Thursday, 30 January 2014

Listening skills

Good news from The Daughter: she's been offered a place at Plymouth University. After getting good marks so far in her access to nursing course (a distinction in psychology - how jealous am I?), she had an interview and was accepted on the condition that she passes her course. 

Rather than training as a mental health nurse, she's decided to go into counselling, as she'll still be able to work in the mental health sector, but in a wider range of settings, and in a way in which she can use all her strengths. It means she can study at the university's Truro campus, which is not far from her home, rather than having to catch the train into Plymouth every day, meaning less travelling expenses for her. I am so pleased for her - I know I'm biased, but she's worked so hard, and deserves this so much.  

Moving on to my studying (or lack of it, at the moment), I remembered a short course that I'd wanted to do some time ago. I thought I wouldn't have time to fit it into my studies, but ditching the linguistics has now given me the chance. So, starting in May, I'll be doing a counselling course myself - 'Exploring Fear and Sadness' - about anxiety and depression. As The Daughter pointed out, it'll be a handy one for school. Numbers of teenage suicides are on the increase, and I've always thought it important to listen to children's problems. Well, apart from the 'We've just argued for the fifth time this week and would like someone to sort it out for us' type of gripes. 

And, kind of on the same subject, I spent most of today working in the year 2/3 class I'll be taking on soon. The teacher was going to show me how to do a phonics lesson, and go through the normal classroom routine for me. That classroom has to be the most welcoming in the school. Not for the decor or anything (the walls are a smack-you-in-the-face yellow), but for the atmosphere - it was so warm, friendly and caring. The teacher was genuinely interested in his children, cared for them, and listened to them. He's not just teaching them their lessons, he's showing them how to be nice people. It was an amazing morning, and I didn't want to leave. I can understand why Ms Titian (the TA in there) seldom goes home for lunch. Today, she was making a giant Chinese dragon's head, for a lesson on the Chinese New Year. I thought she'd made a great job, but one child told her (as children will) that it looked like a big pumpkin. There's nothing like an honest child to bring your world crashing down. 

I hope I can keep that kind of classroom atmosphere when I'm in there. I know there's one bit I won't be particularly good at, and that's the singing. I went on a reading course once, where a teaching assistant I rather like, from a local school, said, 'I love the children, don't get me wrong, but I'm not singing songs with a f*cking frog on my head.'  

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Getting prepared

There's just a week and a bit to go until I take over the running of our year 2/3 class at school. Because of this, I have done the following:

  • Given in shorter notice at Brownies (tomorrow will be my last Brownie night). Ms Fab is jealous, and has suggested that I lie to Brown Owl and tell her that Ms Fab is needed, urgently, as an assistant. 
  • Spent some time with the class teacher, who showed me how to do the boring, paperwork bits. 'I've got a lesson plan somewhere,' he told me, burrowing through piles of paper. 'Hmm, maybe not... I'll print another one. Oh, that's where that book went.' I am reassured that no-one who enters that particular classroom will be expecting tidiness. The teacher said he'll transfer all of his plans onto my school laptop. (Yes, I'm going to be trusted with a laptop. Bad move.) I've never seen someone with their stuff organised into more folders that are inside other folders. He did say I could text him if I couldn't find something because, 'If you're looking for it on here, it could take you twenty minutes to find it.' 
  • Started to relax a bit, after finding out that nobody is as organised as I thought they were. They do a good impression of it, and they must show me how to do the same. After stressing about writing lesson plans that included everything, the phrase I have heard most often is: 'Oh, I don't bother with that bit.' Even the most organised teacher (at least, I think she is - maybe she's just a good actor) told me, 'The lesson plans are just so you remember what you're doing. No-one's going to look at them apart from you.' Ohhhhhhh.... And there I was, thinking I wouldn't have any weekends for the next two months. And I've even checked on Google: 'Do Ofsted inspectors look at lesson plans?' The answer seems to be that it's polite to leave one out, but you won't get judged on it, because they come in all shapes and sizes (plans, not Ofsted inspectors).
I have always known I work with the best people ever, but I've been completely overwhelmed by the kindness and support from every member of staff. One teacher has offered to write plans for a whole half-term's phonics lessons for me. Another has said, 'Come and see me if you're getting stressed. I'll show you how to do things.' Teaching assistants have been genuinely pleased that I've got this opportunity to take a class. One has already made plans for me to take over when her teacher retires, then she and Ms Fab started to argue over who was going to be my TA. Even the children in that class are being enthusiastic about it all. One boy told me this afternoon, 'I'm really looking forward to you taking our class, because your writing's neater than our teacher's.' 

I just hope I don't bugger up, but it seems I'll have plenty of people to cover for me if I do...

Monday, 20 January 2014


You know that thing about, 'Be careful what you wish for...'? I think it needs to include things you imagine (see yesterday's post). I went into work this morning, and told The Boss Lady that I'd changed my mind (again) and fancied some teaching, if I could only stay at our school. I came out of her office ten minutes later, having been put in charge of a class for six weeks, starting February half term. Gulp. 

But not only is it a good opportunity for me, Ms Fab will get to lead the eldest children's class more often, and Mrs GSOH gets to be 'me' whilst I'm being someone else for a while. Smiles (nervous ones) all around. 

I've also emailed the OU, because I've seen a great Social Studies course that I fancy doing (uh oh... here we go again), but I don't think it comes under the Humanities umbrella, so I may have to change my degree classification. If I do, I've found out I have enough science-based courses to have a BSc instead of a BA. I don't know which I'd choose. When I say 'science', I don't mean things like Chemistry, which was my worst subject after French at school, but I've done a psychology course, one on health (well, death, which I suppose is a sort of absence of health), and Children's Literature, which came under both literature and childhood social studies. 

I'll have to wait and see what the OU say. I wish I could be normal and just make decisions. 

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Changes afoot...

This morning was spent charging around the local forest with twelve Brownies. The Brownies did the charging around, as you may have expected. Ms Fab, assorted adults and I sort of mooched, instead. 

We were here... but with less FEWER, dammit, leaves
 and more water

It was raining when I got a phone call from Brown Owl at 9.00am. 'Shall we still go?' she asked. 'It's only raining a bit, and it's meant to clear up.' Still in a fog from having been woken by the alarm at 8.30, and still wondering what on earth my dream was about (shoe-shopping with Ms Fab in a shop with a swimming pool, trapeze and 1970s-style psychedelic-patterned carpet), I hazily answered that it would be fine, and yes, let's go. 'About your email...,' she added, and that woke me up properly. (I've now realised that this post will have to be written backwards, because I've started at the end. Bear with me.)

Thursday evening, I wrote an email that sort of handed in my notice for Brownies. I said that I could stay until September, when my next OU course (no, I've still not decided which one) would start. I said that I really had to give my courses more attention than I had so far because... and now we go back in time until just before Christmas... The Boss Lady had asked again if I would go into teaching. So far, I've answered this with a polite, 'no thank you', but a child helped to change my mind last week (fast forward to last Thursday). Whilst taking an ICT lesson, a low-achieving, but very hard working girl grabbed me by the shoulders and stared into my eyes (quite aggressively, actually) and demanded: 'Why aren't you a teacher?!' She then told me my lessons were 'interesting and fun at the same time, which is weird,' and that she always understood things when I explained them. 

The Boss Lady, in her latest attempt, had outlined her plans for me, and had put forward an interesting proposition that had potential for Ms Fab, too. When I got home, I realised that I'd been dwelling too much on the negatives of teaching: stress, paper-work, inspections, children that hate you, and so on. I hadn't really been looking at the positives: a chance to make a difference, choosing topics, more money (even a newly qualified teacher makes literally twice my wages), nicer presents at the end of term, etc. So, I imagined The Boss Lady telling me that a teacher was leaving next week, and would I like their class? The answer would be an instant, 'yes, please.' I know this wouldn't happen, but imagination is very helpful in these situations. This is one reason I relate to Anne of Green Gables so much. I have sometimes reduced myself to tears, just by imagining something. I got told off at primary school, once, for crying all afternoon. When my teacher eventually asked what was wrong, I told her that I'd been imagining I'd got home and my dog had died. I didn't actually have a dog, then. It's a wonder I wasn't put on strong medication.  

Ms Fab will be leaving Brownies at the same time. Brown Owl told me: 'I know you come as a pair,' which gave Ms Fab the perfect opportunity. 

Anyway, what all this rambling boils down to is: I'm leaving Brownies at the end of the Summer term; I'm envisaging a future in which children hate me and I get to argue with parents. That's if I don't change my mind again...

Tuesday, 14 January 2014


I know I don't have to read everything my friends and acquaintances put on Facebook but, being very nosy, I do. I am starting to find that some people are being so closed-minded and negative that I'm tempted to delete them from my 'friends' list. But I don't, because I'm sort of fascinated by how horrible they're being. Since the start of the year, when Britain opened its borders to Romania and Bulgaria, we've had the predictable spate of 'keep them out' posts. I wonder how many of those spreading intolerance can trace their families back to the beginning of time, without encountering anyone from other countries. 

Then we have the 'all men are bastards' posts, usually from unhappily divorced women who have found it impossible to find a new partner. They post about how all women should be free and independent - doing what they want, when they want, without having to consider the needs of anyone else. Because it's good to be greedy and self-centred - everyone will love you for it.

When I moan about all of the above to Son Number One, he just shrugs and gives me a bit of teenage advice: 'Haters are gonna hate, Mother.' I know... sigh....

There are also the irritating pictures that I'm invited to 'share' with everyone I know: 'Share this if you have a daughter your proud of.' I do have a daughter I'm extremely proud of, but there are enough spelling mistakes in the world without me sharing them with the whole of Facebook. 

On the other hand, through Facebook, I do get to see what The Daughter's up to and make sure she's not been washed away in the Cornish storms. I keep in touch with various relatives I've not seen for years, and get to be jealous of the achievements of old school-friends. I get book recommendations and warnings of OU courses to avoid. So it does have its pluses. 

Son Number One said, years ago, 'You know that nobody lives in your hippy, rainbow-coloured world, don't you?' but it doesn't stop me wishing. 

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Clothes, courses and the end of the world

This morning, I was so bored I sorted out my wardrobe (it was either that or do the ironing). I decided I would try something I'd read in a magazine - you put all your hangers facing the wrong way and only turn them round when you wear whatever's hanging on it. After a year, you get rid of anything still facing the wrong way. I have a hunch I'll be forced to send my size 10 dresses to Oxfam, plus all the things I'm hanging on to 'in case they come back into fashion,' (not that I particularly do 'fashion' anyway). I do regret some charity donations, though. I once owned loads of clothes bought from Karen Millen's first shop. Now a well-known clothes designer with a chain of stores everywhere, she started in a little place in Pudding Lane, in Maidstone. My friends and I used to buy things from there, and chat to her as she sat at her sewing machine in a room behind a curtain. When I was absolutely certain that gigantic shoulder-pads would not be coming back (and neither would my pre-baby figure), I got rid of it all. And then she became famous. How inconsiderate. (On a similar subject, my grandmother would never watch The Antiques Roadshow, in case that hideously ugly vase she'd just binned turned out to be worth millions.)

I must have a similar sort-out of the bookshelves. Every so often, I take a few bagfuls to a charity shop, which means I have room to stand all my remaining books up and put them in order (I'm starting to realise this blog is making me sound like I have no life. There could be a point there...). Then I buy more books and they have to be triple stacked again. Anyway, yesterday, wasting time while The Husband and Son Number Two had eye tests, I discovered that the cheap bookshop had a sale. (I must now apologise to The Husband. I'd asked if he had any change he wanted rid of, which he didn't, so gave me a £20 note. Bad move. Sorry, dear...). I love cheap bookshops - they stock all sorts of rubbish you don't see anywhere else. I came out with a bagful, including The Encyclopedia of New Religions, and Apocalypse: A History of the End of Time (a bargain at 99p, and probably for good reason)

I really shouldn't be buying new books, as I had a load for Christmas that I need to read for my next OU course. But I started wading through Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig, and the first chunk seems to be someone relaying the plot of a film they've seen. When people do this in real life, I want to smother them, so I really don't want to read about it. Or maybe the book's just too clever for me. There are probably people reading this thinking, 'Oh, how sad. She doesn't get it.' I may have to put 20th Century Lit on hold for a year, just to give me time to plough through that and Sunset Song, by Lewis Gibbon, who doesn't like speech marks and uses a lot of Scottish dialect. 

Actually, Advanced Creative Writing is looking more appealing. I loved my first Creative Writing course - it didn't feel like work at all (apart from poetry, which felt like slow torture). In fact, apart from one story, I was very lazy on that course. I did no editing at all (yes, I lied to my tutor: 'The editing process made me reassess the phrasing I'd used... blah... blah... blah... '), just bashing out words in the order they came into my head. I loved the whole thing - I could lie and exaggerate to my heart's (and my tutor's) delight. More, please! The OU sent me an email recently: they're thinking of offering a MA in Creative Writing, and would I be interested? Provided the bank account wouldn't miss the required several thousand pounds, certainly. Anyway, I have two courses left to do before that, and they'll be literature and creative writing, I just can't decide what order to do them in. I have until April to decide, as that's when I need to enroll. 

I've just finished reading a rather amazing book, about death and mental illness, bought for me by a friend who knows I like that sort of thing. It's called The Shock of the Fall, and had the rare effect of sucking me in and making me forget I was part of reality. Potentially depressing subject, but written so well. I've sent a copy to The Daughter, it was that good. 

Anyway, I must go. I have many, many books to read, and am going to start on my trashy cheap reads. When I find out when the world's ending, I'll let you know. 

Monday, 6 January 2014

Moving the goalposts

Staff training today, and while the rest of the staff did a day of first aid, Ms Fab, Auntie Mo and I got some classroom jobs done. First, I had to cover the largest board in the year 6 classroom with backing paper. The old paper is always very satisfying to remove, with much ripping, scrumpling and stamping on (otherwise it doesn't fit in the recycling bin, honest...). Putting the new paper up, however, takes ages. It never seems to go up straight and the new rolls of paper always finish two feet before I need them to, meaning a patch of never-matching-colour has to be stuck on the end. 

After this, I loitered in Mr Chaos's classroom, where Ms Fab and Auntie Mo were working in a much more professional manner. Their jobs finished, we made a start on putting the new football goals together. We decided to do this in the classroom (I don't know why. Laziness, probably), and Mr C. demonstrated (using one of the old goals) that it would easily fit through the door. It was only when he'd gone back to his first aid training, and we'd made up one of the goals, that we discovered the old goal was not quite the same shape. Enlisting the help of another teaching assistant, we managed to man-handle the goal outside, but made the second one outside to save on swearing and classroom-display-destruction. 

...or not.

While this was going on, I asked Ms Fab how she'd got on in the past, when she'd asked the Boss Lady for some holiday time. My parents have a time-share apartment in Funchal, Madeira. The Daughter and Son Number One have both been out there (being thoroughly spoilt by the grandparents) and, over Christmas, The Husband and I were asked if we'd like to go. Only it would be in November - in school time, and I felt it was a bit of a cheeky thing to ask the Boss Lady for, when we get so much holiday time already. Ms Fab said not to worry and to ask anyway, which I promised I would do. Later. 

The goals finished, Auntie Mo went off to organise a much-dreaded dental appointment, and Ms Fab emptied most of Mr Chaos's cupboards into the bin (she took great delight in finding some maths work from 2002). Her swearing got worse during her cupboard-clearing than when she was putting the nets on the goals. 'We don't even use these books in this class!' she exclaimed. 'So that's where all the blu-tak is!' Eventually, she was just reduced to crying, 'Why??!' and hurling sheets of paper about. Auntie Mo returned in time to calm everything down. 'Well, that's my appointment sorted,' she grimaced, and then she turned to me, 'and your holiday's got the okay, too.' She had explained to the Boss Lady that I was being completely spineless (although I'm sure, being Auntie Mo, she'd said it much more diplomatically) and had sorted the whole thing out for me. 

Tomorrow, the whole school (four coaches) is off to the pantomime. Oh joy. 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Putting Christmas away and discovering some family history

I have an impatience, as soon as we hit the new year, to de-Christmasify everything, so the tree is down and the cards are off the shelves. Decorations have been returned to the loft, where I spent a pleasant hour playing 'What's in that box?' I found out that The Husband has been hoarding every lead from every defunct electrical device we've ever owned, and that I really need to say no when my mother offers me another pair of curtains. I did find useful things, too. Although, when I say 'useful', I mean things that will clutter up the house until I put them back in the loft next month. I found two cat beds, which I have brought down in the hope that the cats will prefer them to our sofas. Slim chance, I know. Both cats are, at the moment, spread across the top of Son Number One's radiator, toasting themselves.

More interesting than cat beds, I found an album of postcards that was packed up with a load of children's picture books for some reason. They are written in German and, fittingly, send Christmas and New Year wishes. The first is dated 1st January 1919, and had been sent to Birmingham from Zurich. Others were sent to Lille. From the names on the back, they were sent to my paternal Grandmother from her family in Switzerland. I need to find out more about my family history, but this is what my father's cousin has to say about my Grandmother's parents:

'Joseph was captured in Oct 1914 at the first battle of Ypres, 3 weeks after landing in France. He was Royal Welsh Fusilier 1st Battalion, attached to 22nd Brigade 7th division. He escaped, swam Lake Constance, met Marthe Buser whilst interned in Meiringan and married in the Anglican Church in Lausanne and possibly Bern, on release in Aug 1918, they stayed at Croix d'Ouchy Hotel in Lausanne. 

Marthe was born in Sainte Croix a small village north of Lausanne. Marthe was actually working at St John Moore Barracks, Shorncliffe in Folkestone in 1911 before the war.

Marie (seated, and Marthe’s mother) was born in 1862 in St Gallen.'

This is my Grandmother, also called Marthe, (bottom left) 
with her sister, father and step-mother. 

I really must learn more about my Grandmother's history - I think it was a pretty interesting one. I know my father said she'd caught one of the last trains out of France at the beginning of the war. Apparently a stranger asked her to carry some papers out of the country and deliver them to someone in London. Goodness knows what she was responsible for...