Monthly Archives: July 2014

Headspace

It’s funny how it’s only in certain situations that you realise how different your children’s childhood is from your own.  Most of the time, I am aware of the commonalities –  the cleaning of teeth, washing of hands, flushing of the toilet – but there are summer snapshots that highlight how different our experiences are.

I grew up in South Devon, just half an hour’s car journey from the sea.  We often used to go in the afternoon, laden with buckets and spades, sunbeds and umbrellas, trailing to the furthest possible point from the car to find a nice quiet spot.  My dad, a civil engineer, would enjoy telling us stories of how he designed this, that and the other part of the sea defences when I was just a baby.  If we were lucky, he might be persuaded to build us a boat or a car out of sand, before we got sucked into the general Divert the Sewage Overflow Game running amongst most of the children there.

Our favourite, or rather, the place they liked to take us the best, thanks partly to the lack of runoff, was Tunnel Beach.  It isn’t really called that, but amongst our family there is no other name.  It’s a shallow, south facing cove, a steeply shelving stretch of coarse red sand that means the children are never very far away, the only access being through a long, seaweed-smelling tunnel.

The first time I took my children, L was still in nappies and Sam refused to enter.  There we were, out in the glorious sunshine and he took one look at the darkly yawning hole cut into the cliffs and refused to budge.  I had to wedge him under one arm, push the pushchair with the other and forge ahead regardless.  After a couple of minutes and the sky hadn’t fallen in and they had all discovered the echo, he was prepared to trundle along under his own steam.

Apart from the shouting, the tunnel itself is fascinating.  About half way down it turns, changing track as if some sandstone signal man had pulled a giant switch.  The character of the walls changes from smoothly dressed to rough hewn; suddenly there are flights of steep steps (a great workout for those of us toting toddler paraphernalia), and there is, instantly discernable, the slow crescendo roar of the sea.

A corner, and there it is.  From the dimness you step out into blazing light, the beach and the sea.  It’s never very crowded, is Tunnel Beach, thanks to the steps.  There is an old shut up cave where my mum tells me that once upon a time there was a kiosk that sold cups of tea, but there are no easily accessible toilets, no ice cream booths.  Everything is at the top of the cliffs, a manicured garden and hillside golf course, a wishing well  and goldfish exactly as they were in the 70s of my childhood.

It’s never the same, that beach.  The first time the waves were crashing against the sand, exciting ‘rollers’ that made the children scream with delight.  The next, it was flat calm. Each time we go I am reminded that what I took for granted with the gentle contempt that grows with familiarity, is fresh and new and exciting for my land-lubbed children.

A’s surprise when he tasted the salt water for the first time.  L and Sam’s joy in making a seaweed salad.  The way that the tide comes in and you can’t stop it, no matter how many castle walls you build, and how many other children you persuade to help you.  The warmth of rock pools compared to the chill of the sea.  They are utterly absorbed, following each trickling pathway until they reach the sea, while I attempt to contain my anxiety that they will wash themselves away.  The whole thing is one intense learning experience.   No wonder they fall asleep, exhausted mouths sagging open, in the car on the way home.

And afterwards, when we get home, they feel the need to chill.  I can’t; I have to unload the car, rinse out the sand, make the tea; but them, they are washed out shells of children, good for nothing except a loll, a satisfied slump on the sofa.  If I asked them to do anything more productive than a spot of channel surfing I’d be faced with a mutiny.

But then, at home, I am mummy.  I don’t have the same authority and power that I do in the classroom, where I can insist that we work right up to the last minute on the last day of term if I see fit, and there’s not a lot they can do about it.  I look at the new school day for my soon to be secondary-schooled boy, and I wonder how they can keep it up, what with the outstanding teacher, outstanding lesson, outstanding school, accelerated progress-ness of a modern education.

When they started school I remember well that feeling of my nose being somewhat out of joint as they tantrummed all the way home.  It didn’t seem fair that the school should get the best of them, and I should have the tired old left overs.  I’m all for awe and wonder, but I’m all for quietness and reflection too.

I need headspace to make sense of it all.  They do too.

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 WOWSERS!

(This was just before some sunbathers were rather amusingly overwhemed by the incoming tide.)

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Where did the waves go?

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Out of Step

**Disclaimer**  It’s not personal.  It’s societal.  Hold on to your hats.  This is a rant.

There is much about the world today that I don’t understand.  Big Brother, Celebrity or otherwise, I have never got that.  One Direction.  Can’t get my head round that.  And much of the stuff around children and their upbringing leaves me stumped.  Like bras for pre-pubescent girls, or t-shirts with slogans that denote how sexy they are, or small children watching horror movies or playing Grand Theft Auto.  Or babies with pierced ears.  Or expensive tablets for toddlers for that matter.  I don’t get those either.

I used to think that I had it figured.  We lived in a community of adults and together we would bring up our young.  We were the adults, the parents, not their best friends, and, because we had their best interests at heart there would be early nights, and kids TV that went off at a reasonable hour and clothes that looked like they belonged on the backs of children and all that jazz.  The first time someone had a go at me for telling off their child for attacking mine was a wake-up call.  In more ways than that I know that I am out of step.

Most of the time I zoom about my life, too busy to worry about it overly much, but, every so often it is shoved in my face, just how much of an oddball I must seem.  It isn’t only that I am picky and choosy about what my children watch on the telly or play on the computer, or anything like that.  This time it was the whole leaving primary school fandango.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am just as much aware of the passing of an era as anyone else.  When Sam left Year 6 behind my heart ached for not only the fact of his lack of awareness of how his life would change but also for us all, the adults who would miss him, who I would miss.  When I attend a leaver’s assembly as a teacher, I am just as much filled with emotion at the thought of how much of a hole these cranky, too hot, too big for the furniture young people will leave behind them, how much of their growing I have witnessed, and how much of their transformation into young adults I will not see.  As a teacher, when they come up to the front to be feted with awards, I am just as much filled with joy and pride as anyone else.

It’s the other stuff I don’t get.  I mean, it’s a reasonably big deal for us teachers, it’s perhaps a bigger deal for us parents (especially if it’s our youngest child, or all the children are off to different schools, a community scattered far and wide across an anonymous city), but is it the same for them?  I don’t remember my last day of primary school.  I do remember as a six or seven year old gazing enviously upon The Leavers, a capitalised state where you were allowed to sit on the slope outside the baby classroom eating ice lollies (probably lemon) and looking forward to the day when I would relish such privilege.

There was similarly no ceremony when I left secondary school.  For me, I left with a massive sense of relief, shaking the dust of the place from the soles of my shoes, glad that I wasn’t planning to darken the doors of the classrooms again, excited that I was off to pastures new.  When I left Sixth Form College, the place where, for an intense two years, I discovered that I wasn’t alone, that there were other mouthy, bookish girls like me for whom the ambition to university was a given, not an oddity, aware of the day it all ended, we made our own celebration.  My friend Liz and I stood at the Clock Tower, the place where her way home went one way and mine went another, reluctant to leave, cracking jokes and calling goodbye, excited about the future, knowing that, even though we wouldn’t be sitting next to each other in class any more, we would be friends forever.

So why are we suddenly picking them up from primary school and sending them off to places unknown in stretched limos?  They are eleven years old!  Some of them are still ten.  What have they done, really, to warrant such expense, such ostentation?  And it doesn’t stop there.  There are endless assemblies with powerpoints and heart-string-twanging soundtracks, prize-givings, discos-that-are-called-proms, the list goes on.

It’s not just Year 6, it has to be said.  Gone are the days when it was a fancy dress party to mark the end of nursery.  No, now we must have a mock graduation ceremony for infants barely out of nappies, a celebration of their 2.i in play dough.  We must make a big deal out of a move down the corridor into Year 3.  We must look at each other and declare with amazement at the passage of time, ‘I can’t believe they’re leaving the Infants!’

We seem infected with a desire to rush our children into premature adulthood.  No longer is it acceptable for the Biology Field Trip to be in some field in the back end of nowhere in North Wales.  Instead, we parents must fork out instalments over years in order for our offspring to enjoy a tour of the New York Stock Exchange, or take part in some sporting fixtures in Australia.  What must we do to celebrate their real graduation from a real university, their real entry into adulthood?  Send them to the moon?  They won’t be happy with a card with a key on it, that’s for sure.

And what will they think about it all when they get there?  These children, who I have seen, at seven, already bored by constant magicians and increasingly expensive birthday celebrations.  What else is there for them, these over privileged, over entertained, over feted youngsters we haven’t allowed to take their own sweet time, so keen are we to make it all about ourselves, to show what amazing parents we are, what fabulous schools we run, to enjoy the cute factor without consideration of the consequences.

I wonder what the Too Much Too Soon generation will make of it all.

 

 

 

The Night Walker

I love the holidays.  That moment when you close the door on your classroom on the last day of the summer term with all that time stretched unfilled before you is like no other.  These days, now that I am not just a primary school teacher but a mother with three children of her own (no relaxation of responsibility at three fifteen for me), that last day leaves me sweating with relief.  No more school runs.  No more remembering lunch money, reading books, PE kits or responding to sudden demands for money for cake sales, cakes for said sales or random fancy dress, let alone forgetting the random items I might need for the mummification of oranges (all a part of the life of your average primary teacher).  For six weeks I can hang up the school bags and set my own agenda.

I think it’s one of the things I like most about this time of year.  After endless weekdays set rigidly to a timetable, so inflexible that I must visit the toilet only at certain points in the day, and weekends crammed with other people’s activities, the loss of routine leaves me with a sensation of lightness, of freedom.  I remove my watch and kick off my uncomfortable shoes with gay abandon.

Not so Sam.

As he matures it seems that his ability to entertain himself lessens.  Like his younger siblings, he too misses his classmates, the young people he spends his days playing with, learning with, fighting over.  He misses his teachers, his routines.   And staying away from home.  He’s not awfully keen on that either.

I should know by now how it is.  It’s not like I haven’t been on tons of holidays with him before, but somehow I always forget.  Take this weekend.  We haven’t been away camping for some time (the unreliability of the weather combined with the unfeasible size of a tent designed to hold a family of five and give them somewhere to hang around, damply bored, while they wait for the rain to clear has ensured our reluctance to pitch camp of late), but our tenting holidays must have made a positive impression because Sam often hopefully mentions the possibility, usually on a damp, December Sunday afternoon when there is nothing better to do than suggest interesting and fun activities that nobody else wants to do.

Putting the tent up for a trial run throws not only Sam, but the others too, into a frenzy of excitement (another reason not to get it out, if you ask me).  The three of them run around the unfamiliar space, almost as wound up as if they had suitcases (the most exciting thing known to child-kind), crashing into fragile walls, bouncing off everything, regardless of who might be attempting to sleep on it later, their joy a palpable, physical thing.

Over the years I have tried to analyse just what it is they find so appealing.  Maybe it’s the prospect of undistracted time with mummy and daddy, with no washing or ironing or fixing or any other tedious household chores to get in the way.  It could be the relative freedom provided by campsites; a defined yet unimaginably large area over which to roam, other, unknown children with whom to play.  For Sam, you never know your luck, you might get to have an explore around other people’s camper vans; if you’re really lucky, there might be quad bikes or mini tractors moving caravans around so that they can be cleaned via pressure washer.

Or maybe it’s the unaccustomed delight of being in the outside in your pyjamas and skipping up and down to the facilities with torches.  When they were younger, and we went camping because we couldn’t afford to do anything else, we would pitch the tent and they would leap, regardless of the time, into their night attire, cuddled up into a bundle of babies.  Until it was time for them to actually go to bed, that is.

Now I love an adventure.  I love setting off into the (relative) unknown, discovering places hitherto unexplored (by me) except by their names on a map, or in a novel I may have read.  For me, the wake up to reality call is usually the point at which I investigate the shower block.  Dead flies, clumps of muddy grass, other people’s hair; all these things have my flesh shrinking in distaste.  For Husband, it is that moment when he goes to the loo and comes across Men In Vests Having Washes.  For the children, and for Sam in particular, it is when, instead of packing it all away and heading home, they are expected to settle themselves down to sleep.

I know they are not alone in this.  All around us, in the gathering gloom, is the sound of children-who-do-not-wish-to-sleep and their increasingly frustrated and desperate-for-a-bit-of-child-free-time parents.  Shouting and screaming usually starts at around 9:30 and finishes at around 11.  These days, we have accustomed (just) ourselves to their evening company, become less frazzled by their sleeping bag chatter.

But only slightly.  For we know that it won’t be long before our night-time visitor will be making calls. It won’t take much to wake him and we will be awake too, listening helplessly to the zipping and unzipping of checks on siblings and parents.  It’s remarkable how difficult it is to extricate oneself from a half-sunk mummy-shaped sleeping bag (I am never succumbing to a blow up mattress ever again, detestable things).  One is pretty much guaranteed to gouge one’s toe on some sort of essential equipment that just happens to be strewn across one’s path on one’s journey to reassure the anxious boy who is longing for his own bed, unconvinced by the sleeping silence around him that it is still night time because, to him, the light is coming and so is home time.

I know I ought to prepare him thoroughly for a holiday, but in my excitement, the packing, the list making, the route finding, I know I that will think that what I did before will be enough.  I will think that because he was OK last time, he will be again.  I forget about it and curse myself for my omission, until that eventual night when we are all so wasted with all the walking in a night that is full of unspoken terrors that we have no choice but to sleep, wherever we are – and long privately for our return home.

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My bundle of babies.

Yes, yes, it’s a Game of Thrones reference 😉

An Interview with a Teacher

Back in May I fell into conversation with @atharby (Andy Tharby, he’s a secondary English teacher) about the power of reading.  We talked about the interesting notion in this post, that one of my children knew (or thought he knew) about sailing through reading.  Swallows and Amazons, in particular, figured highly.  One thing led to another, and this post was born.

An interview with – two – teachers.

Nancy:  Which was the first book/series of books you remember getting really excited about?

Andy:  It’s strange. I can remember the moment, but not the book. It was one of Enid Blyton’s The Secret Seven. I was sat with my mum on her bed. I’m not even sure if I was reading to her or reading alone. The first page was tense, but I can’t remember why, with a description of snow and a crisp full moon. It’s funny how I remember the experience the most, the sense of leaving the bedroom and entering completely the frozen world of the book. It did not feel like an escape or a release, more like an awakening.

Do you believe we can teach our own children to love books or can we only hope they will take to them?

Nancy:  My poor children (I have three) have to put up with a lot.  I drag them round cathedrals, art galleries and the like, my husband takes them to aircraft museums, constantly presents them with rc flying things of one sort or another.  And from an early age, I, especially me, have read them bedtime stories.  We have cuddled up, snuggled up, journeyed across forests and rivers, to the moon and back and discovered that we do indeed, love green eggs and ham.

These days Sam, my eldest, likes nothing better than an evening of Which Bus, or Camping and Caravanning Monthly. A, at 11, has to be reminded to turn the light off as he devours book after book after book.  And L, my baby (an 8 year old baby, so I shouldn’t refer to her as such, but there you are) has a decided bottom lip thing going on if I try to duck out of the nightly reading ritual.  I read her that Secret Seven book.  All snowmen and making camouflage suits out of sheets.  She loved it and was on the edge of her bed (in the absence of a seat).
Whether this is to do with the sharing, or the stories, though, remains debatable.  I think the best we can hope for, as parents, is that we give our children opportunities, lay the best foundations we can, and hope they take them up on their own account.
What do you think is the purpose of teaching children to read?
Andy:  Ouch, that’s a hard question!I’ll start by rewinding to the two years I worked as a bookseller before I became a teacher. I read more widely in those two wonderful years than I ever did in my three years at university, or have done since becoming a teacher. If you had asked me then why we should teach children to read I would have said something along the lines of ‘to immerse them in great literature’ or to ‘inspire a love of the written word’.

I still believe this by the way, but the wider worldview afforded by my eight years as a classroom English teacher have made me more realistic. When I said goodbye to my year 11 bottom set a couple of weeks ago there were a fair few who still could not read or write to the level of an eight year-old. After 11 years of schooling they left with nothing. This must be wrong and we must do more as a profession to stop this. Even though they did not have serious learning needs, they will enter an adult world they are not able to fully take part in.

So, if you ask me now why we should teach children to read, my answer is simple. Because it is their basic right and entitlement. However, I cross my fingers and hope that my son, just shy of three, will share the love of books that I inherited and is, in a funny way, his inheritance. (I met his mother at the bookshop!)

How have books influenced your decisions in life?

Nancy:  Where to start with that one?  I think, since I learned to do it, that I have been hugely influenced by the books I read.  As a teenager I was perpetually confused as to why reality didn’t seem to have anything in common with the world I read about.  I think I thought that secondary school would be like some sort of Mallory Towers experience. Unfortunately, Devon in the Eighties was anything but.

Later, I turned my attention to romance reading – but strangely, this had the opposite effect in that I knew from an early age that these type of relationships (where the prince rescued Cinderella etc etc) weren’t for me. If I needed rescuing, I’d do it myself, thank you very much.  I knew, from a young teen, what kind of relationship I didn’t want, and, I put that down, in large measure, to reading all the books.
I’ve always been a bit of a runner-awayer.  When I haven’t been able to absent myself from a difficult situation, books have given me the headspace I have needed to get away, if only for a short while.
That’s a sort of answer, I think.
Next question – how would you characterise your bookshelves?
Andy:  Overflowing! When my partner and I first got together we had religiously separated bookshelves; over time, they have  infused and become starkly incongrous. They are a perfect metaphor for life. The top row is devoted to 19th Century fiction – Dickens and Collins in particular. The middle shelves are a mismatch: Alan Partridge sits shoulder to shoulder with Doris Lessing. The cookbooks on the bottom row have been partly eaten away by our ever-greedy dog.I once spent a summer working in a book factory; booksellers would send back damaged returns to be pulped. I became a book thief, squirreling away these sorry, unread beauties in my rucksack, evading the non-existent security and curling up with them in the evenings. I still have a few on my shelves even now.

Which book would you be most prepared to steal of you had to?

Nancy:  Now, you’re a sneaky one. You keep asking me questions that go right to the heart of me.  And I keep wriggling and trying not to answer!

I wouldn’t steal a novel or a book of poetry. I wouldn’t steal a great play or a fix it manual (although that might depend if I were stuck on a desert island with only a bookshop for company).  A coffee table book of seminal photographs? Nope.
For me, it would have to be the Bible.  It never ceases to amaze me, the lengths people will go to to get their hands on it, and yet I have several: different translations, ones with stickers in for my children, a beautiful illustrated one from my own childhood.  My bookshelves overflow with plenty, and yet, this old, old book, full of strange stories and poetry, fantastical beasts and miracles is the one that springs to mind, the one that informs my heart, tells me to love my neighbour and reminds me to put others before myself.
Anyway, that’s enough of the deep, philosophical hand wringing.  Time for something lighter.
I haven’t had much time for reading since I started blogging, and I intend to remedy that this summer.  What’s on your summer reading list?  Virtuous teacher manual or steamy bonk buster?
Andy:  Is there a book that combines the two? Perhaps The Hidden Loves of Learners or… 50 Shades of Hattie might serve up us novel slant on effect sizes. I haven’t quite put together my reading list yet, and I think that’s the point. Having spent an academic year in thrall to the clockwork of the school bell, I can’t wait to read what I feel like when I feel like it. I do have a book on action research in education to get through but after that, I’ll let inclination be my guide. I will probably read a Dickens and I have yet to finish Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. After that, who knows?

I imagine I will also read Topsy and Tim Play Football over and over again until my little boy moves on to something a little more nourishing. (Or the book succumbs to a horrible accident in our open fireplace.)

Another deep one from me, I’m afraid.

Is life too short for bad books?

Nancy:  Bad books.  Well, there’s a term.  Not so long ago I aspired to be a writer of Mills and Boon romances.  Did you know they publish over 20 titles a month, and, at around 50000 words I reckoned I could be into a nice little money spinner.

So, as you do, I got to work reading around the genre, and you know what? I quite like ’em.  I’m not overly keen on the very steamy ones (there’s only so much cliche this girl can handle), but the sweet ones are, well, quite sweet.  They don’t take long to read, and, in the hands of a writer like Fiona Harper they are funny and, well, heart warming.
And yet, many many many people would condemn them, and all light fiction aimed at women as Bad Books.  Yes, there are badly written ones (please, please stick to simple words like ‘said’ and phrases like ‘took the juice out of the fridge’ and if one more heroine twirls her hair atop her head while she has YET ANOTHER shower….), but I have found myself immensely entertained at points in my life when a worthy tome is the last thing I wanted to read.
That said, I do think there are books out there that I wouldn’t want on my house.  These books are those that purport to be liberating, and yet speak insidious ideas into our minds. Like the Twilight books, or Fifty Shades. Mills and Boon has come a long way from submissive heroines like these.
So maybe I’m saying that the concept of a bad book is in the mind of the reader, and that what I would want (as a teacher, a mother of a daughter and two sons, and as a reader myself) is readers who think and reflect critically upon the stories they read, so that they can decide for themselves whether it is bad or not.
I like a story; the narrative of a book carries me along.  I don’t like books that tire me out with their intricate language and density of prose.
What do you like in a book?  What is it that makes it a good one?
Andy:  Narrative is important to me but it’s not everything. I like books that help me to think things I’ve never thought before or to visualise things I have not imagined before.I struggle with stories that are not rooted in reality; I love it when a book augments or enhances my perception of the world. I read a lot of books in translation. Independent People by the Icelandic author Halldor Laxness was wonderful. About 10 years ago I read the work of the German author W. G. Sebald: he weaved such strange yet lucid webs of prose that even now I sometimes feel that I am looking at the world through his eyes.

In a similar way I’ve read lots of books about teaching recently. My assumptions have been challenged and I thrive on that. I am wary of simple answers and the best books I read tend to ask questions but provide few answers.

On a lighter note, here’s my next question. Which literary character would you most like to be and why?

Nancy:  At first thought, easy peasy, lemon squeezy.  Rather stereotypically, an old favourite, a character I have known for all of my adult reading life, Elizabeth Bennett.

Not because she gets to wear flattering clothes, goes to parties and gets the rich man in the end, no.  (Honest.)  I like her because she knows what she wants and she sticks to it.  I also like her because she admits when she has made a mistake, and makes amends.  I wish that I had her turn of phrase – although I wouldn’t wish her family on myself!  Or her social milieu.  Or the attitudes or understanding of medicine.  Or the diet.  Or the, you know, reality of living in that age.
But hey, a girl can dream.
This post forms part of July’s #blogsynch

Digital Docs

I’m not known for holding my own counsel.  Like my middle son, I am a chatterbox-thinker, a talker-througher.  I’ve never been backwards about coming forwards with my opinions, which, I have to admit, got me into endless trouble as a youngster.  I never seemed to learn to keep my mouth shut, even though this was hardly the sort of behaviour expected of 80s girls in rural Devon.  It took until I went to sixth form college, followed by university, before I found my niche; a set of friends and a seminar-style of teaching that positively encouraged me to speak my mind. Writing is good for me; it makes me slow down, consider what it is I really want to say.

Being a teacher is a great job for a woman like me.  I get paid to do what I do best; talk to kids.  Obviously, talking all day for a living does have some disadvantages.  Tonsillitis is a regular winter occurrence, and, like many of my ilk, I have suffered a traumatic loss of the ability to utter a sound in anything other than a husky squeak at all the wrong moments, usually towards the end of the Christmas term.

Occasionally, towards the end of August, I start having the Teacher’s Dream, that is, not the one where I am searching endlessly for a toilet, or the one where I have left my children on the train; no, the one I mean is the one where I am standing, usually at the front of a class, or milling about in the middle, or on the school field, and no one is listening to a word I say.  There I am, teaching my little heart out and they, the class that I do not yet know, are running amuck, as if I am opening and shutting my mouth with not a sound is coming out.  I am some sort of celluloid woman, there, but not there, a projection, ghostly.

It never fails to amaze me, the difference in the listening ability of the children I teach in the classroom, and my own.   At home, as my babies have become children, soon to be three teenagers, my word has weakened as their ability to resist me has grown.  Every day I must insert more and more assertion into my requests to lay the table, or empty the dishwasher (they are reasonably keen to do this, believing, as they innocently do, that there may be money in the offing).  But getting them to do what they don’t want to, which, for Sam, could be anything from putting his cars away to cleaning his teeth, is a tricky business.  At school, generally, I say jump, and they do.  I only have to raise my hand, or clap them together, and silence (eventually) falls.

That said, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon.  Back at the end of my second year at university, I got it into my head that I really ought to have some sort of plan, you know, the sort that involves getting a job and earning some money, so, as you do, I trotted over to the careers office and filled in some questionnaires.

Turns out that I am completely unsuited to life as a civil servant, particularly one on the fast track for graduates.  I had already discounted the law as an option, and I didn’t have the confidence for journalism.  I wasn’t interested in making shed loads of money so I didn’t want to work for some sort of evil capitalist bank or advertising agency.    Admin and management looked boring.  The man looked at my answers, looked at me, and suggested I might like to visit a few schools and see what I thought about teaching.

Outward signs of status held no interest for me, fast cars, fancy houses and jetting around the world wedded to my career held little attraction, and I, at twenty, assumed that meant that it didn’t matter at all.  After all, everyone around me listened to what I had to say, and if they didn’t, I donned my Doc Martens and insisted.  My parents were amused, and sometimes, infuriated.  The thing I’ve found out though, is that it does matter, although not in the way I thought.

It crept up on me, my silence.  It crept up on me while I was busy having babies, (how ironic that it was a midwife who advised me not to make a sound, for fear of the consequences to my throat?  My throat being the last thing on my mind, I ignored her) and, at first, I didn’t notice.  I hung around with other young women in the same boat as me, and together we cackled about our predicaments, our voices raucous, laughing away the frustrations, the indignity of vomit or snot on your shoulder.  During that time I wrote the piece I’ve given a page to itself, ‘I never thought it would happen to me’, and sent it around to various newspapers and magazines.  Thanks to it, I picked up some paid writing, and was interviewed by John Peel – we talked, him and me, for over an hour.  He listened.  It was freaky.

But slowly, over the years, somehow my voice became smaller and smaller.  As my children grew, I seemed to shrink.  A SAHM.  One of the legions of fussy mothers, overanxious know-nothing parents, powerless at the school gates.  I might have the ability to make suggestions and put them in a little wooden box, but they carried little weight, were easily dismissed.  I thought it would get better, once I went back to work, and, for a while, it did.  As a class teacher, your word is law again, people come to you, they want your advice, your opinion; as the part-timer, the one who needs to come in a little bit later, to leave a little bit earlier, it’s not quite the same.  Nobody, children or adults, is quite sure who you are.

Last weekend I went to an @SLTeachmeet.  I’m not a senior leader in a school.  I’m no SENCo, no Assistant Head, I’m not a Deputy Anything.  And yet, thanks to Twitter, thanks to this blog, thanks to Ross McGill (@TeacherToolkit), Emma Kell (@thosethatcan) and Carol Webb (@cazzwebbo) I found myself up at the front, not speaking, but delivering sweets and chocolates rather in the same manner I have been known to deliver exercise books, accepted into a community because of these words of mine, this blog (or maybe the sweets).

I met a very nice lady (actually I met a load of nice people), a lady who, like me, has three children, and who unlike me, is a headteacher.  We talked.  I didn’t explain my circumstances, you know, the ones that mean it is impossible for me, at the moment, to set my feet firmly down the career path.  I make no apology for my decision, but I thought the battle was won.  I didn’t think that I would ever be talked over, or ignored; transparent, ghostly.   I must, for now, carve an alternative route; I must find different ways to make my voice heard.  I must don my digital docs.

 

Proving I was there with the selfie challenge.  @cazzwebbo takes a better selfie than me 🙂