When I started primary school in 1995 everything was starting to change: the Internet, as we know it, began; DVDs were just being invented and Toy Story became the world’s first ever full-length computer animated feature film.
What was beginning to change for me, though little did I know it, was that I would be surrounded by strangers my own age for the first time. To begin with I wasn’t aware of how differently I gathered and processed information from the world around me. I couldn’t understand why most of my peers didn’t know how to read, or how they could not love looking at insects, or finding out how pens work. What amused me was how my classmates would emotionally blackmail each by threatening each other with the classic “let me have it, I’ll be your friend”. This never worked on me as I didn’t understand what a friend was, and therefore had no desire to have them and ‘fitting in’ was something I never knew about.
My first year at school was also the first time that I noticed I was quite different from the others in my class was when compiling data for making a survey in one of my Maths lessons the whole class was asked, “what is your favourite food?”. As the young teacher quizzed each of us the replies came mostly in the form of: pizza, fish ‘n’ chips; sausages, spaghetti, fish fingers etc. My answer was bread and butter. This puzzled my teacher, so she asked if I had meant sandwiches, which I denied and stated that my favourite food was just bread with just butter on it. I didn’t eat cooked food because the way it felt when I ate it made me feel sick. I think the teacher was worried that my parents might be mistreating me by not feeding me enough, which couldn’t further from the truth as they had struggled to get me to eat the kinds of food my classmates loved. I should have known why I was different; I should have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when I was three, but my doctor didn’t listen to my mother’s concerns about my abnormal behaviour, and none of my teachers thought that my idiosyncrasies were anything but a quirky personality.
When I became a trainee teacher I still didn’t realise how important spontaneous social behaviours were in forming relationships in a classroom. What surprised me the most was that this was, perhaps, even more important for a teacher building a relationship with his or her students. All of these revelations took place while I was still undiagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I found myself struggling to understand how a lot of the sixteen year olds had a reading age of six, (it was in a fairly deprived area) because I found it impossible to put myself in their shoes. At one point I was teaching a class of fifteen year olds and I thought I was getting on really well with them as they seemed to be happy and laughing, as well as working. It turned out, after being told by another teacher who was in the room with us that they were laughing at me and making jokes about me and I was none the wiser.
This paled into insignificance when I was hauled into a meeting with the school’s Assistant Head as there was serious concern about my inability to put my well designed lesson plans into action, and how I couldn’t build learning relationships with students. Special measures were put in place in an effort to quickly improve my teaching and to find that small something that was stopping me from developing my “soft skills” of managing my students’ learning requirements and to take better control of their disruptive behaviour.
It was then down to me to work hard every hour of every day to stave off the threat of failing the course and being denied the career goal I had strived towards for the last eight years…