Thursday, 29 January 2009
So, it's the middle of the night and I can't sleep. Well, I did sleep for about 3 hours, then woke up and I couldn't get back to sleep again. Eventually, I decided that I might as well do something useful. So I have been e-mailing schools and companies looking for new jobs.
I don't really want a classroom job again. I've been put off this career path in the past three years. That consultancy job promised by the agency never materialised. They just didn't e-mail the details to me, and failed to answer the phone the next day, so I gave up on them. I have applied for a fabulous couple of jobs, that really do exist (I hope!).
Both are charity based. One is working for Oxfam, going into schools and educating the children about the work that Oxfam does and why it is needed. The other is working with disadvantaged children from inner-city Birmingham. It involves teaching them basic life skills (literacy, numeracy, cooking, money management, sexual health, etc) as well as building back their self-esteem through a number of physical activities such as kayaking, climbing, hill-walking, archery and so on.
Both of these are right up my street, but with the current credit crunch, I imagine there will be a lot of competition for any sort of job out there. I remember in the early 90s companies complaining because there would be 300 applicants for a job working a photocopier. There just isn' t the work available as more and more jobs go. I've picked the worng time to change jobs, really. I should have done it last summer.
It's a bit like a divorce, changing jobs. You try to make it work for such a long time before you finally decide that the other half of the partnership (ie the boss / establishment) is just so unreasonable that there is no other option. It leaves a bitter taste, just like a divorce does too.
Mum has had her other eye done this week. She needed the cateracts removed from both eyes. The first one was done just before Christmas, and the second one this week. She rallied very quickly the first time, but I think this one will take a little longer. She said she's having problems co-ordinating the line of sight at the moment. In other words, she's looking in two different directions at once, which makes for double vision.
I guess I can write what I like about her at the moment, because she can't read it. (He he, Love you Mum!)
Mel is also ill. He has a sore throat and stomach ache. There's a sickness bug going round his class, so we are waiting for that to manifest. I think Mel is going to be the first to succumb, which probably means the other 3, Nick and I will get it over the weekend. I can hardly wait.
Finally, we are on snail duty this weekend. The African Land Snails from Class 1 are due to visit us. Last time they came they were nearly killed with kindness, given the amount they were expected to eat, lavished by our children. Their cage was knee deep in banana and cucumber. I imagine the class teacher didn't need to feed them for a week once they got back to school!
I dread to think how awful I'm going to feel tomorrow. I have parent's evening so I won't get in until 8pm at least. I'm not remotely sleepy now.
Monday, 26 January 2009
I grovelled some more and checked the Bulletin from last week. Notably it didn't mention the meeting at all, which doesn't surprise me, as I had read it at the time. I asked some others how they had known about the meeting, and it appeared that Word of Mouth had been the main communication route. Excellent. It's nice to see the school is running so efficiently!
So I got my diary out and checked that. No, the meeting wasn't mentioned there either. I checked my diary against my head of department's diary, and he had no mention of Wednesday night meetings either. Clearly, I am a disgrace because I had inadvertently missed out on the Chinese Whisper method of passing on vital information.
To make matters worse, my friend for whom I burnt the poisonous papers last week, has got herself signed off sick with stress for at least the next two weeks. I had a long conversation with her this evening, and she is at the point where she feels nauseous just checking her e-mails from work. It is a sad fact that she is not alone in suffering in this terrible establishment. We have made a pact to get out. We're swapping job info and vacancy hunting tips.
Finally, to finish off a dreadful day, some boys in the final class of the afternoon decided to be truly obnoxious. They spent the whole lesson giggling and coming out with obscene comments (about breasts, nipples, my clothes, etc). It was not until afterwards, having been ridiculed for an hour, that the Teaching Assistant overheard them laughing that they thought they could see through my top.
Now, I know what teenage boys are like, and I know they don't have X-ray vision, but I feel utterly abused. My top, I hasten to point out, is perfectly proper. I wore it in India last summer, in a society where wearing shorts or showing shoulders is considered indecent. Imagination is a wonderful thing, but maybe not when used to mentally undress your teacher during a lesson on photosynthesis.
I really hope they get suspended. I was quite upset by the whole thing. I get no respect from either management or children. Please tell me why I still get up and go to work at all?
I think I need to metaphorically stick my fingers in my ears and shut my eyes.
La, la, la, I can't hear you!
Sunday, 25 January 2009
Friday, 23 January 2009
Even the teaching itself has been less than arduous, as I release the need to perform in order to avoid being slated for not following the impossible. I no longer care what they think - I'm leaving.
The school is having a crack-down on what they term "school standards". In other words they are breathing down the necks of students who are late, don't wear the uniform correctly or are rude. This is supposed to improve the grades of the students, but it is actually putting their backs up.
It also causes more work for us teachers, and much more hassle, as the sanctions we can give to the students haven't changed. Consequently the threat of "writing a referral" is often met with derisive laughter, especially from the regular rule-breakers, who have had as many as 50 written on them last term. Notably, neither their behaviour nor grades have improved following the small rain-forest of paperwork on them.
My top set Year 11s (16 year olds) were in fine spirits on Thursday. The boys were being particularly lively. I had to remove a collection of small crocodile clips from them, because they were trying to attach them to each other's nipples. They were comically surprised that metal pegs with sharp teeth actually hurt when attached to tender parts of their anatomy. A few minutes later, I had to remove the set of forceps too, because they were trying to pluck each others eyebrows. (Yes, this is still the boys I'm talking about.)
The thought of what I would write on a referral about those incidents had me cracking up with laughter.
So, today, I have had a nice quiet day. I took the kids to school, then helped out in their library, changing the books for the pupils in Saskia and Eartha's class. This is a voluntary thing I do at their school every Friday. I think the kids love that I come in to help. After that I took the dog for a walk in the forest, where he got thoroughly muddy. Back home, I finished Andy Cave's book on climbing Changabang in the Himalayas.
I had another phone call from an agency, and then a call from Mum. I did three loads of washing. After that, yet another call from another agency. This one was from a chap called James. We chatted for a bit, and then he asked me if I'd ever considered consultancy work. He then detailed a fantastic sounding job, which he thought would suit me. I don't know how much to believe, but if it is as fantastic as he says, and they want to interview me, then I'm up for it. It would consist of advising head-teachers on how to get the best out of their schools. It would also pay me twice what I'm earning now!
I have got to say 'yes' to an interview, just because I have never ever even applied for a job earning that much money before. Just to have the interview would be a delightful coup. Just telling my current bosses that I have an interview for a job where I could end up advising them is hilariously funny. After all, they really don't listen to any of their staff at the moment! I don't for one minute think I would actually be offered the job, but it tickles my sense of humour.
Finally, just when I thought I could cope with the job I'm doing, so long as I'm in a good mood, I logged on to my work e-mail this evening. I had a short, sharp message asking me to 'Explain myself'. Apparently there was a meeting on Wednesday evening, that I completely overlooked. I went home, singing merrily to myself instead and now, once again, I am in the sh*t.
Oh, well. Here's me, trying to care...
Wednesday, 21 January 2009
I have finally made the decision. I am leaving! I am out of there. I am going to change jobs and BOY, does it feel good! I have been in a bubble of euphoria all week. The decision has been made. I am actively looking. I have applied for some jobs. I have some agency interviews lined up. If I get something before Feb 13th I can leave by Easter (statutory notice). I am FREEEE!
The joke is, at last, on them. Remember the dreaded marking policy I mentioned? It is basically impossible to keep up with. Each book is supposed to be marked every two weeks, with a code indicating effort and a code indicating achievement, and a statement telling the student how to improve. I teach 9 classes. That's an average of 27 kids per class (27 x 9 = 240 ish). They have two books each (one for homework and one for school work) so that's 480 books to mark. If it takes just one minute to mark each book, that's 8 hours marking (except that 5 minutes per book is more realistic). Basically it is an impossible task.
So, the senior management team have decided to check whether our books are marked using their special system. This causes major panic, because no-one can keep up with it, except Nameless Wonder, who doesn't read the books. What is fascinating, is how inventive my department is. Nearly all the members of the team have found a different way of getting round the impossible.
There are 8 members of the team. 1 doesn't read the books, and just ticks them. 1 has another job to go to so doesn't care and hasn't marked any of them. 1 has given all the marking to the trainee teacher as 'practice'! 3 have given new books out to every child in their classes so that there are no old books lying around looking unmarked. Only muggins here and one other person have actually made any effort to mark the books up to date.
So, it was with a slightly hysterical laugh, that I was called into the office this morning to explain why my books weren't marked up to date, when the rest of the department was apparently well up to the job. It is only the fact that I will be out of there as soon as I can get another position, that kept me from bursting into angry tears. Indeed this bubble of optimism at my imminent escape has kept me buoyant and happy despite their unfair criticism.
So, I am off to the climbing wall, with my new blue climbing boots and a light heart. I have a spring in my step. No longer will I suffer the slings and arrows of an outrageous marking policy. I am sooo out of there!
Sunday, 18 January 2009
After the lessons the kids all wanted to go into town to spend part of their birthday money. They had some money in their birthday cards, including some Canadian Dollars from their Nana /Aunts in Ontario. This, I'm ashamed to say, reminded me that I had a similar pile of Canadian Dollars still in the drawer from last year. The good news is, that thanks to the global recession and the sinking value of the pound, those Dollars are now worth twice what they were last year. Smiles all round!
So we went into town. Mel has been adamant for ages that the only thing that would make him happy was a Smoothie Maker. Now, at last, he had the monetary means to achieve his goal, and so to the electrical gadget shop we went. Give him credit, we took a look at all the myriad Smoothie Makers on display, and he decided to buy the smallest. This means he gets more tries at using it.
Back home, we have had smoothies for lunch, dinner and tea. An entire two bunches of bananas along with a cluster of mangoes have vanished into the depths of the machine to be turned into pulp. We have had them mixed with orange juice, milk, yogurt and some sort of dodgy, fizzy orangeade. I dread to think what it is going to do to our insides!
I think I have been thoroughly smoothied.
Saturday, 17 January 2009
I love to climb. I'm abominably bad at it, but that doesn't stop me. I took it up in the spring last year, and I am making slow progress. I can climb things I couldn't climb when I started, and I have a lot more confidence. I recently bought my first pair of climbing boots and a chalk bag to go with the one carabiner I own. The shoes are a wonderful bright blue colour, and have the appropriate name of 'joker'.
I digress. The mountaineer who's story it was, hails from Colorado. He was in the news about six years ago following a freak accident in Utah. I remember it being on the news. He'd been hiking in the canyons of the Utah desert, when he had dislodged a large boulder, which trapped his right hand. After six days pinned in a small gully with no food or water, he finally released himself from imminent death by severing his own (now long dead) hand.
This story is not just amazing because he survived against the odds, but it is truly inspiring to read about the lengths he went to to preserve life. He was not an amateur, by any means. This guy had already climbed most of the peaks in Colorado single-handed in winter. He wasn't some schmuck out for a wander with no equipment. He'd run a marathon the week before - in under 4 hours. That's pretty damn fit.
He knew what the odds of survival were; he knew what the chance of being rescued was - very slim indeed. He had moments of despair, but he didn't give up. Lesser mortals would have just succumbed to the overwhelming odds against them. It would have been easy to sit and wait for rescue, shouting at the sky for help, until death arrived.
I have been mulling this book around in my head for the past three days. Nick has teased me that it has not been out of my hand. Indeed it has been hard to drag my head back out of it. I am there, climbing snowy peaks, surrounded by clouds, dodging avalanches, abseiling down cliffs. Experiences which make you feel alive.
OK, I can't ski and I've never climbed a mountain except Snowdon (see travel blog), which is a very small mountain by pretty much anyone's standards. There's usually a little train to the top and a cafe when you get there. The point is: I like to be outside. Life is too short, and we have to pack in as much living as we can into our brief existence. As my late father used to say: No-one dies wishing they had spent more time in the office.
So, with my head in the clouds of Colorado's Rocky Mountains, I feel removed from the pressures of work. The petty scheming and verbal abuse that goes on. It feels so irrelevant, when I am standing on top of a mountain, even metaphorically. At this moment in time I could walk through a school day without registering any of the stress. If there is a challenge, then it is just testing my mettle for the real experience Out There. I am just honing my skills in mental endurance to see if I am a fighter or a loser.
I had this image in my mind of work being a storm up high in the mountains. The wind was blowing and a blizzard was swirling round me. I was being buffeted off my feet. The sensible thing to do, was to get down off the ridge and find shelter. There is no need to put yourself in the path of the storm. As a metaphor for my job it is perfect. I spend my whole working life trying to fend off this gale of sub-zero, killing ice when I should just hunker down and let it pass over. Survive, damn it! You can't win against forces this big: there are better ways to survive, and fighting them directly is futile and deadly.
So, I'm going to hunker down, let the storm pass and save my energy for actually living, rather than wasting it, by standing right in the path of its deadly blast.
My colleague, a quiet, well educated women, with a crippling lack of self-confidence, is suffering from the institutional bullying that pervades our school. Somehow she has managed to draw the fire of the powers that be. In addition to this, the kids have also been picking on her, and making false claims about her teaching prowess. In any normal school, the teacher would be believed above the stories that vindictive teenagers can make up, but not in my school. Oh, no. Here the lies and exaggerated complaints are presented as evidence, detailing how crap you are.
Senior management have offered to 'help her improve' (ha! not to stop the bullying we note!). With one hand they are promising to support her, and on the other they made her read a pile of nasty comments made by the students! Excuse my sarcasm, but how the hell is that supposed to help?? I did the decent thing and burnt the pile of poisonous papers for her, (without reading them).
Anyway, this is my point: if I decide to work the hours I'm entitled to i.e. not attend certain meetings, then I imagine a similar document will be compiled about me. Every time I forget to do my duty after school, someone will write it down; every time I fail to keep up with the impossible marking policy, it will be noted; every time I type data into the wrong column, I will be making a noose for myself. Do I really want to do that? Do I really want to be bullied like that? What are my options here?
I've just got to succumb or leave.
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
So, come Monday, I was already somewhat frayed. I'm counting the teaching days until the half term holiday (17 to go!). There's always a meeting Monday after school. It goes on for hours. I was one of the first to arrive, but as everyone was not yet settled I left my cup of tea to mark my seat, and nipped back to my classroom to turn my computer off. The meeting had just started when I arrived, so technically I was a couple of minutes late. Not to worry, a further 5 people came in over the course of the next 20 minutes, so I was by no means the last.
The colleague chairing the meeting will remain nameless (yes, the same Nameless Wonder that ticks books without reading them). The meeting droned on. It was one of those pointless meetings about how we can provide evidence that we are doing something, so that if we are inspected by Ofsted (Government Inspectors) we can show them we are doing it, even if we are not. A bit like the 'marking books without reading them' scenario. All about the illusion of teaching.
I kept my mouth shut. No-one wants to hear the truth about such time-wasting meetings.
Anyway, at last week's meeting we had been asked if we minded staying an extra 15 minutes on the promise that we would be given that time back this week. Actually we had stayed 20 minutes, but that's OK, I don't mind, so long as there is good will.
I wanted to get to the bank, and to the post office to post a letter for Donny before they shut, so I was keen to leave on time. (In fact, I managed to do neither job until today.) So around the end of the meeting, just as Nameless Wonder looked like he was about to launch into another half hour spiel on some new time consuming initiative, I said: I have to go in a minute.
Not a particularly inflammatory statement, I thought, but hell, did the sh*t hit the fan! He jumped down my throat and pretty much told me off, like I was a 14 year old! How dare I tell him when to finish his meeting 3 minutes before the scheduled time, when I was late for it in the first place? he ranted. I pointed out that I wasn't telling him when to finish his meeting. I didn't point out that the colleague next to me had already stood up and put her coat on. By comparison I was being very laid back about being kept 20 minutes late, again.
I was so p*ssed off with him. Honestly, I haven't spoken to him for two days, not that he has noticed. To be fair, this is not the first time he has spoken to me like that, but it had better be the last or I may just stick his whiteboard marker where the sun doesn't shine!
So, this is why I haven't blogged for a day or two. I have been trying to get control of my anger so that I can write something light and fluffy that people might enjoy reading. Let's face it - it ain't going to happen. I need to expunge this rage, and then I can go back to the candyfloss blogging.
Yours, hopping mad,
Saturday, 10 January 2009
This year we decided to invite some friends and go to Pizza Hut for the birthdays. We picked the weekend in between the two sets of birthdays. There were 11 children at the party. We ate lots of pizza, far too much ice cream and sang happy birthday four times. Perfect!
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
Tuesday, 6 January 2009
Ah, yes, work. Well, I've been fretting about going back all holiday, making myself miserable with the fear of the stress to come. I've been saying affirmations to try and keep myself from freaking out.
I whisper "I am an oasis of calm" half a dozen times a day, and you know, it seems to be working. Every time I feel myself getting wound up by something, I say my little mantra, and I physically relax. Whatever they do, I don't have to get worked up about it.
Actually, what I've found is that it really isn't that bad at work - or at least it hasn't been for the first two days back. The kids have been strangely calmer, well most of them. I did give one kid detention for yelling "Oi! Welton!" at me, instead of the more traditional "Excuse me, Miss". I even managed to get through a staff meeting without either saying anything career limiting or bursting into tears because the amount of work requested was so enormous.
In fact my colleague [someone in my department who had better remain nameless] has given me a new lease of life (he'd be thrilled to know it, I'm sure). He said that all his books were marked up to date. I groaned, knowing what the outrageous marking policy is, and wondering if the man ever sleeps.
"I just go round all the books during the lesson and tick them" he said.
"But do you read any of them?" I asked.
"No" he replied.
Now I know where I'm going wrong! - I'm actually reading the kids work when I mark it, instead of just ticking it! Of course! This makes my life so much simpler. At last, a way to keep up with the management's requests.
So, life is just not that bad. All I have to do is remain an Oasis of Calm.
Sunday, 4 January 2009
Saturday, 3 January 2009
The kids managed to get muddy and the dog stretched his legs. We all needed some fresh air. There's a telescope at the viewpoint that allows you to look over half of Herefordshire. It's set a bit high for the little twins. Saskia peered into it and said "I can see the moon!"
[pic: Saskia can see the moon. Nick looks on]
Thursday, 1 January 2009
I need to get back to my former fitness. I love getting out and about and doing energetic things, but I am still quite overweight, and if anything it is getting worse, year on year. So, I think once again, I shall commit to get fit and try to shift some of excess weight.
I think the weight (gain) is to do with the excessive stress I am under at work. I'm not at all happy where I am, so this is my second resolution - to do something about my work situation. I don't know what yet, but something has to be done. It may be that I will find a new job, or it may be that I will finally adjust to coping with the enormous work load, or it may be that I will stop caring that the management only criticises and rarely praises and just stop listening to them. Either way, something has to change.
Thirdly, I want to write. I want somebody to pay me to write the stuff I want to write about. This is probably a tall order, but it is not impossible. My travel blogs are being published in the Mensa Visa Magazine this spring. My novel is creeping towards completion. What do I resolve to do about it? Well, I think I will finish my novel and get an agent this year. I will continue to write up my travels and I will take a more active part in promoting my writing. Instead of just letting the opportunities come to me, I will actively go out and create some.
So, these are my plans for the new year. May it be a good one for us all.
Nick and I are waiting up to hear Big Ben strike the hour, the way we usually do, but there is nothing much on the TV and Jools Holland’s Annual Hootenanny gets less engaging every year.
We have been out to visit some friends, finally, after sitting at home getting fed up of our own company for three days. The kids were getting cabin fever.
Yesterday, I took the kids to a local soft play area in a large converted warehouse. The kids can run about and climb and bounce and generally burn off some energy. Sarah (my friend) and I sat there with our coats on, hugging mugs of over priced hot chocolate. It was so cold we could see our breath steaming in the air – and that’s inside!
In the afternoon we went over to see some friends (Oli and Helen) who have just had their first baby. She’s called Sapphire, and she’s gorgeous. I got to snuggle the baby and my kids managed to entertain themselves for nearly two hours using nothing but a furry, sheep-shaped draught excluder. Who needs toys, eh?
Today we went over to see Frank and Elaine, who have been friends for about forever. Elaine, with wonderful experimental décor has decorated her tree in crimson feather boas this year. It looks great. Frank, who is wonderful with small people, entertained the kids first with the geriatric hamster and afterwards with a game that involved catching plastic mice. According to his nephew he ‘lives in the garage’, so this might explain his current affinity with rodents (?!).
Anyway, it’s nearly time to toast in the New Year, so I shall save this and post it when the internet is once again ready to play ball.
Happy New Year everybody!