That life-work-life balance thing again

This seems to be a recurring theme for me – how to balance family with work and what percentage to give to what ? I know that I get it wrong most of the time. When you actually enjoy reading about educational issues and experimenting with software and tecchie stuff, this is one of the dangers. It doesn’t actually feel like work to catch up on the tweets about lastest teaching stuff, or to flick through a new textbook as it is actually interesting. But, having said that, at the end of the day, it IS still work.

This picture sums it up quite nicely for me.work life balance I feel it is important to work on those little bridges you can see which take you from life to work and from work to life in this picture. If those bridges are solidly in place, I am sure the rest kind of clicks. But the bridges are definitely the key to success, in my opinion.

On my To Do list for the weeks to come, I definitely want to read a really gripping book, one that you really don’t want tp put down and that you can get totally lost in. I also want to look after my garden. I talked a while back about dealing with the front bed before the weeds took over. Well, guess what ? The weeds did take over and I am going to have one heck of job on my hands to get that cleared !! But I will. And I want to do some furniture restoration. I love tinkering with old chairs and drawers, bringing them back to life. Those are my plans for the weeks to come.

Work-wise, as school starts to wind down for the exam season, it is time to think about the Big Tidy-Up. I haven’t cleaned out my study for years (if ever) and it was originally decorated as a nursery for my son, who is now 13. The teddies stencilled on the walls could perhaps do with an update. Maybe some funky and groovy colours, rather than the baby pastels ???

In terms of tidying, the end of year brings mountains of papers to my attention, that sit there, just getting bigger as the year progresses. They will all need to be filed away and sorted out. I dream of a paperless office – ha ha !!!

Does that sound quite balanced ? Still a little way to go yet, but I am getting there.watch this space

The end of the school year …

… is fast approaching. It is hard to keep the momentum going and yet, there is still a lot to be done. We are starting to look ahead and plan for a new school year. This is one of my favourite times in the school calendar – lots of plans and exciting initiatives to put in place. The year ahead of us is like an open road – we can plan our route and then head off into the distance. highway-25-california-planning-ahead_1

Pressure on us all in this body-con society we live in

This is an off-subject post today, but one that I would have raised in class, had I been there. It was with horror and dismay that I read on Twitter this week about the death of Peaches Geldof at the age of 25. As a teenager in 1980’s England, I was brought up on a diet of pop culture and I remember thinking that Paula Yates (Peaches’ mum) was pretty cool and yet mildly irritating at the same time. Bob Geldof (her dad) became quite a hero during the 80’s through his Band Aid work and of course, Live Aid. I remember watching Live Aid, hearing his expletives live on BBC TV and admiring the sheer audacity of it all.

paula and jools hollandWe used to tune in to “The Tube”, a outrageous music show hosted by Paula and Jools Holland. In those pre-VCR days, you watched it or you missed it forever. Just like Top of the Pops !! Paula was feisty, ballsy and gobby, everything I wanted to be but just somehow it didn’t work on me !! When I discovered she was with Bob Geldof, it was a kind of epiphany because I thought he was pretty hot stuff too. The single “I don’t like Mondays” by The Boomtown Rats” was one of the first I ever bought. I never knew it at the time, but it was about a school shooting in the USA. Released in the late 1970’s, how sad that it should still be such a part of society today. You can read more about the song HERE.

bob geldofBob Geldof was a scruffy beggar in the post-Punk period. He seemed less dangerous than the Sex Pistols but was still cutting edge, in my opinion. But what did I know, in my girls’ school education ? Most males seemed “cutting edge” as long as they were a bit scruffy and wild !! This is how I remember him from the time.

When he launched Band Aid and then subsequently Live Aid, I was that much older and more mature (!!), and followed it all joyously. I still get shivers when I hear the opening bars of Band Aid as it is synonymous of a whole period of my lifetime. No details, sorry ! bob-geldof-the-boomtown-rats-18399996-438-614

Over the years, the punks have got older just as we all have. Johnny Rotten was advertising butter on the telly, last time I was home. How did that happen ? Bob Geldof, now Sir Bob, has got older too and doubtlessly wiser. Paula Yates, tragically died of an accidental overdose in 2000. Their family of children has grown up and now, this week, the dramatic news of Peaches’ death.

To begin with, I immediately assumed, as I am sure most in thier ignorance did, that this would turn out to be a tale of drug abuse of some sort, but thankfully, no. So, why “thankfully” ? Well, when you have followed a family at a distance like this over the years, you don’t want the same mistakes to be repeated over and over again, do you ? We want to think that our kids will learn from our mistakes and not make them again like we did. Peaches’ mum died when she was 11 – one of the worst things imaginable. Peaches has died at 25, leaving two young sons – it would be so wrong for it to have been due to substance abuse.

The media now seem to be suggesting that it wasn’t drug abuse that may have been responsible for her untimely death, but another sort of abuse. Reports are suggesting Peaches had been following some fruit and vegetable juice diet to lose her baby weight and more. I read this morning that she reportedly said she had been feeling “too fat”. Have you seen the photos of the poor girl ?!! skinnyWhat is it about our society that makes women feel like that ? Why are we presented with this airbrushed version of the perfect body at every opportunity and made to feel we have to strive to achieve it ? Why would Peaches have wanted to put her life at risk in such a way, just to achieve a certain body image ? It can’t possibly be justified in any way as doing it for her kids – how many kids would prefer to have a mother that dies in her attempt to achieve skinnidom ? I am sure all kids without exception would prefer to have their mothers by their sides with their extra kilos than the alternative. It makes me so angry. What sort of a society does this to girls ? When you see the photos of Peaches Geldof in her mummy mode, she looks so normal and just happy – why did she go and jeopardize that ? For what ? Kids don’t questions mummy’s body shape – kids just want their mum, whatever her body shape or size. That is what being a kid is about – you have an unconditional, accepting love of your mum.peaches and pram

If this is proven to be the cause of her untimely death, it will be such a pointless waste of a young life. Girls need to be empowered to be who they want to be and not trying to achieve some media-imposed unattainable image. I saw this following picture on Facebook this morning and it inspired me to write this rant. It makes me want to grab girls everywhere and tell them to ignore fashion, ignore body images and do what is right for you. We all have our complexes, the bits we would prefer to hide away, to swap if we could – but surely it is healthier to accept out bodies for what they are and adopt healthy attitudes than to risk losing everything and destroying lives around us in search of some ideal that is in reality far from ideal ?

wonderwoman

For Peaches and her family, it is too late, but let this be a lesson to us all.

The Balancing Act

work life balance

I recently read a blogpost about how the Work-Life balance should in fact be called the Life-Work balance. I thought a lot about that at the time and I remember that I actually switched off the computer and went to make chocolate brownies with my son instead of spending time reading blogposts ! Here is the photo we took to prove it.2014-01-04 14.25.47 A sharp reminder of how important it is to try to maintain a balance came this week when I learned that a dear colleague from one of my training courses had been a victim of a stroke in his classroom. The news is fairly positive and he appears to be slowly regaining use of his faculties, but what a wake up call !

work life

Like many of us, and like my colleague, I often put my work before other things. How many cinema trips, football matches, films on the TV have I missed beause I have reports to finish, a presentation to tweak, books to mark ? I know that I am a perfectionist and just as I am very demanding of others, I am even more demanding of myself. But this weekend, as I think of my colleague and how things have just had to grind to a halt for him, whether he likes it or not, I think about how I must learn to re-assess too.

While I want my lessons to be as funky and as all-singing, all-dancing as possible, sometimes I just can’t. And while I want my training sessions to be 150%, sometimes they just can’t be. This morning I spent an hour making soup and a chicken pie for lunch. That should be normallity not exceptional. I actually really enjoyed it whereas generally I am not a keen cook. but the sheer normality of it felt relaxing and yet almost extravagant. Taking time out to relax is so important and yet, so hard to do a lot of the time.

A few weeks ago I did the Big Switch Off. I am not going to do that again tomorrow, but I am going to take the time out tomorrow to make a Sunday roast (roast beef and yorkshires any takers?) and to go and clear out the weeds in the front bed before they get out of hand – and to take the time to just enjoy my Sunday. Days off work are not just days given to us to catch up on what we didn’t have time to do in the week work-wise – and it is about time I started to believe that !! Anyone else feel the same ?

scale

The big switch off

One of the aspects of the job of being a teacher that I am finding harder and harder to manage is the “switch off”. I seem to have one of these notices attached to me :

do not switch offI am finding it more difficult to deal with the never-ending nature of the job. You have never finished because there is always more forward-thinking that you can do. My lessons for the coming week are ready, noted down, on my USB drive (which is safely stored in my bag – as I have a terrible habit of forgetting it), papers are marked and Bob’s your uncle. But there are then the dratted reports to write – no, done those for this week). And of course, I also run training courses – but Friday’s is more or less ready and can be tweaked during the week – so, have I finished ? Well, I guess technically, I could say yes, but there is another lesson that I want to give some thought to, and my blog pages could do with tidying up a bit, and my office and my desk, well, how many piles of stuff can I accumulate in such a small space ? It all needs sorting and filing. And I have this new training course that will be in May … and for next year, I ought to add some new stuff to the training I will be doing on October …

NO ! STOP !

I entitled this blogpost “The Big Switch-off” because that is what I am about to do. My desk light actually conked out on me last night, flickered a bit, fizzed and then died. So I took it as a sign. It is Friday and I have a whole weekend ahead of me. In approximately five minutes, I am going to switch off my computer, not just standby, but actual switch off, and close the door on this corner of my life.

switch off pc I will not return until Sunday evening, not even to spy on my statistics to see who has read this blogpost in which countries. I will not fiddle, twiddle, tweak or even peak at any of it. I have the in-laws coming for the weekend and I will relax !! I have selected three novels to read – proper paper books and not e-books – and I am going to get halfway through at least one of them. I think it will be the juicy scandal about Henry VIII – the sort of novel I love but don’t take time to read. I will light a roaring fire in the fireplace, make an apple cake and enjoy a nice cup of tea, watching the blue tits on the feeder in the garden, hoping they will find the nesting box that my dad made me for Christmas.

Do you believe me ?

keep calm and switch off

I am determined to do it. How difficult should it be to decide not to work over the weekend ? It is, in my view, one of the big issues that faces teachers (and I am sure, other professions, but I don’t know about them). Surely anyone who works from home will empathize. I am not going to feel guilty about it. I am going to enjoy the downtime. If you are a teacher reading this, and you fancy joining me on the “Downtime Cruisade”, well, welcome aboard but don’t message me here about it, as I won’t be looking. This computer is now officially out of bounds. Do not enter. Go away and relax – yes, Frankie says Relax, so now go and do it. The Big Switch Off offically starts HERE …

switch off logo

Why don’t I like Maths ?

This is a question that has long troubled me. I disliked Maths intensely at school. I just didn’t get the point of it. Why did I have to imagine what x or y values were ? Problem-solving always just gave me a head-ache – and to be totally honest, it still does today. Thank heavens for computers to take the hassle out of calculating average marks !

maths 2

So, I don’t like Maths, and I could probably live with this quite happily, except for the fact that I live in a society that seems to revere Maths and one who is useless at the M game, (i.e. me) is considered a bit useless overall !

I read this on a Facebook post this evening :

“Mathematicians are discovering that to help children fully understand and truly enjoy math, drastic changes to the way standard schooling approaches the subject must be made. This is not because math is the most important part of the curriculum, but because it is one that can cause large amounts of anxiety and stress, even into adulthood.”

– and I felt I could really relate to that. I can’t say that maths causes me much stress or anxiety on a day to day basis – far from it. Do not worry – I am generally speaking a happy and well-grounded person, I think. My stress comes from the pressure put on our youngsters to be good at maths, as if your life will be a complete failure if you don’t get to grips with the M game.

When I was a young teacher in France, over fifteen years ago, this was made crystal-clear to me by a Physics teacher during a “Conseil de Classe” for a Scientific class. One of the students in particular, Guilluame, was really good at English, motivated and talented. He really came to life in class and produced some great work. Sadly, he was far from the same in Maths and Physics. During the Conseil, we had to give each student a grade (A-E) based on, well, I’m not too what it was based on, actually. Judging on my views of Guillaume, I wanted to opt for a B at least, if not an A. I was shot down in verbal flames by the snotty Maths teacher who said to me and I quote “Nous n’allons pas tenir compte de l’avis d’un professeur d’anglais en section scientifique” … translation “We’re not going to listen to the English teacher’s opinion in a Science-based class.”

At the time, I was too shy, inexperienced, naive and maybe too polite to hit back. Never fear, I have regretted it ever since and I would certainly react now, if it were to arise again. I am glad to say, however, that I think things have evolved and people are now starting to appreciate the impact of English in all areas of study, and especially perhaps, science. Maybe today, I would have been able to get that A for Guillaume ? In any case, the grading system has gone too, thank goodness.

maths 1

But none of this helped to reconcile me with Maths. I am certain that if things had been presented to me in a more playful way, I might have “got it” more. One of my dear maths colleagues and friends (this is sincere and not sarcastic) has a really fun way to approach things and I followed completely his lesson based on the price of a baguette last year. If I had had the chance of lessons like that , I would perhaps not be the maths dummy that I feel I am today, but I strongly believe this, also found on facebook tonight :

“We want to have hands-on, grounded, metaphoric play. At the free play level, you are learning in a very fundamental way—you really own your concept, mentally, physically, emotionally, culturally.” This approach “gives you deep roots, so the canopy of the high abstraction does not wither. What is learned without play is qualitatively different. It helps with test taking and mundane exercises, but it does nothing for logical thinking and problem solving. These things are separate, and you can’t get here from there.”

The source is actually a page for the Montessori method – maybe I would have liked that method of learning for myself ? I certainly try to apply it in my own classroom. Seeing my 16 and 17 year olds getting out the dice and counters to play a board game to practice the past tense is pure pleasure. I will be trying that game out with adults next week and I am certain they will get as much fun out of it.

I think the real reason I didn’t like Maths was because I found lessons boring and irrelevant to me. I always preferred languages because, as a terrible chatterbox, I always had lots to say and wanted to learn how to say it all. I don’t think I have done too badly, as one who has not done Maths since the age of 15. I can still manage to survive in the world. Calculators and computers are wonderful things – as are sons, husbands and Maths friends. But I am convinced that the power of play might have worked for me – and who knows, maybe one day I will set myself the challenge of trying to sit through some maths lessons ? It would be a challenge and a half, that would !!

maths 4

Am I too demanding ?

Today I almost had a revolution in my classroom. Some of my studes were seriously cross with me and my methods. I am not questioning the methods as such, because I have thought about them long and hard for a number of years and I believe in what I am doing. What I find unsettling is the students’ reactions. Let me explain.

One of my classes, I call it my laboratory class because I am able to experiment new ideas and techniques with them, well, this class is full of well-meaning yet unstructured language learners. Some are beginning to show real signs of progress and that is really encouraging. Others are stagnating and I find that frustrating. To try to take stock of how to move forwards in a meaningful way, I took in their exercise books to look at. Blimey, I wondered if some of them had actually been in the same class as me !! Bits and bobs all over the place, poorly copied, papers not stuck in … basically a bit of a mess. I decided to put together a “mark scheme” to give the kids in question some feedback as to what I felt was not right with their books. At this point, I should remind you, dear reader, that the kids in question are16 year olds. My feedback system gave points for papers being stuck in correctly, in the right order, correct copying with no mistakes and all the work being done.

papers being stuck in correctly 5pts

in the right order 5pts

correct copying with no mistakes 5pts

all the work being done 5pts

This gave a mark out of 20. Hey, this is France, after all !!

The results ranged from 3/20 to 20/20. I must specifiy this was not a surprise. The kids were warned over a week in advance that I was planning to do it. I returned the books in class this morning and wow, the brown stuff hit the fan.

Of course, Philippe did not complain – he was the one with 20/20. Nor did Jean, a boy who is gaining confidence slowly and who works methodically in his attempts to progress and so got 16/20.

The revolutionaries were the ones with disappointing marks and they really let loose. Apparently I am treating them like babies, they had been told they were grown up now and so I had no right, yes I repeat, no right to check their books like this, it was patronising, it was abusing my power … Of course, the old chestnut of “it will wreck my termly average and that will ruin my life forever more” was there too.

Now, of course, when I tot up the famous “moyenne” at the end of the term, this mark for their books will have little if any weighting overall and if my aim was to shake them up, it worked. But my aims went further than that. I had hoped to show them that keeping on top of their books is a way of keeping on top of their work and as they work from their exercise books, then these objects are the very basis of everything else and if there is chaos in their books, how can they expect to achieve at their best levels.

I failed miserably at that aim with a large number of kids. Not all of them. I am happy to say that some get it – but unfortunately others don’t. And miserably, I conclude that the ones that don’t “get it” seem to be the ones that are cruising along below where they should be. And that concerns me.

Am I too demanding ? Should I just accept that average or slightly above or below average is OK ? Am I unreasonable to expect legible handwriting ? A date ? A title ? One young man said to me “I haven’t written a date in my exercise book for several years, Madame”. I find his remark scary and it shows how much banging of my head against a wall I am going to have to do. I also remember this lad has been in my class for five months and has got away with it til now !! Is it too late ? Should I just accept the obvious ?

What would you do ?

If you scroll down, you can read what I intend to do about it.

poster-we-can-do-it1

I am not going to give up !! I told this group of young men on the first day of the school year that I was going to be their “Maman Pédagogique” for the year and just as a mother wouldn’t give up on her child, I am not going to give up on my class. I am going to insist on correct presentation and handwriting. If it is not done properly, it will be done again. There is a parents’ evening coming up soon. I can collect the books in again just before and I am sure the parents would find it illuminating to check out their offsprings’ books. After all, how many of us take a peek at our teenagers’ homework books on a regular basis ? I am the first to own up to not doing so with my kids.

I am going to keep bashing away at this one. This class has been so pleasurable in so many ways so far that I am not going to let this happen. So, my sleeves are rolled up. Guys, if you think this is babyish and patronising, then I am sorry for that but one day, I hope, you will see what I am trying to do. And let us not forget that for every Daniel and Victor who are moaning about the injustice of it all, there are Philippes and Jeans who are finding their way after years in an English wilderness. For them, I will continue to be a right Royal pain in the a*** because I owe it to them. If I take this class on into next year, then it will be an investment for the future. If I don’t, well at least they will have seen one way of doing things before having to adpat to a new way with someone else.

Strap yourselves in and hold on to your hats, boys, the journey has only just begun. This could get rocky !!

Yes !!!

A great big YES moment this morning, so a blog post is called for to celebrate it !! Here we go, altogether now, yes

I have been battling since September with a very large class of reluctant students. When I say “reluctant”, I mean a group who are OK about doing the odd grammar exercise here and there, but anything more exotic than that, well, you’re having a laugh, right ? I have trundled on with my e-portfolios, my eyejot recordings and my google documents. Some have followed me willingly, some have been dragged kicking and screaming and some, well, they must have very sore heels, so far dug in, they were !!

Today, I asked for an essay to be handed in to me on Feburary 10th. That is 3 weeks from now. I asked for it to be word-processed, following a presentation protocole but that was all. No other instructions.

It was not that I had given up on my all my technological input, particularly essay-writing using Googledocs. I am as convinced as ever that this is the way to progress, but I wanted to see if “their way” would turn out better. After all, a kid who scribbles a few lines the night before and who can’t see what is wrong with that, is it worth getting myself all lathered up about it ?

So, I gave out the instructions this morning for the essay. Fine, no problem. At the end of the lesson, two girls came to me and asked if it would be OK, would I mind terribly if they did their essays on Googledocs because they are used to working that way now and they like being able to progress in that way and bladebladebla … and I thought in my mind : yes

It has not all been a waste of time and energy. Those kids that have understood what I am trying to do with them, they are the ones who will work on Googledocs and they are the ones who will progress. The others will continue to scribble out their few measly lines the night before and will make no progress at all … I will now wait to see how many send me a Googledoc and take this personal initiative.  It was a splendiferous moment and one that has truly made my day. So thanks to CV and AB, if you are reading this far. I hope you will recognize yourselves.