sometimes, argumentitive, defensive and closed off. But I know that I want to help people, and I shouldn’t be afraid of standing up and saying when I think something isn’t right, or when I don’t agree with something. You shouldn’t be scared, either.
Basically, I acted like an angry grandmother and screeched my opinions at them. It was… Strangely liberating.
From Elm 🙂