It's no help to parents to hear that we have no problems at lunchtimes if they can't get janeen to eat at home

16th June 2006 at 01:00
Becky and I were working on a policy document together and I watched as she mis-keyed "from" and typed "form" instead. I always do that and put it down to my lack of skills as a typist. "I always do that," said Becky. "It's because I'm so good at typing, my fingers go before my brain."

(Or "brian", as I would probably have typed.) This surprised me; I thought I was a positive thinker, but here was Becky putting a positive twist on what was clearly an error and happily believing it was a good thing.

We do tend to be positive and have a can-do attitude at our school. Just as well, really; the children we teach have such huge difficulties to overcome - blindness, deafness, physical disabilities and autism, as well as severe learning difficulties (or "leaning difficulties", as I frequently mistype) - and their parents are often living in difficult circumstances. It is never a gloomy place to work, though; our school is always full of optimism and fun, which helps the children achieve great things and feel good about themselves. We always ask that potential employees should have a positive outlook, and it's something that visitors compliment us on. "Your school is so happy," they say. "The children, the staff, the whole atmosphere." I'm very proud of that and I do understand the power of positive thinking.

Becky's remark made me wonder, though, if sometimes we take it too far. We write our reports in positive terms; we'll say that "Matty has accepted being in a wheelchair", rather than that he is walking less and less. We write "Ben's been rather lively today" in the home-school book, not "he frightened us to death when he climbed up on the filing cabinet". But we do our parents a disservice if we focus only on the positive and refuse to see the other side. It's no help to them to hear that we have no problems at school lunchtimes if they can't get Janeen to eat anything at home.

We teachers are here for parents as well as children and it doesn't do them any good if schools don't acknowledge that they may be having a difficult, perhaps even desperate, time, and feel resentful and unable to cope. It's easy for us to be positive and confident at school when we see the children for just six hours a day, in a structured environment with targets, colleagues, support systems and, crucially, no emotional ties. It's no good telling parents how they should feel or how to treat their children. We can't presume to know what it is like to bring up their profoundly disabled child, but I can guess it's not always a positive experience.

So yes, be optimistic, but it's not always appropriate to be upbeat, and too much thinking positive can blind you to what could be bettered. (Or "battered", as I would probably type.) Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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