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So it begins… or ends…

This is the post excerpt.

So, been thinking about doing this for a while… I’m a primary school teacher. I won’t be able to say that for too much longer. And that feels weird. I mean, defining myself weird. I’ve been able to say that I’m a ‘something’ for a while. Nearly 15 years in fact. When people ask “what do you do?” I don’t say what my job is, what the job is that I do. I say what I am. I am a teacher. For now…

When I started this job, it was a bloody hard slog to even get through the training. Hours of work, assignments to write, college to attend, placements to complete, and all to a high enough standard. Because educators should be working to a high standard right? Yes. Yes they should. And the level of dedication I have seen throughout the years of doing this job has been second to none. People who give up their evenings and weekends, because they love what they do, because they love their children. And that’s the weird thing that I learned quickly. Every child in my care has been called ‘my kid’. They are my kids. They are mine for 12 months to worry about, to care about, to pick up when they fall, literally and metaphorically, to soothe woes, dry tears, make smile, make feel valued, make feel loved (when sometimes they have no adult in their world who does that for them), and lastly, to educate. To teach them new things, skills, knowledge, or just fun stuff!

I thought that the system wasn’t good, it didn’t work. And I thought that I could make the most difference and change from within the system. I could topple it from within. Ha! My naivety was huge! I write this now as a cynical shell of the teacher I was when I started. I believe in children having a strong start to life. I believe in making children resilient, happy, confident, risk takers. I always have. I always will. But I’m tired. I’m so fucking tired. I’m tired of the bureaucracy. The goal posts of where I should be getting the children to changing year after year, government initiative after government initiative. I’m tired of being constantly told by education ministers, people who seem to have never had contact with a small child in their life, how I should be providing them with the best start in academia. Please!

It breaks my heart to say that I haven’t effected the change I wanted to when I started out. It breaks my heart that I have had to become hardened to the shitty situations some children live in, and that whatever I do, I am not single handedly able to break the cycle of depravation that some children exist within. It breaks my heart…

So, here I am. Saying “I quit”. This weekend I worked until 11pm on Friday (I started school at 7:50am), I worked 5 hours on Saturday, I worked 3 hours today (Sunday), and this is just to keep my head above water. This isn’t classed as going ‘over and above’ to most of my colleagues. This is ‘normal’. Schools are run primarily on the goodwill of the staff within them. We spend hours of our own time, hundreds of pounds of our own money (Amazon Prime loves me!) This is without any overtime pay. This is without any acknowledgment from parents. All they say is “where’s their jumper?” or “they’ve lost their water bottle”… is it named? No. I’m supposed to memorise everyone of the cherubs bloody belongings like Derren fucking Brown! And that gets tired, and tiring, after a few years.

I shall try to keep you posted about the thoughts, fears and musings of leaving teaching as I enter into the last phase of my career. I finish on December 19th. A career I thought I would have until I was too creaky to get up off the floor after being at a child’s level (turns out that that’s 41!). I’m sad. I’m tired. I’m done.

What’s scary is, there are many more like me who aren’t able to quit, and they are the ones who are caring for your children. Think about that when you next demand from the woman who is dead behind the eyes “where’s their (un-named!) jumper…

Look at me in the picture… smiling! It was summer. The well earned summer. And I’m happily trading 6 weeks ‘off’ (what a joke that is!) for, well, I don’t know what. But it has to be better than this…

 

Lou. x

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The idea of ‘Selling Out’

I had a very interesting conversation with someone at the School (there it is again, that uppercase S!).

We were queuing up for our daily free lunch… That’s another thing. As a member of staff, even a temp member, lunch is provided free of charge!

The first time I went into the dining hall I honestly felt like I was in an Enid Blyton or Harry Potter book! The food is brilliant! No ‘prison tray’ style dining here (although I believe the Prep School has those dreadful, compartmentalised, plastic trays, where your pudding is put next to your main meal, and then people wonder why the littlest children eat their pudding first?! Who wouldn’t when it’s right there, in front of you…?!)

No, here the food isn’t even presented in the vast silver vats that it is cooked in… it is presented beautifully, like a corporate event buffet, on large (I mean traditional paella dish large) terracotta platters. The salad is all fresh leaves, artfully distributed, with a choice of dressing, roasted chicken thighs, smoked salmon, cold meats, fresh bread. There’s a soup of the day for starters. Puddings are reassuringly ‘school dinner-ish’.

I messaged my partner in excitement when I had jam sponge and custard!

Sitting in the large, wood panelled, undoubtedly hundreds of years old building, I was in awe of where I was. It sounds daft, but I really could see how attending a School like this could make you feel ‘special’.

But I digress…

It was the end of term, so we had a barbecue in the School grounds for all of the staff. There were beers, wines and jugs of Pimms. I shit you not! Jugs of Pimms… at lunchtime… on a school day! (I must make clear, the children had all finished and gone home early by this time.)

I queued next to someone I hadn’t spoken to before. As a temp, and someone who clearly didn’t fit the ‘brand’ (no-one else there has purple in their hair!), I stood out a bit. The person next to me introduced themselves and enquired as to who I was. I asked what their role was in the school, they were involved in SEN.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with teaching terminology, the SEN refers to Special Educational Needs.  It’s a bloody tough job, and one that is increasingly demanding these days. I asked what kind of Needs they could possibly have in this Enid Blytonesque idyll?

The reply was hushed, “you’d be surprised” …

They too had come out of a State school, in a tough, inner city area of Birmingham. We were both familiar with the Needs that come with an area classically described as ‘deprived’. Surprisingly, Early Years still has children with Speech and Language difficulties. Yet here, I was joyfully informed, the parental support was much greater and improvements were made quickly. Perhaps less of a surprise was to learn of some mental health issues affecting older students.

I suppose, when you consider the families who can afford this level of education, and the number of parents who are themselves academic and high achievers, the pressure for their offspring to also be academic and high achievers is great.

We both marvelled at the surroundings that we were in and the phrase ‘from the ridiculous to the sublime’ was mentioned. When I shared that I too had worked in State schools for the whole of my career, they said that they had worried initially, that they would be seen as ‘selling out’ by moving into the Independent Sector.

A while ago I admit, I might have thought the same thing, but my opinion is being swayed by seeing the other side of things a bit more… Children are children, wherever you go.

The ‘Teacher Gift’ conundrum…

It’s nearly that time of year again. The summer is looming on the horizon and parents may be debating whether to get a gift for the person who has steered their little poppet through another school year.

What gift is enough?

How much should you spend?

Should you even bother when they are simply doing the job they’re paid to do?

Over the years I’ve had lots of gifts. They have all been gratefully received. Even the mugs emblazoned with ‘World’s Best Teacher’ (that get consigned to the back of the cupboard and only come out when every other mug is dirty! Sorry!).

There is even debate on daytime TV about this subject.

Can I let you into a secret?

We don’t need a gift at the end of term. We love them, don’t get me wrong. But I’ll tell you what we could use more of…

Regular acknowledgement.

Never underestimate the power of a few words of thanks during the year.

Have you noticed that little poppet couldn’t spell a particular word, read clearly, speak clearly, was unhappy about something at some point during the year? And who is it that helps with the spelling, the reading, the improved speech? Who spots when something is niggling a small person? Who gives them a cuddle when they fall over? Who wipes away their tears and helps them to negotiate concepts as vast as social interaction and managing friendships?

Do me a favour would you? Instead of a lovely gift at the end of the year, why not say ‘thank-you’ when you notice these seemingly little things, at the time they happen?

Life is busy, it’s easy to forget these little things. But they build into one really big thing… your child feeling valued, listened to, appreciated, cared for and happy that school is a good place to be.

Never underestimate how much thought, care and energy goes into ensuring this happens for each little person who walks into the classroom every day.

Of course, if you’re stuck for gift ideas, a bottle of wine is a safe bet…!

But a small word of thanks every now and then can make the difference between a teacher who feels that they are making a difference, and that it really is worth carrying on when it sometimes seems like a thankless task, and one who is on the verge of leaving the profession for good… If your child’s teacher is a good one, let them know. They can’t always see it for themselves…

Thank-you. x

P.S. the image is a portrait of me, painted by one of my children, over 10 years ago. It still hangs on the wall of the study…

Adventures in the Independent School Sector

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been temping in a school… not just any school, but a prestigious Independent School. In their marketing department!

I had no idea that such things existed, but apparently an Independent School is very much a business. As such, it has things like a dedicated marketing department. And it’s a very busy department. There is a very strict ‘brand’ that must be adhered to. Such as always writing the word ‘School’ with a capital ‘S’ whenever the School in question is mentioned. I see I’ve already been indoctrinated into the ‘brand’ just by automatically typing the word ‘School’ with an uppercase S!

The School has to sell itself to prospective parents. 

Unlike in the State sector, where the school your child attends is driven by your geographical location and if there are places, the Independent schools all compete for your business. It’s entirely your choice where your child is educated. And there’s a lot of choice.

The marketing department creates all posters for all school events, from fetes to school productions and open days. Like most schools, they have a weekly newsletter that is e-mailed out to parents, keeping them informed of all the great things going on within the school. Along with these, there are termly magazines, for the Prep School  and the Senior School. There are annual magazines. Programmes for the Rugby and Cricket tours (which go to places such as Sri Lanka!)

I was fascinated to learn that many of the jobs that fall to the teachers in State run schools, are all done by dedicated teams of people… In a State school, the news is written by the teachers, it is their responsibility to take photos of events and post them (usually via the school secretary) to the school website.

Not in this Independent School! The amount of work that is done by the marketing department is vast… the tweets, the Facebook posts, the website updates, the posters, tickets for shows, letters home… The more I saw what happened there the more I came to realise… the teachers were expected to just… well… teach! What a revelation!

Teachers came to us to tell us what they needed, and went away again to do their job. When I couldn’t disguise my astonishment to how this all worked, when I told the people I was working with what happens in most State schools I’ve worked in, I was told ‘Oh, they (the teachers) wouldn’t do that here’.

The ‘brand’ is massively important here. The lettering all must be same (helvetica neue light size 11, to be exact in this case!). The wording must adhere to the brand policy. Everything is uniform, the colours reflect the school uniform colours.

Although I enjoy the creative aspect of writing copy and creating aesthetically pleasing pages, the creativity is confined within strict parameters. The pages are proof read, re-jigged, proofed again, proofed by another 2 colleagues before being proofed twice by the Headmaster/mistress. Everything, even the phrasing in writing, must reflect how the School wants to be viewed by the outside world. It’s a long process.

But I’m finding this all rather good fun!

 

The Art of Procrastination

Oh my! I am soooo good at procrastinating!

It’s not productive in some areas of life, and great for others…

The laundry basket remains constantly empty. The dust barely has time to settle. Things get put away after they’ve been used. Dishes are done every evening. The garage is tidy! WTF?!

But, this brings me no closer to larger goals. I have been gainfully unemployed for 3 weeks now. The worry over the bills is kicking in as I near the date of payments looming. Yet I find that the more time I have free to pursue the stuff I promised myself that I would pursue, the less I pursue them. I told myself that ‘when I have more time’ I would get on with making things happen.

Have I?

Have I heck as like!

It’s amazing how much time you can fill doing anything but what you SHOULD be doing. It’s almost as if, the less time I have at my disposal, the more I manage to cram in.

Maybe this is the key?

Impetus seems (for me anyway) to stem from having limited time in which to achieve things.

Don’t get me wrong, the things I have filled my time with have been cleansing for my spirit and my mind. De-cluttering is brilliant! Clearing the path for clearer thinking. Yoga every morning (I ache! So out of shape!). Meditation. Being ‘mindful’ in the garden, being in the ‘now’, the moment.

I thank the stars for my partner who is keeping me afloat financially. But the guilt that comes with that scenario, after being a relatively high earner, is weighty.

A change is coming. But I need to start putting some serious work in to make that happen.

And unburden my partner.

Although his home may become less clean and tidy…!

June-Years Resolutions

My New Years resolution this year was to waste less and not buy any new items of clothing. I made an exception for second hand clothes, but in an effort to

a) reduce the impact of manufacturing on the environment

and

b) reduce the impact of clothes buying on my bank account

I decided to try a year of not buying anything new, but rather, re-discovering the clothes I already have. And I have a lot…

I mean… honestly… it makes me cringe when I think of all the clothes I have, that I never wear. Some even still had the labels on. How wasteful.

So far, it’s been a nice little voyage of reacquaintance, like meeting up with old friends who you haven’t seen in a while, and you’d forgotten quite how much you enjoyed their company.

‘Hello little black trouser suit I bought on a whim with the hope of looking chic and like I belong on the French Riviera’.

‘How you doing retro dress that I bought in London on a fateful visit that confirmed that I am now, really and truly, a Country Mouse’.

Some clothes have, just as with some friends who you now realise are actually toxic to your life and your mental wellbeing, been relegated to the ‘what was I thinking? Why did I hold on to you for so long?’ pile.

Talking about this resolution with people has meant several discussions around clothes we hang on to, and the stories associated with them. Where we were when we bought them, geographically, mentally or emotionally.

And this led on to my colleague George saying that she wanted to have a new years resolution but it was pretty late in the year to make one… after all it’s nearly June..

“A June-Years Resolution!!” (She was particularly chuffed with that!)

And so it is born. The making of resolutions after testing out the first 6 months of the year, and what you resolve to change or do differently for the latter 6 months of the year.

It could become a ‘thing’…

I’ve got a couple of June-Years resolutions to make…

One of them might be to make pants exempt from the New Years resolution….!

 

A Question of Trust

This week I left the comfortable temp job. When I said it was my last day, people would ask me “What have you got lined up next?”…

…It’s very liberating to be able to say ‘Nothing’.

The blank expressions, the looks of surprise, were most amusing!

You see, I no longer plan each step of my day, my week, my month.

I no longer think in weeks and terms, targets and objectives.

I don’t know what happens next.

 

That’s exciting! Scary, but exciting.

Trusting that something is always going to happen next, whether you plan it or not, that the universe has a canny way of bringing what you need when you need it, if you have the courage to trust it.

And that’s a hard thing to do. It means breaking years of conditioning, through our schooling and into the workplace.

What’s coming next.

Where are you going?

What level are you going to progress to?

 

Letting all that go… it’s brilliant. I never was an ambitious person. I never craved to be management, top of the tree, running the show. I’m quite happy just plodding along, being who I want to be and working out what it is I want to devote my time and effort to.

 

The older I get the less status means to me, I care less what everyone else thinks of me, what opinions they form when they look at me. Maybe this is just a natural part of aging. Maybe this happens to everyone?

 

As I leave one job, the universe brings me more children to tutor… doing something I enjoy, that I feel I am good at and I find fulfilling. Something I believe in.

 

Trust the universe.

 

Something will always present itself. And now I have the courage to say ‘Yes’ when it does.

Feeling the ‘Fear’

Time flies when you’re having fun…

…so they say. I must be having a whale of a time! Where have the last few months gone?!

I have regularly made notes about what to write about, and they invariably end up lost in handbags or on top of the microwave (where I tend to absentmindedly put bits of paper, and where my partner finds them and puts them in the bin!).

Temping in an office has been a blast. That may sound strange, but it has been a lot of fun. I’ve worked with some lovely people, I get to talk to lots of people on the phone all day, some of whom are very happy to speak to me, others who swear at me and my colleagues, but even those ones are the cause of much mirth in the office. But I’m aware that I’m getting comfortable with it. And that’s dangerous. So, I decided that I needed the ‘fear’ to make me look elsewhere for another job, perhaps even a ‘proper’ job?! I told my employers that I would be leaving on the 24th of May.

BUT, they like me. I have a pretty good idea about what I’m doing now. I know my way around the various computer systems.

They have offered for me to work part time. Hours to be dictated by myself… How the bloody hell did that happen?!

 

I have started tutoring a small person, helping them with their early reading skills. I’m enjoying spending time with a small person again. I’m exploring the idea of tutoring teensy tiny people, and their big people… After a few months I’m feeling like there may be a way to marry the skills that I spent years gaining with what I believe is right for young children, without having to sacrifice my principles. The plethora of resources that still take up half of the garage, ‘just in case’ I decided I had made a mistake, or wanted to chase the money and supply teach, are beginning to be moved to the loft.

Many folders have been emptied of their years of planning, the good ones went to the car boot, the knackered ones went to the tip. The man at the tip was most amused to see me throwing away folders with labels such as ‘Behaviour Management’ and ‘farms and Easter’.

Now, I’m not knocking anyone who does supply teaching when I use the phrase ‘chase the money’. I’m aware that it pays well and can be a more viable way for people to remain in the education system and reduce the stress of the job slightly. For me, I left teaching because the fundamental principles of the current Education regime had become so far removed from my own beliefs, that I no longer believed I was a force for good. I didn’t feel like I was making a change or being the change I wanted to be. So, to supply teach feels, personally, to be hypocritical. I don’t believe in what I’m doing, that it is for the best of the children, but I’ll put up with it for the money? That’s just not who I am, nor who I want to be. For many who do continue to teach, full time or supply, it is a fulfilling and worthwhile vocation, and that’s brilliant.

That’s why I had to think long and hard about whether to tutor or not. I came to the conclusion that I had to look at what my core beliefs are, what do I feel is right for children? I concluded that I believe that fundamental vocabulary and reading skills underpin so much future learning, that this is an area I feel happy promoting. But, I wasn’t willing to coach children in order for them to pass tests. Granted, those early skills should contribute to their ability to do well in tests later in life, but I’m not happy to hot-house individuals for that sole purpose.

So, the seed of an idea has been planted and I’m going to water it for a while and see what grows from it…