The pandemic restrictions have taken their toll on many groups in society but in different ways. We are only au fait with the people that interact with us in our individual families.

What will we find when we emerge slowly from this pandemic? How will we ourselves have changed? Will I ever be able to wear high heels again? That sounds like a funny question but it is a reality. Walking in high heels requires a particular posture change and management of balance.

The art does get challenged as we get older. It’s been over a year since I went out in heels. Isn’t that just crazy!

Mother and daughter

Yesterday, my daughter Julie and I gave our annual lecture to the students of the post graduate diploma in special educational needs (PDSEN) at University College Cork (UCC).

This is something we do as a mother-and-daughter team, giving our personal experience of interacting with the education system. I give my perspective as a parent and teacher, Julie details the hurdles she had to navigate from primary school through to college.

This was our first year with new status of not only mother and daughter but also grandmother and mother. A year can make such a difference in people’s lives. Not only have families moved on and circumstances changed as they normally would; life has also been utterly changed by the pandemic.

Parents will do their utmost to make school a good experience for their children

My stories had much more impact on Julie as she was listening from a mother’s perspective. Parents will do their utmost to make school a good experience for their children. They want to make the right decision about school. As they move on, the focus is on progress and results. This year has been tough on families and students. There’s great credit due to our teenagers who continue to get their work done in difficult circumstances.

The communication that usually exists between the two of us was missing

Our lecture was via Microsoft Teams. Julie sat in front of the computer in the lounge and when she was done, I took her place. The communication that usually exists between the two of us was missing. I hadn’t realised the importance of her affirmation.

Likewise, the interaction of the co-directors Dan O’Sullivan and Kevin Cahill was not as accessible to us as heretofore. I’m sure that not being able to see our eyes and demeanour also created a barrier for the participants. So while we get on with teaching and studying; it is more difficult to navigate information, distil it into what is necessary to remember and gloss over the less important stuff.

Difficult transitions

In Julie’s talk, she touches on the difficulty of transition points for any student with extra needs. She said: “At the start of secondary school, I was really lonely in school.” It still makes me emotional when I hear her say this.

What every student needs is to be included

As her Mum, I had no real idea at the time. She wanted to change schools early on and apparently we asked her to persevere to the end of the school year. She flourished once she found her friends. She says that making friends is really difficult when transitioning from one school to the next.

What every student needs is to be included. That is why I continue to beat the drum for inclusive education where all students can go to their local school and have their needs supported.

It is tough for some who have become over anxious to a worrying level

I know my yearly talk with Julie helps me as a teacher. I’m always wondering what is going on in my students’ heads. What might they be afraid of or hesitant about? This last year has really impacted students at every level. It has also been hard on parents trying to keep all the balls in the air and support their sons and daughters at the same time.

It is tough for some who have become over anxious to a worrying level. It is important to intervene if you think it is necessary. Get help or advice. This year will have left scars. Some are trivial like my high heels and others run deep and will take time and intervention to heal.

Parents often ask me what to do in different situations and, more often than not, I can help because I’m outside the situation. When we’re worried and we get involved in the spiral of “What if she doesn’t do the Leaving Cert?”; “What if he doesn’t ever complete the degree?”; or “What if she never gets a school place?”

These are real parental issues that can take over the minds of parents. Students too can be worrying in silence. Talk to them about their fears. A problem shared is a problem halved. It really is.