Sticking with college

Hayley’s been struggling with college, but there’s good news on that front and a change of direction avoided

Thursday evening, in the hall

Hayley’s just come in the door and she’s smiling, which is surprising given that she’s just done an hour of maths tuition.

Student drawing a chart

How was it, I ask.

“Yeh, good,” comes the fairly shocking reply.

Hayley hates maths with a passion; I’ve seen her often reduced to tears by a page of algebra or trigonometry. She really struggles not just with maths, but most academic subjects. It’s due in part to her deafness, I guess, being left behind to flounder throughout school, especially as she has other learning issues such as slow processing skills and poor auditory memory.

And this is why she’s been so anxious recently – she was told by one of her college tutors that she needs a C grade in both Maths and English in order to pass her level 2 diploma in Hospitality and Catering.

Some of you may remember from last month that while Hayley loves the cooking and front of house part of her course, she’s become so frustrated and fed up with the academic side, the written assignments as well as English and maths that she was desperate to leave and get an apprenticeship instead.

I’d tried to talk her out of it as it seems a better, more higher salaried option to enter her chosen career with as high a qualification as possible.

Well since then, I’ve been in touch with National Deaf Children’s Society about it and they told me it could be discriminatory if a vocational diploma pass was dependent on English and maths results.

So I contacted the college and they confirmed that the diploma is a separate qualification, not dependent on maths and English grades. It turns out that it was one misinformed tutor who misled Hayley, so they are now making sure the issue is clarified to all the tutors – and a lot of weight has been taken off Hayley’s shoulders!

She does still have to keep doing her maths and English until she’s 18 or gets a C grade, and of course they’re qualifications and skills that will be useful throughout life.

Hayley’s course leaders have now transferred her from GCSE English to English functional skills with the plan being for her to work up from there towards a GCSE. And I’ve arranged for some maths tuition from a local tutor for an hour once a week, to help her confidence. It’s not cheap, but hopefully it will give her a boost.

Onwards and upwards…

Will Hayley quit college?

It looks like there could be changes ahead for Hayley as she’s struggling at college and hankering to be out at work…

Tuesday evening, on the stairs

“Mum, can I talk to you a minute?”

That’s very formal for Hayley, she normally just rabbits away in your ear at a hundred miles an hour, whatever you’re doing, following you up the stairs or into the bathroom, out to empty the bin…

An appointment request isn’t her style, must be serious. I dump the washing basket down and sit on the stairs. Hayley plonks down beside me, her little face anxious, fidgeting with her fingernails.

“What’s up my lovely?”

“I don’t want to go to college any more. I hate all the written work, I can’t do it, it’s boring. I want to get an apprenticeship instead, then I can earn money as well and cook and not do the written stuff.”

Teacher Helping Students Training To Work In Catering

Once she starts, it pours out of her in a woeful, excitable torrent.

I guess it was only a matter of time before the novelty wore off. College was great compared to school – Hayley enjoyed feeling grown up, made new friends, loved the practical work they do on her Hospitality and Catering course.

But, just like at school, she’s once again floundering. There’s too much theory and too many written assignments going on for Hayley’s liking, when all she wants to do is get in the kitchen and cook, and learn front of house in the college restaurants, which they do two days a week.

I’m not really sure what to say. Instinctively I want to tell her to go for it, take up an apprenticeship – I’m sure she’d make a success of it.

Hayley is very practical. She loves to work, has had various jobs since she was 14 and currently works weekends at a local farm amusement park in their cafes.

And the girl does have an acquired a taste for earning wages…

The problem is Hayley’s always struggled with academic/abstract things. I don’t know how much is down to her deafness, or a combination of that and associated difficulties, including auditory memory problem and slow processing skills.

I think back to the initial open day at college when they pointed out how much higher a salary people working in catering and hospitality get when they have a qualification, compared to those who do not.

I remind Hayley of this, try to encourage the longer term view. It’d be such a shame not to enter her chosen career at as highly qualified a level as possible.

At least if she just completes this first year, hopefully gets her English and Maths grade C too, which I’m told she needs in order to attain the diploma, then maybe she can look for a decent apprenticeship.

Hmm. I tell her to stick it out, just this first year at least. I agree to line up some Maths tuition starting this month, from a tutor who helped a friend’s daughter.

Just like school and GCSEs, it’s got to be head down, bite your lip and get through these next few months. Then move on if that’s what she wants, venture out into the world of work.

Hayley’s not looking after her hearing aids

Now Hayley is growing up, Tiger mum has to persuade her to take on responsibility for aspects of her own life and health – but it’s not always easy…

Saturday night, in the garage…

Hayley is hiding in her room. I’m fuming.

I’ve just spent the best part of an hour trying to sort out her hearing aid.

Teenager girl taking off hearing aid

It doesn’t say anything about this in the hearing aid guides, nor the NDCS video about hearing aid maintenance and re-tubing.

The problem is this tube hasn’t been touched for ages. Hayley just will not remember to re-tube or even to clean them. I nag and nag, but she seems to think it’s acceptable to just keep wearing them as long as they keep working. The most she’ll do is put a battery in when it runs out.

You’re supposed to clean them daily, I tell her repeatedly. ‘Even every couple of days would be okay,’ I bargain.

But I swear I can’t remember the last time she did it. In fact I don’t think she’s cleaned them since her last audiology appointment three months back.

Honestly!

When I put that to her earlier she looked very sheepish, so guilty she didn’t even bother snapping at me in the usual full-on, hormonal teen fashion that is the default for so many exchanges these days.

So now here we are. I’d said wouldn’t it be nice if she went to her catering job tonight with nice clean hearing aids.

She apologised for being such a slob and we’ve agreed that they’re so old and brittle, she should re-tube them.

Except that’s turned out to be easier said than done. She couldn’t remove the tube from this one, so she gave it to me. I’ve tried. I’ve pulled and twisted, even warmed it up by pouring hot water over the end of the tube, but all to no avail.

Now I’m in the garage in the dark, in the freezing cold, hunting out a pair of pliers

I return to the kitchen with a selection of tools. I pull and pull with the pliers but the tube – which has become hardened and unpliable, so won’t ease off of the hook – just flattens and extends. I’m worried I’ll snap off the hook.

I persevere for the next 20 minutes, alternating with pouring boiling water onto the tube, scalding my fingers in the process.

Hayley ventures downstairs, chances a peek around the door.

‘Any luck Mum?’

I rant on again about how ridiculous this is, and she flees back up to the sanctuary of her room.

Right. I need a sharp knife. The only way I can see to do it is to cut a little slit into the top of the tube, but without slicing through to the hook beneath.

Another five frustrating minutes later and success – I pull the tube clear.

Now for re-tubing. I call Hayley down so she can be involved, and she gets on and snips the new tube into a sharp point to thread through the mould.

It’s done. She whisks off to work just in time, complete with hygienic hearing aids.

Now I’ve written it on the calendar in bold red, every three days: HHA – Hayley Hearing Aids. Clean them. She’s promised to do it.

I can’t believe other people do it every day – do they?

Why not comment below and let Tiger Mum know how often you or your child cleans their hearing aids?

Hayley’s not hiding her hearing aids

Sunday afternoon, at home on my mobile

Ping! Hayley’s posted more photos on Facebook from New Year’s Eve.

She went to stay with a mate for the celebrations – a sign of the times, Hayley being 17 now and it being far too boring at home with the folks.

The photos show Hayley and friends, a happy bunch, all glamour and smiles for their group shots.
teenage girl hearing aid
Scrolling through, I can tell that she was feeling confident as she got ready to party with her friends and others, friends of friends she’d never met before.

I know because her hair is in an ‘up’ do.

It’s often possible to gauge Hayley’s confidence levels by her hairstyle, up or down, tucked behind her ears or brushed over them.

I remember back to last year when she went to registration day on her Hospitality and Catering college course – out into the big world of strangers, beyond the smallish community where we live, where she’s been around the same familiar peer group since nursery.

As we got ready to drive to college that September morning, I noticed Hayley wasn’t wearing her left hearing aid (her slightly better ear). She had her hair tucked behind that ear and swept across to the other side, covering her hearing aid in her right ear (which is more severely deaf).

I asked her where the missing hearing aid was. Hayley shook her head, smoothed her hair further over her existing one.

“I don’t want people to know I’m deaf or wear hearing aids.”

This was a first. She’d worn them since the age of seven and never seemed to mind before; they were part of her.

“But why, love?”

“Because people treat you differently.”

Really?

“Yes mum – if they know you have something wrong with you, whatever it is, like special needs or even if you’re diabetic, they see you differently and treat you differently.”

But…

“Yes I know they’re going to see my hearing aids eventually because I have to tie my hair back and wear a chef’s skull cap.” Looking defiant now. “But I want to get to know them and make friends first, before they judge me.”

Wow. She’d really thought this through. My heart gave a little ouch, thinking of her preparing for the big day meeting all the other new students. Most teenagers would be feeling self-conscious pangs of doubt, wondering how they measure up, how they’ll fit in. She had an extra insecurity to wrangle with.

And I can’t fault her thinking. She’s right, people do make judgements. Who am I to instruct her to bold it out, stick with what is righteous, when this is the real world and not a politically correct one.

Anyway, within a week Hayley was comfortable enough to go back to two hearing aids, hair scraped back for kitchen duty. She’s made good friends who accept her and her confidence has grown.

And that’s what shines out in the party photos…

Please note photo is not of Hayley.

Hayley gives as good as she gets!

Hayley’s growing up and developing a thicker skin. Increased confidence from being at college and plenty of stick from her brothers over the years have matured her nicely, making sense of humour failure much more a thing of the past.

Friday night, in the kitchen…

“Are you completely mad?” A question for Hayley from younger brother Harry, who’s exchanging ‘d’oh!’ looks with older brother Lee, before both of them double over laughing. Hayley is of course the butt of their humour. That’s brothers for you, deaf sister or not.

“You really think there’s a horse in the fridge?” splutters Lee. Hayley shoots them each a glare, but it’s only friendly fire. She’s too busy getting ready for a Christmas party with her college mates to care about their mickey-taking.

Teenage-girl-smiling

“Well that’s what it sounded like,” she says, with dignity and a withering look, taking advantage of their incapacity by whipping a big slice of pizza out of their boys’ night in takeaway box.

Someone had just said something about the sauce being in the fridge and Hayley thought they said horse. Hayley shrugs it off. She’s come a long way. In some ways I think her deafness and the challenges that arise from it have been character forming, toughened her up some, and that’s no bad thing. Her brothers of course should know better. Deafness doesn’t make you stupid or crazy, it just means you can’t hear accurately and it’s not funny.

But the problem is, sometimes the resulting absurdity is funny, even though I’m certain that’s not politically correct. Luckily Hayley sees it that way too. Being able to laugh at yourself has to be one of the best defences, as well as an appealing trait. And it’s all good practice for the idiots you meet in this life.

I recently had a jarringly unfunny incident while at the opticians. In conversation it came up that I write this blog for NDCS. The professional’s witty riposte? “Pardon?!” followed by riotous laughter at his own joke. I just stared at him. Unbelievable. It was meant to be harmless ‘fun’ but laughing just because someone’s deaf is clearly not funny.

But worse than this was an advert in one of the free mags that plops on the doormat every month, and it keeps coming back to me, because it was so insulting. It was a page selling ‘invisible’ hearing aids, and the premise was that hearing aids are an unsightly embarrassment. The text included a reference to no one having to have ‘banana-like’ things in their ears. It was truly outrageous, at the level of childhood name-calling, insensitive, damaging and wrong in every way. The magazine disappeared into the recycling bin and I didn’t get the chance to complain, which is probably why it keeps bugging me.

But I think there’s a vast difference between such insensitive insults and life throwing some ridiculously absurd moments at you.

Hayley agrees. And she gives as good as she gets. “Enjoy your saddo night in, losers!” she smiles, and sashays out the door.

Please note image is not Hayley

Beating the bully

Hayley has been thriving at catering college, taken to it like a duck to hoisin sauce. Now something’s stirred things up and Hayley’s panicking…

Tuesday morning, at the computer

‘Mum, what am I going to do? It’ll ruin everything!’

It had to come. The transition to college had run too smooth since Hayley started in September.

But this is a nightmare. Yesterday Hayley came rushing home, slamming the door behind her like the enemy was after her, hell bent on her destruction. Which is kind of true.

Teenage girl covering her face

A bully from Hayley’s old school had turned up like a bad penny, transferring onto her course then being put into Hayley’s tiny learning group of four.

And to add insult, this enemy is not especially hell bent on her destruction, not one of her arch enemies, just a casual bully who takes mild pleasure in humiliating her.

For the last year of school This Girl made a point of ‘hilariously’ addressing her as Laura, some poor girl in their year who was obese and a figure of ridicule, because she said Hayley looked like her.

It ruined Air Cadets for Hayley when this bully joined. Hayley had been there three years, loved it, earned respect from other cadets and the officers. It was a boost from the struggle she had at school academically and socially.

But then This Girl arrived, started the bullying name game and succeeded in corralling off a friend Hayley had made there, then shutting Hayley out.

Along with others from school, she’s been on Hayley’s train each morning, attending another course at the same college. Hayley’s been walking a knife edge as the ‘Laura’ humiliation continued.

But to think she was now on the same course where Hayley’s made a fresh start is unbearable.

I had no intention of being involved in the nitty gritty of her college life, but I’d no choice. I emailed the lecturer, explained how Hayley had struggled with bullying issues throughout secondary school, which This Girl had been part of – and how even now on the train it was continuing.

Starting college had been the most amazing feeling for Hayley, a fresh start full of hope. Now she faced the prospect of the baggage following.

I acknowledged that it can’t be easy to please everyone, but I was talking about a girl who’d struggled, vulnerable because of her deafness – which for many children with hearing loss so often leads to isolation and social exclusion – and also social communication difficulties.

I said how in spite of the challenges, which had often left her utterly miserable and without friends, Hayley remains incredibly game and sociable. She’s been so happy at college, making new friends and getting on well, the clean slate with a more mature environment we’ve all desperately wanted for her.

I begged the lecturer at least not to have them in the same learning group.

And you know what? She emailed right back this morning saying she’d immediately take her out of Hayley’s group, that she’d monitor things and we should keep her updated of any problems.

Jaw dropping. I text Hayley. These people have already done more in one swoop than her school did for her in all her time there.

If you are deaf and being bullied, or if you have a deaf child who is being bullied, check out NDCS’s free resources.

A great start at college

College life turns out to be keeping Hayley pretty busy but also very happy

Saturday morning, in the garden…

I’m standing by the washing line pegging out flappy rows of little white chef’s jackets and aprons, making the most of this glorious autumn sunshine.

Hayley is four weeks in at her catering and hospitality course at college, and after the initial packed itinerary of welcome meetings, admin, food hygiene exams and general sorting out, they got down to work pretty quickly.

This has been the busiest week yet. Hayley and her fellow students have been cooking a range of delights for the restaurant at college, including pea soup, the vivid hues of which I’ve just about managed to get out of the chef’s whites (who was it thought of making chef’s uniforms white…!)

Teacher Helping Students Training To Work In Catering

And Hayley is in bed, having a well-earned lie in.

It’s been full on, very different from the school days that saw her home by 3.20pm each day.

She’s now got long days and an hour’s train commute, so most often she’s out the door by 7.25am, and likely not back in until 6.30pm. Then there are the early starts two days a week when they have to prepare food for breakfast in the restaurant, so she’s gone from here by 6.45am – before I’m even out of bed!

But the amazing thing is that she’s doing it. And she’s managing it all by herself – by that, I mean classes and college life too. And she’s happy. Bingo!

After all the struggles through school years – with her deafness, specific learning difficulties, slow processing skills, friendship and bullying issues, rubbish support from school – she seems to be not just coping but flying.

And it’s just as well because I’ve barely seen her to ask, let alone had a chance to offer help of any sort.

Whereas at school there’s still that umbilical tie to your offspring, communicating with teachers, flurries of emails about progress/homework/uniform, and you’re kept in the loop as the parent ultimately responsible – suddenly it’s cast off time. It’s all down to them whether they sink or swim.

We’ve managed only a few snatched little conversations or texts from the train, because she’s been very busy with her social life too, going out with new friends straight after college (yes!!).

But she can hear okay with just her hearing aids, in the small classrooms and apparently even in the huge kitchens; her lecturers make sure she knows what she should be doing. She seems to be able to keep up with note taking and understand everything.

She’s exhausted but she’s loving her new life at college, making great headway, no intention of sinking.

It was a bit alien, and worrying, not being able to grill her closely about how she’s coping, but as it turns out no there’s no need for me to be concerned or even involved. It feels strange but liberating to be free from micro managing Hayley’s life and she certainly seems happy with the situation.