Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A shopping list for the book club

Well, we've made a start on the blog, and Ms Fab and I spent half of this afternoon (when we should have been marking tests and planning lessons) making frantic plans for the after-school book club. Actually, it's 'Not a book club', as we're bringing in bits of drama, playing games and generally messing about with words. 

The Boss Lady has been brilliant. She (perhaps unwisely) asked us to come up with a list of resources we'd need. Obviously, a big squishy sofa is at the top of the list, as nobody can work if they're uncomfortable. A coffee machine will keep Ms Fab and me alert and ready for anything. A constant supply of chocolate biscuits will keep everyone happy. And books. Loads of books. Oh, and some really nice, new coloured pencils. In a tin. One of those tins that holds a hundred pencils that you mustn't get out of colour-order. Because we'll draw things. 

Actually, that's all beyond the budget, so we decided we'd like a bit of wall space for displaying and sharing the things we'll do, and a box of big bits of fabric, because even the year 6s like dressing up and being daft. 

I managed to collar the librarians, and announced the sad death of the library newsletter (which amounted to a whole two editions), but the happy birth of the blog. They are (I hope) going to write some reviews for me. I think there may be a bit of competition there, as they each want to be the first 'named' person on the blog. I hope the fame won't go to their heads. 

Actually, I set the ball rolling with a quick review of Fortunately, the Milk..., because, fortunately, the class I read it to absolutely loved it. In fact, one child stole it to read at home, too. I must get that back...

Photo from http://www.sxc.hu/ 

Saturday, 22 March 2014

The Boss Lady replied

I received an e-mail from The Boss Lady this morning. She said yes to everything. Let the chaos begin....

Friday, 21 March 2014

Books and coffee

Ms Fab and I went to a 'conference' at a library today. I put the word in inverted commas because it makes me think of boring men in suits and ties talking about politics and such like. Ours was entitled, 'Developing a rich reading and writing culture at key stage 2'. In other words, getting juniors enthusiastic about literacy. I was told about the conference meeting gathering confabulation around Christmas, and asked if Ms Fab could come with me, partly because I knew she'd love it, and partly because I'm a coward and don't like going to courses on my own. 

Anyway, the end of March arrived in a huge rush, like ends of months are doing at the moment, and we set off at 7.45 this morning thinking that, even if the day was a waste of time, at least we were missing maths and getting a free lunch. We arrived in plenty of time, so helped ourselves to tea and biscuits, and decided to take the huge risk of sitting in the front row, reserving our seats by leaving heaps of coats, books and pens on them. There was a bookshop, so we browsed and noted titles that we would later buy on Amazon (wince). 

I started feeling the day would be worthwhile when we were welcomed, and taken through the programme, by a librarian wearing a dress that Ms Fab is probably ordering online right this minute. Things got more interesting still when Dee Shulman, author and illustrator, gave her talk. She quickly sketched her latest character on a flip-chart, and said, 'Sorry, that's dreadful,' while we all sighed and wished we could draw even half as well. I had a private fantasy of ripping the picture off the board and shoving it in my bag on my way out, but thought better of it. 

Then came a talk on new trends in children's publishing. Not the highlight for me, and I spent the time looking along the library bookshelves and mentally picking books to read. And then it was coffee time again.

Next up was a talk on myths and legends by Carnegie Medal winner, Kevin Crossley-Holland. He had been sitting next to Ms Fab and chatting to us about the deer in the forest, and the next minute he was telling everyone how he had been mentored by W. H. Auden and Tolkien. I think the word my younger friends would use is 'fangirling', but it meant I couldn't possibly say another word to him, because I was not worthy. I wanted to get a book from the shop for him to sign, which he was doing for other people, but I was too shy to ask. Idiot. (Me, not him.) 

After lunch and more coffee, was a talk from a teacher who had filled his school with enthusiasm for reading. He had so many amazing ideas that Ms Fab and I were scribbling identical notes at top speed. Apparently, at his school, the teachers all have laminated signs on their doors saying, 'Mr Whoever is reading........' and they write the name of the book they're on. The Husband said it's just as well he's not a teacher as his would read, '.....the cricket report in the newspaper.' But there were loads of ideas we want to adopt. In fact, Ms Fab and I have decided to take over every English lesson in the school, but we've not asked the Boss Lady yet. What I have asked her, via an e-mail I started writing when I'd been home for thirty seconds, is 'Can Ms Fab and I start an after-school club called "Not a Reading Group"?' and 'Can we do a school book-blog, if I promise I'll do all the work?' I've not had a reply yet. She's probably trying to work out how to say 'no' without upsetting me. 

Anyway, the last speaker was poet Brian Moses (look up 'Walking with my Iguana,' which is about someone who really used to walk his iguana along Hastings beach). He did say the unforgivable, 'I need you to join in,' but actually, he was rather fun and had some brilliant ideas for getting the imagination working. 

I really needed today. I was beginning to feel rather down, with everything that's been going on lately, but books, coffee, Ms Fab, and exciting ideas have made me feel quite a bit better. Let the next couple of weeks pass quickly, then hopefully Ms Fab and I can introduce madness and mayhem after school.

Image courtesy of Apolonia/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Running out of time

Just three weeks to go until I can return to the year 6s. I think one of the things I like least about teaching (after the paperwork - that's definitely first on the list) is that I know what I'll be doing each day. As a teaching assistant, I rarely know in advance which children I'll be working with, or what the lesson plans are going to be. Sometimes I get a detailed plan when I'm covering lessons, but other times I'm given a panicky look and am asked what I fancy doing. I like a bit of chaos, and that's not meant to happen when I'm teaching (although sometimes it does...) I rather miss it. 

I have enjoyed some bits. The Bad Boys have turned themselves around, and are now just cheeky, but quite wonderful, characters. I have had lovely comments from some parents (and I have learnt to smile and say the right things whilst being interrogated by others). But teaching is making my life whizz past too quickly. 

It seems like I get into school at 8, and half an hour later, it's 3.30 and the children are going home. Each week is flying by, and I'm not getting time to enjoy the present. What's helped to bring this into perspective is that my dad has recently found out he has prostate cancer. He's had various tests, including a biopsy, and is waiting to find out whether the cells are the type to spread quickly. I know that it's a type of cancer that can often be kept under control, but that doesn't make the waiting any easier. I'm just glad he asked for a blood test. He was having one anyway, for an unrelated issue, and just asked for his PSA levels to be checked. A week later, he was booked in for an operation. 

When I asked why men weren't routinely checked for the cancer, I was told it was because 'they don't bother to attend', which I found hard to believe. However, my dad has been encouraging his friends to get tested and was told, by every one, 'I'd rather not know,' or 'I haven't got time,' or even, 'I don't like the sound of those tests.' Amazing.

So, time is precious. Family even more so. I know the next three weeks will pass quickly, and then life can slow down again and I can pay attention to the important things. 

 (Photo: Dandelion Wish. Courtesy of John Liu on flickr.)

Sunday, 9 March 2014

On lambs, housework and murder

I feel I've almost had a proper weekend. Lesson plans were done yesterday, so today has been spent catching up on normal things. We had a gorgeous Spring day today. Son Number One is still at the coast with his girlfriend's family. Son Number Two is practising his guitar, and The Daughter is helping to deliver lambs at her boyfriend's family's sheep farm. 

The Daughter with the lambs

As much as I never want to be one of those women who say, 'I had a lovely weekend - I got so much washing done,' it is nice to see the bottom of the washing basket. We now have socks that we've not seen for months. The Husband has been very good about my lack of housework whilst I work longer hours. He's done the weekly food shopping, and always manages to get it cheaper than I would. Mind you, he does spend an awfully long time studying prices. I tend to charge round, hurling things in the trolley, just wanting to get out of the shop. He's cleaned the kitchen floor and been generally wonderful, so I do feel guilty when he tentatively asks if there are any clean trousers anywhere.  

I've actually done some ironing, too (only because I couldn't shut the lid on the ironing basket and the cat was eyeing it up as a new bed). I have also cut my hair, which I wasn't going to do as I wanted it longer, but I got fed up with it taking hours to dry and I kept getting toothpaste in it. People say I'm brave to cut my own hair. I don't think it qualifies as 'brave' if I don't really care what it looks like, but maybe it's a polite way of saying that I shouldn't be doing it. Oh well, hats are very underrated these days....

I have had time for some reading at last. Not just an odd five minutes while the dinner's cooking, but a proper 'sit down and ignore everyone' read. The book I'm on is a history of forensic science. 

I'm up to blood spatter patterns at the moment. (Pretty apt when I think of the state of the shower after I used a new razor this morning...) It's a fascinating book and the case studies are giving me lots of tips for when I need to kill someone. In a piece of writing, I mean. Possibly. 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Study plans

Trying to put off doing lesson plans had its uses this morning. Procrastinating my time away, I was wandering through the OU website, looking at any courses that grabbed my interest. Planetary science? Forensic psychology? Micro and nano technology? I wish I wasn't so bad at maths, as it takes most of the science courses out of my league. 

However, I did find a course that is within my capabilities, and I don't know how I missed seeing it before: The science of the mind - investigating mental health. It's worth 30 credits, which is all I will need after the courses I've already got planned. So that means it's only got four assignments, and should be a good way to finish my OU studies. Looking at my study so far, it's funny how courses have swung away from the arts and into social sciences. 

I also spent some time tinkering with a rather handy degree class calculator, which has, from the comments under it, saved many people struggling for hours with the OU classifier written in legal-speak. It seems that, unless I do spectacularly badly, I should end up with a 2:1. If I get another 60 credits-worth of distinctions (unlikely), I'll get a first. Obviously, I'd be over the moon with a first, but a 2:1 is more than I ever thought I'd get, so I'd be perfectly happy with that.  

I've found that a lot of OU students put their course materials up for sale on ebay (I'm expecting delivery of a boxful of psychology books sometime this week). Doing another degree is going to be well out of my price range now prices have gone up, but at least I can keep learning. The OU books are so good, I don't know how anyone can part with them - I shall certainly be keeping mine, perhaps to read the chapters I skipped just because there wasn't an assignment on that bit.... Also, I might be able to get my head around the English course I gave up on, without the pressure of assignments to be handed in. 

Who knows? I might even give that forensics course a go....

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The youth of today... seem pretty good to me

I think I may have mentioned a couple of dozen times how much I miss the year 6 children. Yesterday, the gentle giant of the class stopped me in the corridor and asked about two children. 'Are they in your class?' he asked. Uh oh, I thought, what have they been up to? 'Only,' he continued, 'they had a bit of a falling out at break time, and it's Friday, and I'd hate for them to be sad all weekend. Can you do something?' 

I hate it when people moan about 'the youth of today'. Yes, there are the awful ones, but there are some dreadful people in every age group. Last year's Horrible Boys may well grow into Horrible Teenagers, and some may be Horrible Adults. But for each of those boys, you could easily see a reason for the way they behaved. Often it was because of attitudes passed on from parents; the 'hit them before they hit you' mentality, even if 'they' had no intention of hitting you to start with. They'll probably grow up to have little Horrible Boys of their own. Those boys were the exception, and I know that, to a point, it's because we are a small village school, but talking to staff from other schools, it seems like horrible children are still very much in the minority around here. They do seem to take over your mind, though. When I look back on that particular year group, the ones that stick in my memory will be the badly behaved ones, no matter that we had over 25 lovely children that year. 

I think there are some children that your average school doesn't cater for. One of Son Number Two's friends left primary school being unable read well, or understand maths. However, he could name every type of bird and tree. He could tell you how to care for chickens and make a profit by selling eggs. His father was a gamekeeper, and that was all this boy wanted to be when he was older. When he was a year 6, I rescued and brought up an orphaned duckling at home. He could see no point in that. 'It should have died,' he told me. 'It's just you being soft. Bring it in, and I'll wring its neck if you can't.' He wasn't being nasty, he was being practical. Why have a rabbit as a pet? He couldn't understand that. 'Feed it well until it's about 18 months old,' he said, 'then knock it on the head and have it for dinner.' When he wasn't talking about Nature, he was an angry lad who threw things and screamed at people. He was lovely, he was just in the wrong place. (Incidentally, someone in the staff room recently said, 'My friend knows every single type of bird. Why on earth do you need to know that?' Why would you be okay with looking at a common bird or animal and not knowing what it is?) 

Auntie Mo and I were talking about how, when we see ex-pupils, it's always the ones who used to be horrible that still speak to us. I'm often having, 'Hello, Miss!' yelled down the road by the boy who once hurled a chair at me. The one who used to regularly tell me to f**k off, is now the one who offers me a cheery 'good morning', and asks if I'm having a good day. 

It annoys me when I see people eye the group my son is with, and cross the road. He may be 16, but it doesn't mean he, or his friends, are on drugs and about to kill someone. 

Photo courtesy of stock.xchng

Yes, they can be loud. They were noisy in the car the other day, when they were talking about bowling, and driving lessons. (One boy admitted to planning every journey so he wouldn't have to negotiate a roundabout.) Some people seem to be frightened of a whole generation, because of what they see on the news. But it's on the news because it's unusual. Teenagers and young people have always, it seems, had a bad press. My parents, being teenagers in the 60s, were condemned because liking The Rolling Stones would obviously turn them into criminals. Now, if you wear a hoodie, it means you take drugs and carry a knife. It can't be because you're cold or to hide because you think the whole world is looking at you. 

I know there are bad ones out there, as there are of any age, but don't condemn a whole generation.