Wednesday, 28 September 2016

When hobbies feel heavy...

We're back into the throes of school life, Summer is fading into the distance, nights are closing in and so are the September bugs.
3 weeks in and I've been hit by a germ fuelled steam roller, making the challenges of teaching and parenting all the more laborious. 
I promised myself that I would continue my new found pottery making hobby, despite the smothering demands of being a teacher and during the first week back at school, hobby won hands down. For 2 weeks running however I've given in; its 2 to school work and nil to hobbies. 
What I realise though is that it's not necessarily the physical "work" as such which holds me back from partaking in a wonderful hobby like pottery making, but the mental drain of the job which puts a fat cork in my creativity. The first week back to school was difficult, but I dragged myself off to my pottery class regardless, then I sat there, wondering what to make, feeling completely uninspired; drained. No ideas. No brain energy. I left feeling it had been a waste of time.
Last Wednesday was a really long, non-stop day and all I wanted to do when I returned home was sink into the sofa with wine and a bit of  Bake Off. I didn't want to socialise, to "try" and achieve anything else that day, because I was fed up of trying. 
Tonight, after a good few days of illness, I made my way pale-faced, aching and knackered to my pottery class. Half way there, I started crying.
I didn't want to go to pottery class.
I so wanted to want to go, but I just didn't have the energy for it. I needed to switch off.
I wanted sofa and Bake Off.
Having let myself down, I turned the car around and drove home crying, feeling exhausted,  knowing that I have a really long day tomorrow, knowing that I have already taken time out today to try and recover, knowing I had a shit load of lesson planning still to do, a pile of dishes, cold bolognaise and homemade soup sitting on the stove getting colder, a knackered boyfriend and a daughter at home who I haven't put to bed myself for almost a week. I drove home.

Forcing myself to do a hobby isn't what having a hobby is all about. Sometimes, even hobbies feel heavy. Having a hobby shouldn't feel like this.
I don't know what the answer is, I'm sure that my boyfriend would advise me to push myself and go to my class regardless, because I'd be pleased I did once I got there he'd say. But when a hobby involves thinking creatively, when I've used up all my brain energy and I need to switch off, what was once an enjoyable hobby, feels more like a chore.
Sad face.

Friday, 23 September 2016

In defence of the "slummy mummies"

I recently read an article in the Sunday Express where Camilla Tominey openly criticises a "hip, new chaotic childcare craze." However, she's not talking about mums who neglect their children for hours on end to sit drinking in the pub, or mums who happily throw their children into the laps of near strangers in order to fuel their own social lives or beauty regimes. No, she's talking about mums who simply go to the supermarket "covered in Hobnob crumbs" and ridicules bloggers and writers such as The Unmumsy Mum who apparently "celebrates the art of letting children go 'feral.'"

On reading the article, I felt completely disappointed that in a parenting climate where nothing we do is right, where we are force-fed the "proper" way to feed, wean, clothe, play with and nurture our children, that another woman could stick yet another poker into the ribs of mothers.

For me personally, discovering blogs and books by writers such as Sarah Turner (The Unmumsy Mum) has been a breath of fresh air. After spending my pregnancy reading tons of "how to" books which tell you to "trust your instincts" however DO NOT do x, y and z under any circumstances and make sure that your children are in bed by 8pm as soon as they can open their eyes, I needed something to kick all these expectations right in the goolies. For me, that's what supportive, honest, soul revealing blogs and books do. And I feel human again.

I want true stories and mistakes and mis-haps. I want to hear that someone else let their child cover the sofa in petit filous for the sake of 10 minutes peace and quiet. I need to hear this stuff!

I want to argue that these accounts are not part of a "hip" craze of parenting at all, but are reflective of real life. Nowadays, us mums have a huge array of expectations to live up to, particularly in comparison to our predecessors who did not have the added expectation of going to work, whilst also being the chief caregiver to our children. We didn't have social media thrusting picture perfect photographs of picture perfect families and mummies in our faces which give us mountains of impossible standards to live up to. If I can find another mum who isn't going to judge me for going to the supermarket covered in hobnob crumbs, I want to give them a big high five.

I can remember being so exhausted in the early days that my boyfriend and I took our 3 month old food shopping with a big smudge of poo on her head. We had completely forgotten to wipe it off before our trip and living the haze of sleep deprivation, we didn't even notice what was so obviously noticeable when we were there. We felt terrible once we realised. Does this make me a "slummy mummy?!"

The last thing us "slummy mummies" need is yet more judgement and yet more standards to live up to whilst we juggle the huge demands placed on us by modern family life and modern living. We're still trying to make it in the working world on top of being mothers and for the SAHM mothers, they're battling their right to be able to stay at home with their children without judgement.

The article finishes by saying that "it isn't just children who need boundaries-parents do too" and yet when I talk to my grandmother about her experiences of motherhood, she often tells me how it was considered quite normal to add a drop of spirits to a babies bottle if they had a cold and of how she used to feed her babies a mixture of sugar and water during night feeds so that they eventually stopped waking for feeds. Apparently, it was all the rage to have your baby sleeping through the night as early as possible and formula feeding was considered a godsend when it was first introduced, crying it out was the "only way" and babies were given solids when they were just weeks old to fill their bellies up!

In my opinion, children have parents flocking around them, endeavouring to do the "right" thing by them; things couldn't be more different than they were 60 years ago. More boundaries and more expectations would turn us into loveless robots and children need to learn resilience, we're not perfect, but we are doing it well! I argue that endeavouring to do any better would be counter productive. If getting through the day involves feeding homework to the dog for the sake of a shorter to-do list or a glass of wine helps us savour a slice of sanity, then so be it, us slummy mummies are doing ok.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

10 things I like about my job

After my previous blog, which details some of the reasons I was dreading my return to the teaching world after 6 weeks of blissful summer holidays, a friend has challenged me to write another. I have been asked to produce a blog which outlines some of the positives of being a teacher today; initially, I felt pessimistic at the prospect, but I'm on board with the theory that we choose the way we perceive things.

I therefore decided to keep a log of the positives of being a teacher as they sprung to mind over the first couple of weeks of being back at school and I decided that I should aim for 10.

The first week back at work was actually much tougher than I'd prepared myself for as I was met with several unexpected challenges, a couple of which will probably continue to challenge me as the academic year continues. Finding 10 things I like about my job, whilst in the depths of negativity hasn't been the easiest thing to do, but actually finding 10 things, regardless how small has actually helped me gain more perspective. There are many bonuses to being a teacher, it's just that the school politics, paper work and endless goal post moving often over-shadows the good; it can also be difficult to step out of the contagious, negative pit once you're in it.

 There are positives, I've found some! However, whether or not they're worth staying in teaching for is another question that I for one need to ask myself.

10 things I like about my job:

1. In my classroom, I'm my own manager.
Aside from observed lessons, most of the time I get to choose what my classes do on a day to day basis and how we do it. Being a person who likes to be in control and enjoys the freedom of doing things my own way, it works quite well. Sometimes I can plan a lesson and then realise half way through that the students aren't engaging too well, so I can swap and change things as I see fit. The freedom is great. 

2. If I need to leave work at 3.30, most of the time, nobody is going to tell me that I can't.
Aside from the obligations and expectations of after-school clubs, meetings and paperwork, a lot of the time, I can leave school at 3.30 if I want to. This doesn't mean that I'd be comfortable with leaving school this early as it means I just have to return to the marking and the paperwork afterwards, however the freedom is there. 

3. Sometimes, the kids make me laugh.
Kids are hilarious. They really do say the funniest things and now and then a child will crease me up and it adds a bit of fun and warmth to the rest of the day.

4. I have a free laptop which the school pays for and repairs.
I don't get commission or overtime, but I do get a laptop which I'm allowed to take home and use as I need it. I use it for work mostly, but now and then I use it for my leisure, like writing blogs for example.

5. I get to be at home with my family more than I could in other jobs.
If one of us are ill, I can leave school at 3.30 should I need to a lot of the time, I also get to spend the holidays with my family. I do work over the holidays, but I can work from home and that's not the same as working at work. 

6. My day never drags and I hardly ever look at the clock.
Until teaching, I'd never had a job where I'd gone all day without counting down the hours until home time, it's actually the opposite on occasions as I look at the clock and wonder how on earth it 
can be so late in the day when I still have X, Yand Z to do. 

7. I don't have to wear a uniform.
What I find really strange about teaching is the lack of dress code at all. Most teachers dress smartly: suits, blouses, smart dresses. Some opt for the odd summer dress when they can, maxi dresses, sandals and there are always one or two teachers who come to work in what can only be described as "hippy clothes" covered in splashes of wild colour, knee high boots and tons of clinking jewellery. I'm all for freedom of expression and I like being able to choose and wear a nice outfit for work or, if I'm not feeling it, wrap up in a snuggly jumper and boots.

8. I'm learning all the time
Teachers don't know everything and we often have to research our own subject areas before we teach certain topics. This means that we're constantly learning and developing as topics, the curriculum and the syllabus changes. 

9. When a kid achieves something amazing in one of my lessons, it's the biggest reward ever.
I love it when I know I've helped a child achieve something. One child I taught once developed a love of books after I introduced him to a genre I thought he might like; he then went on to excel in my subject.

10. Now and then, I connect with a child on a more personal level and it can make a difference to their lives and to ours.
A child once gave me a card saying I'd been "like an angel" to him after I'd supported him through a difficult time. Little tokens of gratitude make all the difference, which unfortunately, in the teaching world, can be rare.

If any teachers have further positives to share, please comment at the bottom of my blog. A bit of positivity is perhaps something that we can all benefit from :)

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Why I don't want to go back to school

With less than a week to go until the return to school commences, I'm feeling somewhat miserable. With 6 years of teaching under my belt, I've become more aware of the true nature of the teaching profession and what it entails, so this year I'm feeling more cynical than ever.

If I'm being honest, as each fresh, academic year approaches, I'm usually feeling optimistic, bubbling with new ideas, classroom seating plans, creative classroom management strategies, but this year, I'm not. All too often my ideas are wrung to dry as they are dried out by the true hardship and slog of being a teacher in a stifling and bureaucratic education system and this truth appears to have taken an exhaustive toll on me.

I worry that if I'm feeling like this now, how will I get through the next year? I thought that smart working and savvy time planning could save me as I ploughed my way into the academic year 2015-2016, but this apparently wasn't the case. The psychological impact of being a teacher in the modern day is very real and very raw as we juggle the need to please our managers, the children and perhaps, our most difficult judges: the parents. I have no new time management strategies as I make my way into the academic year 2016-2017, I have no innovative classroom management techniques to save my sanity, I just have the knowledge and experience of the last 6 years to teach me to be kinder to myself and to continue to follow through with honest, good intentions.

These are the reasons I really don't want to go back to school:

I really don't want to go back to school because I'm worried about myself or my daughter being ill, resulting in my absence from work.
Unfortunately and very ironically, in the teaching profession teachers can be very unforgiving of other teachers, not all, but some. We all know how difficult it is to make the decision that you need to be absent from work, but teachers have to face the consequences when they return, whilst other teachers often have to pick up the slack by covering the lessons. The unbelievable guilt is all consuming, but when a teacher makes the decision that they need to be absent, it shouldn't be taken lightly, as they're sitting at home with a sick bucket next to them or smothered in poorly child emailing in lessons plans for cover lessons to be taught in their absence. These lessons often need to be planned in on top of whatever lessons they had planned to teach that day, therefore the process is time consuming and dreadfully difficult when dealing with bodily fluids and sick children.

Last year saw me take several days off work to be with my sick daughter, which were steeped in guilt on my part, whilst having to take a fortnight of absence for myself after I was diagnosed with an inner ear infection. When you walk into the staffroom on returning from a spell of absence whether it be for yourself or your child, you can't help noticing the staff who fail to ask if you or your child is feeling any better and you feel like shit and even more guilty for being ill. Whilst if it was your child who was ill, you feel guilty for feeling guilty. All in all, you just feel shit. I know I can't control illness and I know that the probability of me needing to take more absence from work this academic year is fairly likely.

Hardly something to look forward to.

I really don't want to go back to school in case I need the toilet.
One of the really shitty things (pardon the pun) about teaching is not being able to use the toilet when you need to. This is a particular problem when you suffer from conditions like IBS, IBD or cystitis.
As teachers, we are considered to owe a duty of care to our students and unfortunately, this often means that we are unable to leave the classroom unattended when answering to very normal calls of nature. We are also encouraged to educate the children to use their break times to go to the toilet and it is therefore difficult to expect them to do this if we can't! On the other hand, our breaks are often not breaks at all and we find it difficult to escape form our classrooms to get to the bathroom when children come knocking at your door to ask questions during break times.

For me, this issue creates huge anxiety. Especially as I suffer from a very aggravating bowel condition, but many would argue that aggravating, isn't debilitating and therefore I have no reason not to be able to do my job.
I have had to run out of my classroom to go to the toilet on numerous occasions and I do not feel guilty about it, however it makes me fearful; this brings me on to my next reason.

I really don't want to go back to school because teaching is unforgiving of anxiety.
Education doesn't care how much sleep you've had, what's going on at home, how you're feeling, how busy you are, or how anxious you feel about any of these things, because children still need teaching and that becomes the priority. Rightly so that the teaching of children ought to be the priority of education (others may argue differently) but nobody allows for how the teacher may be feeling or coping under the buckling cloud that teaching creates. Some days, I'm anxious. Some days, I have a mountain to climb and I wonder how I'm going to manage it all, when random, unpredicted challenges get thrown in on top and my anxiety kicks in.

It's not only education and the demands of teaching that are unforgiving of anxiety or fear in a teacher, but the children themselves who often can't pick up on a teacher's tension or let's face it, who often don't listen to instructions and chuck in a load of unnecessary questions on top of the workload.

I really don't want to go back to school because the workload affects my mental health.
The workload is the workload regardless of how much sleep we've had or how stressed out we are, we can't give ourselves an easier day if we're struggling because the children we teach may have other ideas! We can't hide away or bury our head in the sand on the days we're not coping because the same amount of lessons need teaching and the same deadlines remain.

No matter how much I try to plan and prepare, sometimes stuff happens and we can't prepare for it, that's life. But this has huge consequences for my mental health and sometimes, nervous exhaustion kicks in.

I really don't want to go back to school because I have a huge workload and nowhere to work.
Being a part-time teacher means that we often don't get a classroom to call our own; I understand that this is sometimes the unfortunate nature of the job, however nobody then suggests where exactly we are supposed to do our work. With no desk space to call our own, the "frees" we get to catch up on our data crunching, lesson planning, marking and admin are left feeling somewhat uncertain. Where exactly do we go to complete our work when we're not teaching?

I really don't want to go back to school because it drains me.
Forget the physical workload (which is bad enough!) it's the constant repetitive questions, the persistent noise, the low level disruptive behaviour in need of regular challenging and the consequent way it sucks up my mood and my mind. It's this. The way I forget children's names because I'm listening to one child explain something to me whilst another is asking questions, whilst another is out of his seat for the third time and I've spoken to him twice before and I'm trying to catch his eye, whist taking the register and delivering the starter. It's this.

I really, really don't want to go back to school on Monday.