Wednesday, 27 October 2010


Having spent twenty years watching my husband as he emerged like a military butterfly through various ranks, from fresh faced Petty Officer to sage old Commander, I always admired his capacity to get up at ungodly hours to get to work whether it be to drive back to Portsmouth on a Monday morning, join a ship or be behind the various desk jobs the Royal Navy appointed him to. I can only now, genuinely appreciate how truly hellish it must have been as by some perverse karma, it is Hubby who is now seeing me off. It is he who is making me a cup of tea in the morning whilst it is still pitch black outside and he who is waving and blowing me kisses farewell as I drive off down the road, far, deep into the bowels of Cornwall as I wend my merry way to my first ‘placement’ school.
I wish I could say that it is only what I deserve, but in the last twenty years, I have been conscious only a handful of times when Hubby has crept out of the house at the crack of dawn and I’m sure that was when I was breastfeeding. So, I am truly grateful that he has not decided to throw a nasty two fingered gesture at me from under the duvet as I put on the ‘big’ light and fling open my wardrobe and deliberate what to wear, or indeed curse me for having my hairdryer on maximum speed. Indeed he has been gracious and good natured and in fact only too glad to get a morning cuddle that he would otherwise forgo were I back to my, never to be seen again, pre-teaching days.
The fact that I am up to my eyeballs in paperwork and a learning curve so steep that it is quite literally vertiginous, has perhaps made me overlook the fact that the poor man himself if not without his degree of stresses and strains. The defence review has been made public and for once, I am not glad that he isn’t a rufty-tufty WAFU. Those poor sods have had a real rum deal and our senior service alas, will not be what it was. Hard to believe that Britannia once ruled the waves. Ironic that I have been studying the Timeline of the English language and that the Jutes, Angles, Danes and Normans after invading us, all had a part to play in our language and the results are in our every day vocabulary. God only knows, without a significant armed force to protect us, who will invade us next and what country’s language will influence ours next. Where is Alfred the Great when we need him?
And so it was with my windscreen wipers going like the clappers, that I drove away on a dark Monday morning, past Liskeard, along the Dobwalls bypass, past Trago and on past the crematorium roundabout at Bodmin. When I finally arrived at the school, I was ready for bed and never fully recovered all day. Bad ju-ju when one has to look slightly more engaged with Steinbeck than your average 15 year old and by the time I embarked on the last lesson of the day and had to seem sufficiently au fait with Orwell and Animal Farm, I was hard pushed to keep my eyes open let alone talk profoundly on why a pig was a metaphor for Josef Stalin.
The next day, having ensured I was in bed before ten, saw me perform slightly better with Frankenstein, although when I say perform, I actually mean, support, as I have yet to go solo and teach a class alone. So, no sooner had the bell gone and the children dismissed, that I ran, gasping for a reviving hit of caffeine. Easier said than done. In previous schools, where I worked as a teaching assistant, I often complained to Hubby of the pedancy revolving the ‘coffee boat’. Woe betide anyone who did not contribute to the coffee coffers whilst helping themselves. In my current school though, I am horrified. Even I, whose kitchen and refrigerator often elicits raised eyebrows from those more familiar with the Cilit Bang, cannot comprehend how a staff of over one hundred can let mugs and lunch plates and spoons and forks gather and pile up in a festering mass of campylobacter. The offending crockery and utensils that I saw stacked sky high on Monday were still there at the end of the week. Enough. With very little hot water, an amount of washing up liquid so minute that it made a rude noise as I squirted the bottle and paper towels instead of a scourer, I set to work.
Thanks? Nope, just a cafetiere emptied of its coffee grains poured onto my sink-ful of meagre warm water with the following advice, “I wouldn’t make a habit of it”. To be pedantic and demand a quid a coffee, or to threaten, with a visit from Environmental Health? That is the question.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Birds and Bees.

It’s been another heavy week. The weekend disappeared in a haze of research and essay writing, re-writing and referencing. On Tuesday evening, looking like something the cats regularly drag in, Hubby had had enough.
“Alice, you look like…”.
“I know, I know”, I said quickly, did he really have to kick me whilst I was down, “I haven’t had much time for poncing myself up recently.
“I don’t care whether you had ponced yourself up”, he said, shaking his head in wearied disappointment, “I was just hoping that you might change out of your pyjamas occasionally and rake a brush through your hair.”
“I looked very smart at college earlier if you must know”, I said, hoitily, “I had no choice. I had to meet with my mentor”.
“Mentor or dementor?” Visions of me wandering around a school corridor, a shadowy, Harry Potteresque thing, sucking my very soul out, made me shudder.
“Oh don’t darling, that’s not really the pep talk I need right now. No she seemed very nice. Organised and supportive.”
“Anyway, go and get your glad rags on. I’m taking you out on a date”. Really? We hadn’t been out together for weeks. I jumped up.
“Fab!”, I said, kissing him, “Where are we going?”
“You’ve forgotten haven’t you?” I racked my brains. What had I forgotten? Damn it. Think. Think. We’d just had our anniversary, it’s not my birthday until next week. Nope I didn’t have a clue. I shrugged my shoulders.
“It’s the PTAs AGM. You are the vice-chair Alice for God’s sake. Haven’t you prepared anything?” I put my head in my hands. Of course, the AGM, it had completely escaped me. I looked at my watch, it was 6.50. We had ten minutes.
Hubby waited for me in the car whilst I ran upstairs, tore off my pyjamas, pulled on some socks, a pair of jeans, a sweater off the back of the chair, which I’d meant to wash but which still sported egg yolk from a soft boiled egg I’d had at the weekend. I scraped my hair back into a ponytail, kissed the children, gave babysitting advice to the eldest and dashed down the stairs and into the car.
“Shoes?” asked Hubby, his fingers, drumming the steering wheel impatiently. I looked at my feet.
“No, shoes”, Hubby interrupted, anticipating some vulgar, scatological utterance. He could talk.
I ran back inside, picked up my boots, ran back to the car and, as though chasing robbers, said to Hubby, “Drive”.
Luckily the pub where the AGM was being held was far enough away to give me the time to struggle into my boots and zip them up but when we finally entered the pub, flustered, we needn’t have rushed. There were eight people there. In other words, the current committee. My shoulders slumped. I think, given our present commitments, that most of us had planned to step down, instead we once again proposed and seconded each other’s positions and briefly discussed the Christmas fair. Then, the gavel came down and I relished a large Kir courtesy of the treasurer and a couple of ham sandwiches, courtesy of the pub.
We left soon after as I had yet to plan for the next day. Walking into the house, I heard screams of laughter upstairs, emanating from the youngest girls’ bedroom. I crept in.
“Ahem”. They both looked up but instead of looking guilty and diving under their duvets because they should have been fast asleep, they were delighted to see me.
“Mummy”, said the youngest, squeezing me tightly, “It’s so nice to see you” and then, right out of the blue the eight year old said, “Can you tell us about sex?”
Oh bloody hell. Not tonight.
“This is kissing isn’t it?” asked the Red-Head, gently planting a kiss on her pillow.
“It is darling, yes”, I concurred.
“And this is snogging” she added, burying her face into the very same pillow with all the passionate fervour of Rudolph Valentino. Her elder sister was hysterical.
“Do, it again, do it again!”, she goaded her.
“What? Snogging?” and once again she attacked her pillow. It was getting out of hand.
“Come on now girls, bed-time”.
“Have you stopped having babies?” asked the 8 year old.
“Yes, darling”, I replied, tucking her in.
“Because of sex?”. Oh God.
“Sort of”.
“Daddy had an operation”.
“Did they cut his willy off?”
“No they cut his tubes”.
“His pubes?”, said the other child. There’s something about that word that unhinges the dourest child, ergo mine were almost distracted with hysteria. This was impossible.
“Not pubes darling, tubes. Men have tubes inside”.
“Where the worms come out?” My God, my previous sex education talks had evidently been an outright disaster. Where was that glass of wine? I tried my best to go over it again. A sort of Bite Size revision version, but as I Ieft the room, turning the light off and blowing them a kiss, one whispered to the other, “Mummy’s been sexed four times”. Their father would probably agree.


“So, does the role of grammar raise attainment in writing at Key stage 3?” I have asked myself this question over and over again. I have posed the question to many friends, many of the friends being teachers who, rather worryingly answered, “Dunno. Kinda”. Then again, as they are teachers, they are all too knackered at the end of the day to actively advise me on my next assignment.
“Have you no opinion on this matter?”, I have demanded.
“You know which school I work at Alice. Do you honestly think I lose sleep worrying whether the kids know how to construct a complex sentence? I’m just glad that 8x turn up.” I tried another source.
“S’pose. Depends”. For heaven’s sake, depends on what?
“Well, what’s your opinion?”, asked Hubby, doing his best to engender interest.
“It doesn’t matter what my opinion is. I have to write a review of already published, learned work on the subject and what those scholars think”.
“And, what do they think?”, he pursued. God bless him, he was trying to sound attentive but I was interrupting the 9 o’clock news.
“Well, that’s the point. I really don’t know; one report suggests the formal teaching of grammar is paramount, another, that it is as inherent as learning to walk. I’m going round in circles and I have three thousand words to write on the subject.”
“Best crack on then love”. And that was the end of his indulging me.
I rang Bianca, fellow PGCE colleague, who terrified me by quoting all sorts of references that she has downloaded, highlighted and used in her already written, 1,800 words.
“How do you make sense of all that stuff”, I asked, quite literally grasping at the roots of my hair.
“Read it all last week mate. It’s been churning around for a while”, she replied. Utterly dejected, I rang Mags.
“Bloody hell. They are all such whizz kids around me”, I wailed, “They may look blonde and fluffy but when push comes to shove they have the upper hand”.
“Well, you know why that is?”
“No, why?” I asked.
“Because they haven’t done any pushing and shoving have they? How many of these bright young things have had their brains and bodies addled by raising four kids? How many of them look knackered in the morning, not because they’ve been up half the night breast feeding or dealing with vomit or bad dreams but because they’ve spent far too long ‘pulling’ at the student union bar?”
“I guess you’re right”, I said, “Still doesn’t help me with this bloody essay”.
I returned to my study to pore over ever more research on the subject. They were all inconclusive and finally I climbed the stairs to bed in abject defeat.
I arrived at Uni the following morning to a packed timetable. We spent hours in large groups discussing assessments. It was mind-numbingly tedious. My new found friends and I were thrilled when lunchtime arrived and we could muster together and groan.
“No wonder kids can’t stand school”, I said, “It’s all so serious. What wouldn’t you give for a moment of levity?” Prophetic words. We finished our lunches, drained our coffees and re-joined our carrousels, a word, up until now, that has been synonymous with all the fun of the fair, candy floss and a gaudily painted, wooden horse called Phyllis. Nowadays it indicates which groups I must join and which classroom I will find them in.
A few of my friends and I returned to our appropriate carousel, where we were given a lecture on inclusion and how terribly important it is that we embrace every child, for as we all now and, as the previous government kept reminding us, whether little delinquents or not, every child matters and we must be delighted to include them in our classes. To hit this point home, we were sent to yet another room to learn to juggle, the end product demonstrating, I assume, how awful it is when one feels they can’t do something as well as one’s peers. We regrouped 15 minutes later to evaluate our experience. How had we felt if we hadn’t succeeded? Did we feel marginalised? Did we feel excluded? None of us felt any of those things. We’d had just had fun. None of us cared a jot whether we were about to join Billy Smarts circus or not.
The tutor then asked, “Do you think you might have done better if you’d had bigger balls to play with?”. It was instinctive. Call me childish, call me puerile, but I challenge anyone not to have let out a schoolboy guffaw. I most certainly did.
“Is someone being silly?” asked the tutor, sharply. I went rigid and tried to suppress any more giggles.
“I think you should leave this room until you have calmed down”, the tutor instructed. There was a deathly silence as I got up from my chair, left the classroom and went to stand in the corridor. No more giggles were released and the irony of having been excluded from a lecture on inclusion didn’t escape me either.

Monday, 11 October 2010


“Is my absence as home-maker extraordinaire making you develop OCD”, I asked Hubby the other evening as he polished his work shoes with an intense ferocity.
“Ah you wish Alice my love, you wish. Actually, it’s very quiet in this house with you beavering away in the basement”. Oh.
“What gives with the polishing then? You hoping for a Genie to spring out of your shoes?” I went rather sulkily into the kitchen, opened the fridge and poured myself a large glass of wine. It felt and tasted exquisite.
“Don’t you remember anything Alice?”, said Hubby who had followed me and was now brandishing a shoe polishing brush in my direction.
“What? Do you mean apart from your parents’ birthdays, all our children’s birthdays, their friends’ birthdays, PTA meetings, ballet, tap and swimming classes…”
“Alright, alright you’ve made your point”, he looked impatient, “Don’t you remember me telling you that royalty was visiting tomorrow?” I choked on my wine.
“Bloody hell I forgot. Don’t I get to come and meet him too then?”
“No Alice, you do not. You have lesson observations to attend and well, whatever it is teachers do”.
“Two things mate, one, I bet I am invited, you just don’t want me to spend any more money on a new dress, shoes and hat do you?”
“Of that there is no doubt my dear but that notwithstanding, you are still not invited”.
“And two”, I continued, “What the hell do you mean ‘and whatever else teachers do’?” By the look on his face and the fact that he’d started to back out of the kitchen he’d realised that he was treading on dangerous ground.
“I’ll tell you shall I? Well? Shall I?” I chased after him. I backed him into a corner near the sofa which he very conveniently fell into and chucked my horribly heavy, briefcase onto his lap. Pulling out my lever arch file which after only three weeks at college is already groaning, I extracted from a plastic pouch, a list of ‘activities expected of teachers in an academic and pastoral role’.
I kept him pinned down until I’d read out all 28 of them.
“There, that’s what the hell teachers do”, I finished, slapping my hands together.
“Ok love”, he said awkwardly, “I was out of order. Teachers work very hard indeed”. I pulled the bag off his sternum but kept it hovering only an inch away, where, by dropping it again, I could easily have compromised his breathing.
“And?”, I said.
“And I’m really sorry”. I moved myself and my briefcase out of his way. He got up and went and poured himself a glass of wine too.
We sat down together. “I’m just really nervous Alice”, he said, taking a big slurp. “It has to be perfect tomorrow; there is no room for cock-ups. We’ve all been rehearsing like crazy. Even the chefs have been practising”. I’d have liked to have pointed out at this juncture that I doubted very much that the Prince would give a toss what he was about to eat, that in fact he probably had hundreds of military lunches every year and I would bet my bottom dollar that he’d never once sent his food back but, to have articulated these points would have seemed rather cruel, especially given the polishing, painting and marching that had been worked on so hard to perfect.
“Anyway, how are you feeling about tomorrow?” Hubby asked.
“A little anxious but we’re only observing, it’s not as if I have to teach a class. That joy is to come.”
The following morning, far too bright and early I drove myself with my fellow student Bianca as navigator, deep into the heart of Cornwall. Nearing our destination we were a little lost.
“Where has the school disappeared to?” I asked Bianca accusingly. She rather sheepishly, shrugged her shoulders.
“Sorry, I’ve never been any good at reading maps; I think maybe we should have turned left a little earlier”. It was almost 8.30, we were going to be late. I pulled over and suddenly we spotted some teenagers in school uniform. I wound the window down on the passenger side, leaned over Bianca’s lap and hollered, “ ‘Scuse me love?”
With trepidation the students approached the car.
“Are you going to school?”.
“Well duh!”, one replied.
“Great. So are we. Do you want a lift?” As soon as the words were uttered I knew I’d made a right clanger. The children scurried away as though the local paedophile had just attempted to abduct them.
“Nice one”, laughed my colleague. We dumped the car and ran, arriving seven minutes late, our teacher training co-ordinator tapping her foot.
“Before I take you to your classrooms word has got to me that there are a couple of women loitering near the school. They tried to pick up a couple of students barely minutes ago. Be vigilant for a red Fiat”. There was no fear of that. I knew exactly where it was.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Homework Sucks!

My neck was aching, my eyes were stinging, my shoulders were stiff and I still had an assignment on grammar to write. I’d already read a tome on ‘issues in effective learning’ which introduced me to some new playmates, namely Piaget and Vygotsky and their respective theories on cognitive constructivism and social constructivism, although if I’m honest, I don’t feel very respectful to them at the moment, given that they’d just ruined my weekend. Who’d have thought there was a theory to teaching and not only one but several? And there was I, naively assuming that once I’d gathered a few poems together, got the gist of them, made sure that I covered the objectives in the National Curriculum that I would be able to stand there, chalk, or its technically advanced alternative in hand and wax lyrical.
Hubby walked into my study and rubbed my shoulders. “How are you getting on love?” I looked at my watch; it was 10.10 on a Sunday night. The youngest girls had gone to bed hours before. I’d barely kissed them.
“Tired”, I said in a little voice, grasping the big hands that massaged my shoulders.
“I’ve taped X-Factor for you.”
“Thanks”. He looked over my shoulder at the few words that I’d written on my laptop.
“Subordinate?”, he queried, “I wouldn’t worry about your pupils being subordinate Alice love. Good grief no. Start as you mean to go on. Don’t take any nonsense. Insubordination is taken very seriously in the navy you know. Very seriously indeed. In fact…”
I had to stop him in his tracks before he got on his vertiginously high horse.
“I’m not talking about insubordination in the classroom, although God knows, someone should. Your average Comprehensive classroom is light years away from standing to attention with ‘yes sir, no sir’. These days we are all ‘learners’, sharing and exploring together”. He looked at me pityingly suggesting that one day, disillusioned by my caring, sharing ways, I’d have kids on report and in detention before you could say, “My dog ate my homework miss”.
“So who’s subordinate then?”
“Not who but what. Subordinate clauses are grammatical”. I replied.
“What are they?” A week ago I probably couldn’t have told him, so I was proud to hear myself utter,
“A sentence is broken up into clauses, the main clause and the subordinate clause. The latter doesn’t make sense by itself”. His gormless expression made him look, well, gormless.
“For instance”, I explained, “ ‘He was very loyal to the Royal Navy – main clause?’” Hubby nodded. I continued, “ ‘so that I always felt second fiddle to Nelson, subordinate clause”.
“Oh I see”. I don’t think he did. He is still going to Trafalgar night on my birthday. He kissed the top of my head and went to make me a cup of tea. I returned to my assignment. It was very trying. My experience of grammar, being a school girl in the 70s and early 80s centred on three key terms: adjectives, nouns and verbs. All that was expected of me was to write the most interesting sentence incorporating those terms. So that for instance, ‘The Cat Sat on the Mat’ was transmogrified into ‘Regally reclining on a Persian rug, lay a feline of such majestic attitude that he seemed to rule the household who regularly attended to his every whim, which often included fresh, line caught tuna and filtered, ice-cold, spring water.’ I worried not a jot about clauses and modal auxiliary verbs. What worries me is that few teenagers still won’t worry about them and yet I have to teach them.
Two hours later I inserted my final full stop and went to bed to read a prĂ©cis of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Hubby was snoring gently as was the cat at the end of the bed. My eyes felt as though they had grit in them and yet as I extinguished the bedside light, my mind raced. I tossed. I turned. I pulled the duvet cover hither and yon.
“Bloody hell, keep still”, came a very sleepy but grumpy retort from under the duvet. I doubted very much that it had been the cat. So, getting up again, I dragged a dressing gown around me and walked onto the landing. A chink of light glinted from my son’s room. I opened his door. He was sitting at his computer writing.
“What on earth are you writing at one in the morning?”
“My politics essay”. I wanted to put his pyjamas on and snuggle him up in his bed with his teddy but those days are long gone. He’s eighteen next month.
“Darling, it’s so late. Please go to bed”. I was a bright one to talk. I crept down the stairs, threw a throw over me and picked up the Sky+ controls. In seconds Simon Cowell et al were in my sitting room.
Almost instantaneously I forgot brain aching words like pedagogy, hegemony and paradigm and lapsed into the accessible vernacular of pop culture. It was lush and I was asleep in minutes.