Diary of a mothering worker
DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
WITH EXAM results soon to be announced, it’s a jittery week for parents of 19,000 students who wrote SEA in 2022. Hopefully, this is the last group to write the exam under pandemic conditions since schooling was shifted online from March 13, 2020.
Following results, much will be said about the exam’s inequity, its medieval way of sorting children’s access to educational opportunity, the unhealthy terror of exam preparation, and how deeply problematic it is to rank intelligence by one test on one day. Much will also be said about how many children are discouraged by this narrow approach to both teaching and testing.
Yet, because some schools are considered safer, better resourced, better staffed than others and better at results, we know nothing will change. There’s no other way for a few hundred prestigious places to be filled from among so many thousands. It’s a systemic issue for which our children pay the price.
In that context, be proud of those thousands of children who survived our callous system and just want us to accept that they did their best, whether they secured a place in their first or fourth-choice school.
Give them a hug and tell them that everything will be okay, and that they are worth celebrating simply because we brought them onto this planet with the promise to love them above all else, not because of what they achieve, but simply because they are.
I learned a lot this year about what it means when a child does her or his best. Often, we misunderstand why some children may not do well at exams or in specific subjects. We think that their brains work exactly the same and miss the fine points of neurodiversity that mean that word problems do not make sense, or that too much talking by a teacher makes their mind overload or anxiety stops them from being able to focus.
I’ve been an educator for 17 years, but it was being thrown into the world of SEA that made me appreciate for the first time how many university students I have taught who think best visually or who really do ask for example essays not because they are lazy, but because their brains work from patterns, and that’s just how it will always be.
I learned to understand learning difficulties not as a line from mild to severe, but as a unique constellation of capacities scattered around the tight cluster of stars considered neurotypical qualities. Every child has her or his own constellation whose points are further or nearer to that central cluster, in no particular order, just simply as they are. That’s what it means to talk of a spectrum.
It doesn’t mean that those children cannot succeed, but it should cause us to look at how our measures may push them toward loss of confidence or failure.
Ziya didn’t write SEA for the same reasons that some children write under concessionary conditions or some fail to finish or to pass. Understanding that, I took a different route, building her toolbox for navigating a neurotypical world, focusing instead on life skills, becoming very patient as she learned to communicate self-awareness, slowly, like she was connecting ideas and emotions and physical movement in ways she had not before.
I was able to take off pressure that I knew would work against her thriving, and as an educator I was obsessed with reducing trauma associated with learning.
We had our own moments of fear and encouragement, anxiety and consolation, pride and acceptance, and a lot of uncertainty about what were the right decisions.
Every child is on her or his own journey. Travel with them with love, wonder and humility, and protect them from those who may not understand while advocating for the space and support they need to grow.
My girl graduates from primary school this week, having completed a year of SEA preparation, but also much more that I didn’t even know a year before that she would have to conquer. She was home with me for two unforgettable years that taught me so much as a mothering worker, even as the year seemed to be about how well she would do.
All children can do well, with patience, encouragement and the right approach to get them through what is the hardest or what they most fear. Let’s honour that when results come out, leaving them with both self-acceptance and a sense of their potential as they end their school year.
Diary of a mothering worker