Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Meltdown Number 1

I blew the steam from the mug of tea that I cradled in my hands.
“My life has been stolen Mags”, I said, my eyes sunken, my shoulders slumped.
“Jeepers Alice, keep things in perspective will you?” she replied.
“Try living with her”, added Hubby, “It’s been like this since day one. How the hell am I going to resist strangling her before July God alone knows.”
“Have either of you scrutinized the National Curriculum for English Key stage 3 recently?” From the blank expression on their faces I made the assumption they had not.
“Well it’s not exactly a riveting read. Shall I tell you the key concepts?” It was merely a rhetorical question because I didn’t pause a for a reply, “Well, within their programme of study for reading, writing, speaking and listening, we expect our 11-14 year olds to be competent and creative and to have a critical and cultural understanding in every task they undertake”. Still no response. I pressed on.
“And then we have to give them attainment targets. For instance, there is a considerable gulf between a level four piece of work and a level 8. You see..”
“Spare us the finer details Alice, please”, implored Hubby, “dear God and you tell me I’m boring”. Boring? This did not bode well. I was training to be a teacher, someone who was hopefully going to inspire young minds to greatness and yet, after only a few sentences I was being asked to shut up. It’s difficult to shut up though. For fear of sounding like Tony Blair I’m eating, sleeping and breathing, education, education, education. Apart from driving to Uni, I haven’t seen the light of day for over a week and when I get to Uni, I sit through lectures with such gripping titles as Strategies and Standards and Scaffolding and Modelling. This it turned out, had nothing to with the building trade or indeed, posing and pouting but was again another educational process, this time offering challenges that encourages pupils to know what they are aiming for and supporting them with ideas by providing tools to accomplish the task. It’s about as sexy as it sounds.
I have had a sheaf of handouts handed out to me all of which I have had to read, digest then annotate and write about. I have my own subject group of novels, poems and plays to read as well as my first written assignment to compose, let alone all the educational theorists and practitioners with whom I’m meant to be au fait. It’s a big ask, especially when I’ve had blood to give, food to shop for and cook, attend a PTA meeting and, before I forget, occasionally engage with four children whom I seem to be forgetting. I am beginning to lose not only my sense of perspective but my everyday vocabulary.
“Well I’m sorry you find me so bloody boring!”, I sobbed, jumping up, my hot tea spilling down my shirt, “And now look what you’ve made me do”. I ran out of the sitting room, furious tears spilling down my cheeks. By the time I’d reached my study, my shoulders were heaving and my brand new laptop that my college had so kindly provided us all with for free, was in grave danger of being dripped upon.
Hubby followed me, put one arm around my shoulders and used the other to diplomatically push the lap top out of harm’s way.
“There, there now love. Don’t be such a non-handler”. Ever the sensitive soul.
“I feel so overwhelmed already”, I tried to explain, “I’m intimidated not only by the amount of information we are meant to absorb but by the bright young things who feel no fear and whose fresh, dynamic brains have the capacity to absorb masses of alien information and who are then, infuriatingly, able to file it away, in some sort of thematic order. Why is it? Oh thanks”, Mags had appeared carrying the kitchen roll, “that since I was at school I always seem to sit next to the kid who likes her highlighters and her plastic pouches and ring binders and rulers and knows instinctively when to use bullet points or spider-grams”, I blew my nose, “By the end of a lecture their work is organised and tidy and filed in the correct pouch. Mine on the other hand, is a ream of A4 paper with a series of sentences scrawled on it?”. Hubby tapped my shoulder in an effort to be comforting.
“I’ll get the hang of it”, I said, attempting an optimistic grin, “It’s just that after all these years of academic torpor, it’s rather a steep learning curve.” They both nodded and smiled benevolently at me like two nurses in a mental hospital who have just managed to stymie a major incident.
“Anyway I’d better crack on. I’ve got to get off my A.S.S”. They looked quizzical.
“Applied Subject Study”. The world of acronyms does not it appears, apply exclusively to the language of the Armed Forces.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Making or Breaking of Miss.

This is a confessional. I have been living a lie. Not a huge one. I’m not married to an RAF officer and I do have four children who, in their own, charming, individual way, ensure the grey hairs are not stymied but creep through my highlights, however hard I attempt to stem the flow.
No, what I have kept hidden all these years is the fact that I am not a qualified teacher. I was in fact a teaching assistant and should have a red badge of courage for my efforts, as should the army of TAs out there, who do a sterling job in keeping kids in their seats as the teacher sets about attempting to teach the little darlings.
I do have a degree in English literature and have harboured the dream of writing my own novel. As yet it hasn’t happened and, with Hubby leaving his beloved Royal Navy in a few years time, it has become more and more apparent that I have to consider a more serious career than the one I have loved. Who would have thought that chronicling my life and, making coffees and paninis for visitors to our ‘forgotten corner’ of Cornwall and, for my beloved regulars, the lattes and flapjacks I would comfort them with when, in the bleak midwinter, they came for a chat would have given me so much satisfaction? But there it is. It has.
Three days ago however, I embarked on a new chapter in my life. That of fully fledged teacher training. To say that I am terrified is an understatement that bears no immediate analogy. It is something that I have put off for years, for many reasons, the most pressing if I’m honest, apart from my dream of novelist, is my utter ‘special needs’ in mathematics. A test has to be passed in maths before I can qualify. Yes, even to be an English teacher. I girded my loins at the weekend and had a go. There are practise tests online. I couldn’t do one. Not one.
Hubby, in his inimitable manner, strode in, shoved me, albeit gently out of my swivel chair and, with a macho, “Tut, tut, how hard can it be Alice?” was himself subdued in seconds, and this is a man who can compute, in his head, in a matter of seconds, all manner of mathematical gymnastics.
“Gee whizz, Alice love”, he said, after completing it, successfully, forty eight minutes later, “You’ve got your work cut out for you”. Thanks for the moral support.
So, it was on our 19th wedding anniversary that I walked into our local University College and took my place beside eleven other wannabe teachers, all of whom should apparently, “Be congratulated on getting this far. The competition was ferocious”. Really? I looked around at my fellow students and not one of them jumped out at me as particularly leonine. To be honest, I thought we seemed quite ordinary. Time will tell.
Our first day was fairly mind boggling with information overload on a number of subjects, primarily the help and support available to us. Immediately after one lecture by the study skills, support team, I hurried to register my ‘disability in maths’. Dyslexia is taking very seriously indeed and there is a wealth of support and finance out there for those who find spelling hard. There is little available to help those of us who find, ‘express 2/5 as a decimal’ or indeed a percentage. The support staff were very kind but had no leaflet to give me. I’ve made an appointment to discuss my ‘issues’ at a later date.
Later, after seeking out a cafeteria, difficult when most of ‘Uni’ has been reduced to rubble, okay, not exactly rubble, but a lot of building work which has demolished the dining hall, our group went in search of lunch. The kids, those youngsters to whom this is just another milestone in their unadulterated lives, went to the pub; a more studious, mature student and I stayed on site and shared an empathic, “My God, what are we doing?” moment. She, having locked herself away these past few years, between school runs and family life, in the solitary confinement of her box room, beavering away at an OU degree, is glad finally, to be released and walk among the living.
So we have been set our first assignment. To create a name badge. I was thrilled. Whilst the other young things groaned, I knew that I had a secret army. Two little girls who can think of nothing better than to get the felt-tips out, some stickers and the glitter. How can I fail? A mature student, hoping one day to inspire the minds of future generations is surely one who, through strong leadership, is one who can delegate and get those subordinate to her to do all the ‘admin’. To be continued...

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

With a knap-sack on my back...

Pens and pencil cases have been carefully mulled over in WH Smith before the much desired Hello Kitty range was finally opted for. School uniform has been purchased and name tapes have been, albeit clumsily, sewn in. That sinking feeling is much upon the household. The youngest, amid much enforced bonhomie from their mother along the lines of “Yay, school in a few days time! Yay! You’ll see your friends again”, has been met with stony silence.
So, before the hamster wheel of school, homework, ballet, tap, swimming, Rainbows, musical theatre, after school clubs, spelling practise and homework starts rolling and the eldest two embark on their GCSEs and A levels respectively, we have tried to take full advantage of lying in bed until after nine, not minding that the youngest are watching Hannah Montana before breakfast, eating dinner at odd hours and basically wallowing in the calm before the storm.
This hasn’t been quite fulfilling enough for Hubby who is now, after several weeks of downtime, eager to get back to his recruits and what better example to these determined, young people than if their Commander were to do a little ‘exped’ of his own. So, as soon as it was decently possible after the Red-Head’s sixth birthday party, he downloaded a map from the internet, borrowed all manner of walking gear from a more roister-doistering friend and then, went about the challenge of embroiling our nocturnal, lounge lizard of a son, to accompany him.
Of course Hubby had to be patient and await the emergence of his son from his bedroom, which was approximately two hours after lunch. By this time Hubby had packed and was champing at the bit.
“This is really important Alice love”, he said, tying his boots, “Our lad will be eighteen in a matter of weeks; it’s high time we spent some quality time together and what better way than walking the coastal path”.
I didn’t want to rain on his parade but were they physically up to it?
“I mean, you take daily drugs because of the arthritis in your knee and our boy, well, the most active thing I’ve ever seen him do is take a shower”.
“Alice you forget his bass playing. He comes off that stage drenched in sweat”.
“I appreciate that, but that takes a different kind of stamina. I can’t think off the top of my head of any rock-star sports men. Keith Richards is hardly renowned for his charity walks is he? Whereas Ian Botham, is”.
“What are you getting at Alice?” I wasn’t entirely sure, other than I didn’t think either of them were particularly enviable specimens of masculine perfection. I didn’t articulate that last bit though. They didn’t need my negativity. Instead I silently made up a first aid kit of Savlon and plasters and Ibuprofen.
Hubby began to pace, then paused to re-check his rucksack for a torch, a map and a compass.
I was bewildered by the last item. “I may not be Shackleton darling and I’ve done few mega walks. None to be honest, but I would have thought that as I long as you had the sea to your left, you were, well, going the right way?” Hubby looked slightly sheepish but I think that he just liked the compass as an artefact. It’s synonymous with adventure.
Eventually he could stand it no longer and went to wake our son. It came as bit of shock to him to find that he wasn’t going into town with Jim to search out some gigs, but was in-fact, going to walk from Looe to Mevagissy with a rucksack on his back. “Oh Fal-da-ree man”, came his only comment.
Before they left I took my boy to one side and, after giving him an enormous hug, tried to explain the significance of this father/son time together. “You see dad has always hankered after a father that would have done something similar with him. Someone to look up to, to depend on, to learn from, you know that kind of thing that you, having dad for a father, take for granted”.
“It’s cool ma, I get it”. And with a bagel in his hand, he, his father and a very loyal dog were whisked away by Mags who dropped them off in Looe for the start of their awfully big adventure.
And it was awfully big. By the end of the second day they rang from Charlestown.
“I surrender Alice. Our blisters are bigger than our toes. The dog is half dead. We are drenched in sweat and knackered. We won’t get kicked off the course if we don’t finish the next eight miles”. I drove to rescue them. They were upbeat, suntanned and beaming. When we arrived home, Hubby emptied the rucksacks and I drew a bath for my boy.
“Know what Ma?” he said, sitting on the edge of the bath, as I whirled his bubbles, “This trip meant a lot to dad and it was great being with him. He’s a good guy. He really is”.