Working in a school makes you think about your own school days all the time – the subjects, the teachers, the classmates. Despite the fact it’s 20 years since I did my GCSEs I find lessons are frequently peppered with anecdotes from ‘when I was at school’. It’s not just working in schools of course, nostalgia’s big business and as I type this my Twitter feed’s exploding with suggestions for the best kids’ tv themes (this is what happens when Mr Bennett doesn’t have a researchED to get to of a weekend).
Last week I had an unexpected trip down memory lane as we were watching The Last Leg and all of a sudden I spotted one of my first year uni flatmates (the thrown together by luck-of-the-draw sort) appear in the audience. Right there, grinning with a Australian cork-hat plonked on her head. To be honest it was lovely to see her – and lovely to have the flurry of texting people to confirm it was her. Sometimes things hit you a little bit more than others though.
Michael was in my half of the year from year 7 and part of our friendship group. He went out with one of my best friends for a while, we had various lessons together, I have an official photo of us (and the rest of the Geology boys) at the 6th Form May Ball. In April, having not seen him for 18 years, his face was filling the television. He had been killed.
He was one of those people that is peppered throughout my whole school life. I don’t know what his politics were or where his life took him (apart from what’s been printed in newspapers). I don’t do Facebook or hunt people down and there are very few people I went to school with I’m still in touch with, but the constant little snippets of memories that come with working in a school mean that I realised I think about him a lot. I don’t know who he stayed in touch with but by the few people I’ve spoken to about this with I know there will have been ripples of contemplation and memories across the country – the globe even. But time passes.
Last week I had to cover in science for the morning and it sounds over the top but there was almost something emotional about it. The boys were doing an experiment I’ve done a thousand times using equipment and terminology that’s just ingrained. They needed to be reminded to do things that most of us would probably do automatically. For the rest of the day I was back to thinking about what was. Then this week it was in court and in the news again.
Of course, most of the time it’s little flicks of memory that attach themselves to a school day. I think this has a lot to do with the way we work – whether we want to give the pupils what we had or whether we want to ensure they get the opposite. In many ways working in schools means you don’t move on, but it also means memories are always close to the surface and sometimes they’re lovely.
Some people have noticed there have been some less than satisfactory bits to 2016 and it’s likely that it will be a year that gets a mention in the history books (hardcopy or digital) of the future, but I rather suspect that 2017 is queueing up to, um, trump it and we’ll look back on this one as a dream. Every year we send out our Christmas cards (tree decorations) with a sheet of photos showing some of the things we’ve been up to; it saves writing about everything in detail and seems to get positive reviews so we stick with it. I’m always surprised at how much we’ve done throughout the year and despite worrying we’ll struggle to fill the sheet there’s always things we miss out. This year was no different and trawling through all our pictures from 2016 has served to remind me that we’ve done some brilliant things this year and maybe it wasn’t quite the shit-show I’m remembering it as.
Mixed bag but nothing too tricksy here. I turned into a 35 year old and I won’t lie, I was grumpy about that. New box to tick on surveys, increased likelihood of diseases, sure I should feel more like a grown up etc. But hey, who wants to be a grown up anyway?
Rather fabulously it was our 10th wedding anniversary this year. It means we’ve spent a lot of time looking at things we got as wedding presents and saying ‘That’s 10 years old now’ and thinking of people and saying ‘We’ve not seen them for 10 years now’. It also means I was particularly shocked when I was off to do the Christmas shop and Howard asked, for the first time ever, for Twiglets. How can you be married to someone for 10 years and not know they like TWIGLETS?! Clearly keeping some air of mystique.
We said goodbye to Jemima Destroyer of Worlds – the little white rabbit with blue eyes and a propensity to nap. Bert’s still here though and flourishing. We said hello to two new nephews, Frank and Thomas, born a couple of weeks apart. Meant a lot of travelling up and down the M1 but they seem like groovy enough chaps.
Finally, I’m pretty sure I made these happen:
So @CadburyUK, Wispa Bites are great, Twirl bites are amazing, but my thought for this morning is… Double Decker Bites. Please.
— Beth G-G (@bethgg) April 6, 2014
Not had any confirmation or freebies yet, but it was me, wasn’t it?
We ended up doing rather more exotic travel than we were planning this year. Our honeymoon had been a trip to Japan and we’d always fancied going back – particularly to see the cherry blossom – so we thought the whole ’10 years’ thing was a good enough excuse and went to Tokyo at Easter. We did lots of fabulous things including bus tours (obvs), art, blossom watching, cultural stuff, and most amazingly, cuddling hedgehogs at the hedgehog cafe. I love hedgehogs and Tokyo.
Our plan was a small UK get-away in the summer and perhaps a cheap package deal for some October sunshine, but I put a stop to that by putting myself forward for researchED Washington DC. Our cheap holiday turned into a trip to New York and Washington DC during which we did industrial strength tourism (mostly via bus tours, I have so many ponchos now) and witnessed pre-election America. We really did pack an extraordinary amount of stuff in, but if we could recommend one thing, both of us would go for the nighttime bus tour of Washington DC (part bus, part guided walking tour) where the monuments and memorials take on a whole new feeling.
Arguably the best thing we did during this trip was our tour of The (actual real-life) White House organised by researchED. Didn’t think that would be happening this time last year. Now we can look at it on the telly (it’s been on a bit) and say ‘We’ve been in that room’. Next year we’ll be able to look at it on the telly and say ‘We’ve been in that room before it was gold’.
Obviously some of the travel stuff is also a bit work-y so I’ll start there. I hadn’t really planned on doing any researchED presenting this year and I attended a couple of events just to participate – the usual eye-opening presentations and sharing of amazing projects, with good pub-chat afterwards. The opportunity to go to America was one that I couldn’t (Howard wouldn’t let me) turn down and I’ve met some brilliant people – all quite surreal.
This kicked me into action with Journal Clubs and I got myself sorted with a website to bring together all the Journal Club-y bits I’ve got (mostly on here) and add some more detailed bits of information, templates and helpsheets. It’s here if you’re interested EduJournalClub.com
Slightly connected to this is the launch of ‘What Matters’, an initiative led by the University of Nottingham School of Education to bring together schools, University and interested parties in Nottingham. I’ve spent some time this year working through ideas for activities and events with Howard Stevenson (another Howard) and the project was officially launched in November with a lot of initial interest.
At school we had another year of good Art GCSE results that make us increasingly confident in what we’re doing and proud of our boys. I also organised another ‘Blind Date With A Book’ event alongside organising the creation and publishing of a ‘We Are Writers’ book with work from every pupil in school. I’ve managed to keep going with Relay. Still not sure how many people read it but there are occasional mentions of something I’ve written about so I shall keep going with it. This year I’ve said goodbye to my two best work-mates, Courtney and Alison. One to go and have a baby, the other to relocate down south. I do have my lovely new room-mate Neihal now who is suitably nuts and a perfect addition to the team.
Onwards to 2017…
Despite impending global doom (I am a very good worrier, I’m trying not to think about it all too much) there is a good little line up of things happening next year. ‘What Matters’ is set to really get going with a series of special interest groups and bigger events on the horizon. I’m all signed up for researchED Sweden, had to decline the offer of Oslo as it’s our wedding anniversary, and I shall attempt to update the Journal Club website with some more factsheets and ideas.
School is ready to academise in March. We’re setting up our own MAT so hopefully it’ll be fairly smooth. As the person doing the school websites it’ll add to some challenges I’m sure. On top of the academy thing we’re also expanding both pupil-wise and building-wise. This will add a few more challenges but I’m trying to look at it as opportunity rather than impending chaos.
In amongst all this we will hopefully have a think about doing something with the back garden and I’ve started looking for some new living room curtains (who said I wasn’t a grown up?). Also thinking it might be good to get that cheap package holiday with a swimming pool and reading time in too – if Tom fancies #rEDAlgarve, we’re there!
There’s a phenomenon when it comes to forced participation. If it’s not quite for you and you don’t want to join in you’re accused (openly or implied) of being miserable and boring. I am one of these ‘miserable and boring’ people – to the point of stubbornness. Thing is, why should I feel I have to prove something? I don’t like clapping in time, I don’t want to join in with actions or move round a room in a role play. I’m far from mature but I’ve got a comfort zone for a good reason, and it’s comfortable.
Last week I went to a teachmeet that was kicked off with a positive motivation-fest. For quite some time the impending keynote was enough to make me not go at all, and I had to give myself a talking to – why should I miss an evening that I wanted to go to for the sake of 30 minutes at the start? I cringed my way through it (using ‘taking photos of the participation for Twitter’ as a superb cover for not joining in), but afterwards was left feeling that I really needed to prove my get-up-and-dance, look-at-me-I’m-crazy-you-never-know-what-I’m-going-to-do-next credentials. I had a bit of a moment at work the next day. Still irritated by the forced participation, I let my views on the subject be heard and heartwarmingly, everyone there agreed with me. I felt much better.
This isn’t a dig at our keynote speaker, they’re very good at their job and very successful at keynoting. Lots of people were probably there as much to see them as I was there not to. They were excited and happy and motivated in all the right places which is great. It makes sense that the best we can be for our pupils is happy and positive and for them to feel the same – it’s just that different people get that in different ways.
I’ve thought about it quite a bit – why, if we work with children, are we expected to want to jump up and down on command in a room full of people we don’t know? Or perhaps, worse, do know. Surely there’s a difference between being happy and being extrovert? Why should those that don’t want to be told how to have fun be labelled as – ‘lemon-suckers’ or ‘dark lords’? I did my fair share of joining in when I was a youth – sometimes it was ok, sometimes it was awful. After a careful consideration of my experiences I have decided I’ve done enough of that stuff and I’m happiest not to. Makes me think though, I’m a grown up and to a great extent get a choice, but what about those more introverted kids that we work with? We plan great events, performances, shows and for every child who revels in it, there’ll be those for whom it’s a nightmare.
Is it perhaps a primary thing rather than a secondary thing? Are you more likely to have an expectation of extroversion if you work in a primary setting? I had an interview for primary teacher training light-years ago that was enough to put me off schools for life, and there was certainly some gentle ribbing about singing with actions in assembly when one of our secondary trained staff left for a primary school. Do secondary schools go too far in the opposite direction? Do they turn their noses up at things like this? I certainly think there’s more reluctance among staff to ‘take part’ – a workload thing? Maturity? Losing face?
I’ve actually got some pretty good ‘get-up-and-dance, look-at-me-I’m-crazy-you-never-know-what-I’m-going-to-do-next credentials’, thank you very much:
- We very successfully ran the University of Essex Silly Society, that’s pretty daft. We were so good at that it probably had an impact on my degree classification…
- I’m quite adept at a Steps routine. Perhaps a little rusty nowadays, but give me half an hour with the Gold DVD and I’ll be fine.
- I make dens in the garden if I get bored in the holidays. Actually, Howard’s never quite sure what he’ll come home to. I’d created the whole Solar System out of coloured paper and stuck it to the ceiling one year.
- We used to have a sign on the back of the front door reminding me to check if I’d drawn cat whiskers and a nose on my face after I once went to the post office without remembering to wipe them off.
- Eurovision ALWAYS involves fancy dress.
- Actually, anything can involve fancy dress. I’d go to the pub as a pirate just because I’ve got the hat.
Why do I need to list these things? Maybe because there’s also these things:
- I make Howard go first and talk to people (restaurant, hotel reception, shops – anywhere).
- I make sure I miss out numbers in bingo so I don’t win and have to yell out.
- I hate talking to people I don’t know on the phone. Have to properly work myself up to calling any company to sort something out.
- I’m rubbish at networking or talking to people at parties. The chances are I’ll be sat sitting in a corner.
- I’m even more rubbish at self-promotion. I don’t have t-shirts or anything.
Turns out there’s not one thing or another. It’s perfectly possible to be a bit of both and to be honest, I think that’s what makes it seem natural. If you’re ‘up’ all the time it doesn’t seem genuine.
Now I’m fully aware that the comfort zone can be a dangerous place and I’m getting quite good at stepping out of it, just to test the waters. In the past few years I’ve done scary MEd tutorials, scary speaking at conferences, sat at the front in a comedy club and got picked on (seats were allocated, I’m not completely daft). I do a similar thing with olives – try them again every one in a while and see if I like them. I’m at a place where I wouldn’t pick them off a pizza, but I’m still not buying a pot from the deli counter.
There is one other reason we might be asked to do all these stupid things of course. The joy of uniting in hatred of the motivation. The swearing in corners, the days of feeling disgruntled either side of it, and the coming together with a common enemy. Maybe it’s all a clever tactic to unite us? The ultimate team bonding exercise as we debrief at the pub afterwards. Shouldn’t be at the expense of making us not want to go in the first place though.
Two days after the motivational incident it was my birthday and I got the most wonderful necklace from Howard that I think says it all. Meet the Indifferent Iguana. The card inside the box reads, “With the exception of you, this little reptile doesn’t really like human beings all that much. She is very sarcastic and will give you confidence and help you to stop worrying about stuff“. I think the iguana has got it pretty much sorted. Let’s listen to her.