20 June 2017

Someone's Miss Honey

This year, I took the first steps onto a quite unexpected path. I say unexpected, because it is 180 degrees from Journalism and Law, the signposts that I pursued throughout my teenage years.

Yet, on reflection, I think it has been on the horizon for quite some time. What's more, it couldn't feel more natural to follow. Looking back, perhaps I first saw it six years ago, when 17-year-old me decided to run a book club in her old Primary School.

Then again, I recall a 7-year-old Sophie being utterly entranced by a certain Miss Honey, with her unwavering empathy, creativity and  vulnerability (yes, really!), she has remained one of my favourite characters of all time. She is also the poster girl for teachers across the world... 

Including me. For just a few months ago, after a long period of uncertainty, I realised that is exactly what I want to do be. Someone's Miss Honey... with a bit of earwax wisdom along the way, courtesy of Professor Dumbledore! For both characters share three very important traits, aka the Hallows for teacher training:
Imagination: they have held onto the curiosity of childhood, with the help of Mrs Difficulty and Nitwit, Blubber, Oddment, Tweak!

Empathy: They will always value the voice of the child, never regarding youth as a weakness.

Vulnerability: Perhaps most importantly, they are human. Both receive help from their students and, ultimately, acknowledge their frailties. I think, for any teacher, this is central to their connection with a child. The "I'm right, you're wrong" mantra of Miss Trunchbull will only undermine their learning and, more importantly, their sense of worth.

Everyone is Human and, as I wrote about in my post you're allowed to have a bad day, acknowledging fragility can be the greatest sign of strength. Moreover, with the recent emphasis on Young Mental Health, this has never been more relevant. 
Somewhat ironically, I think that my step away from Education, in the past 18 months, has in some ways lead me back to it; the key difference is that, this time, I am finding my feet earlier down the road. Over the last year especially, I have had  a lot of time to reflect on my life and, specifically, the role of  academia. While I am so grateful for the education I have so many good memories, pressure and perfectionism were all too dominant (I talked more about this - and my decision to leave University  - in a guest blog for A Beautiful Chaos)

I know that I was my happiest in those formative years. Once upon a time, I was the girl who wrote books in her summer holidays, built elf houses at christmas, designed fantasy world maps for pure enjoyment and imagined backstories for her stuffed animals. Yet, as I grew up, this creativity dwindled. Faced with the demands of diabetes, the judgement of grades sheets and a fixation on "doing", I lost sight of how to be....

Until last year, when I met Yarn and the glass half-wool - which I've kept as full as possible ever since. For me, this side of recovery has been as important as the food/weight restoration. It has helped me  again. In a society evermore dominated by exam papers and peer pressure, I think we can so easily lose sight of our values and, consequently, our sense of wellbeing.
CBT has definitely helped me towards the Miss Honey-Pot; specifically, I needed to believe that I can. For a time, I thought that my mental health struggles made me "unfit" to be a teacher. My therapist, R, has shown me how to view this from a different angle. For example, I know that my experiences have strengthened my sense of empathy, my ability to find value in everyone and my recognition of what truly matters. Aren't all of these the values we want to instil in young people?

In a way, CBT has been its own form of teacher training for me! Moreover, there has been a huge emphasis on "Young Minds" in recent years, complete with a Royal seal of approval, so I do believe I can use my experiences for a greater good. Children need to see their potential, rather than a padlocked door. They need to hear the voice of "I could", not "I should". , as I discussed in Are We Out of the Shoulds Yet? They don't need perfection; they need possibility.

I also owe so much to the people who I met in treatment; they built me up when my confidence was rock bottom and were all so excited about my Primary School Plan. When I secured my first school placement last month, one of the girls told the others on the unit; a week later, I received the most amazing card with messages from them all. It was just what I needed to read, before I started life as "Miss Harrison".

If any of them are reading this (with a special shoutout to my Olaf), you are all worth melting for and more! Along with my tea twin, who has championed me every step of the way and will be there when that Bumblebee tattoo happens...
I also couldn't write this without mentioning my own Bumble V, who is Miss Honey personified! With a remarkable ability to find value in everyone she meets, her patience and encouragement was the reason I'm crafting away today. So often I thought "she would make the most amazing teacher!" and, for this reason, she is one of my biggest inspirations.

In a reversal of roles, I became the teacher last Winter, when I taught another wonderful person (B) to crochet. I admit feeling so nervous at the prospect of this "teacher" role, but a few weeks later B had a crochet bunny to her name. I remember being so proud - it was a feeling unlike any press day, public speech or result day. I think it was seeing the pride in her and how we could share in it. It was a feeling I wanted to savour, not knowing when (or if) it would come again...
The little Acorn Bumblebee that V sent me last Christmas - I cried when I opened it! 
Nevertheless, with the help of 30 seven-year-olds it has! Two weeks ago, I started my placement at a Primary School and have had that feeling more times than I can count. Every Monday I join a class of Year 2 students and their own Miss Honey - one girl described her as such last Monday, which I was only too happy to relay!

As with all children you get some characters (especially during a heatwave!) and they all have such unique personalities. Yet after just 3 Mondays with them, I can see a universal trait - they want to learn. Moreover, their sense of personal pride is infectious and really quite inspiring; doing it for themselves is reason enough, without the shadow of targets and expectations.

Only yesterday, a girl in my class had moved up the reading tree from "purple" to "turquoise" - hello Biff and Chip! When she picked up the first book, she was practically bursting with excitement and her smile was utterly priceless. She is one of the children who struggles most with reading and, only the week before, was ready to bolt at the mention of 1-1 reading.

Yesterday, we ended up reading for over double the usual 'time slot' and it  felt like such a breakthrough. She then gave me a huge hug at the end of the day and, already, I know it will be the highlight of my week!
If childhood was a medicine we could bottle, the world would be a much brighter place. My mental health is better than it has been in months and I am finally feeling hopeful for the future. Aside from my enduring love for Hogwarts, I don't think I've ever felt so sure of anything. I'm already asking if I can help with reading on other days of the week, while my new favourite pastime is researching PGCE courses for 2018!

There are still so many doubts  in my head and, sometimes, I want nothing more than to bolt away from it all; my mental health is still "work in progress" and I know that this won't change overnight.
Yet compared to this time last year, when I was talking-the-talk about my future, I am actively walking.

I have started to organise my return to Exeter, which I kept putting off last year. To help me stay on track, I am trying to see it as a staging post for my PGCE application. I also have a clear vision for my dissertation - the role of adults in Children's Literature - and feel more passionate about academia than I have in years.

For the first time in so long, I can feel things fall into place. I still have a way to go in terms of my mental health, but this is honestly a therapy like no other. I also love the fact that, although there may be 'staff room politics' and frustration with 'powers that be' (thanks Downing Street), my day-to-day work, in the classroom, will bring genuine fulfilment.  As my sister so wonderfully put in a text last week: "your future Matildas are relying on you."

Or, as the wonderful A wrote in the Miss Honey card: "Miss Honey is lovely, but aspire to be the best Miss Sophie. She's even better."

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