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 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 this space

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 ?


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 …


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

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.


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 !!

Happy New Year

January 1st 2014 – there it is. I have written it and so now, we can start living it. A new year will doubtlessly mean resolutions. How long will I stick to them ? I am guessing that they will be long forgotten by the time I return to work in a week !! I will try to stick to the resolution that involves my levels of grumpiness, for everyones’ sakes, but the rest, I make no promises !!

I hope 2014 will be a blogging good year and I hope you will find snippets to read here and there. To my Lycée students, I hope you will stick with me and continue to use the blog as you have been doing thus far. You are wonderful and I dedicate this picture to you all as my New Year gift :