Teacher’s Pet

Normally I don’t feel all that inspired by The Daily Post’s prompt for the day, but yesterday’s really struck a chord with me, as an educator. Of course, I’ve known for a long time that a teacher has a larger impact than just imparting knowledge. I’m not sure I knew the influence some teachers were having on me at the time, but on reflection I can see very clearly now. Throughout my training I aimed to become more and more like some of my former teachers, whilst becoming less and less like others.

 

I have 2 favourite teachers… Mrs Sneddon and Miss Wilson. They were so different, but yet so similar.

 

Miss Wilson was my teacher for 2 years at a British Services School in Germany. She reigned with a fearful reputation, and I remember waiting to be told whose class I would be in that September… and internally wishing ‘please not Miss Wilson’ over and over again. I’m not sure why, after all she had never taught me before. I’m almost certain, though my memory is foggy, that she had, in fact, never spoken to me before, either. Neither of these things mattered, though, as her reputation as a mean and strict teacher went before her. Except, she wasn’t mean; she was fair. She wasn’t strict; she had boundaries. She was an exceptionally talented teacher; one who made me work the hardest I had ever worked before… and probably since. I adored being in her class, and I like to think she enjoyed having me. Imagine my delight when she stayed with my class for Year 4! I can only remember a few actual topics, but I do remember that it was in her class that I learned to write with legible cursive handwriting. I learned to spell, and I fell back in love with reading. She nurtured me as an individual, and took an interest in my life after we moved away, back to the UK. All in all, she was just fabulous. I wonder now where she is, whether she is still teaching, and if she remembers me.

 

Mrs Sneddon was not really an actual teacher to me – I think she maybe taught me a PE lesson once upon a time. She was, however, an incredible influence in my life. Firstly, she was my housemistress when I was an unruly teenager who didn’t want to do their homework. Secondly, she introduced me to sailing – my opportunity to both enjoy and achieve something outside of normal academic life. What an enormous boost to my self-esteem, and my emotional wellbeing! Mrs Sneddon was always there, cheering me on, even when I didn’t want it; even when I messed up and made her working life very difficult; even when I left her care and school and went elsewhere. Amazingly, I was able to invite Mrs S and her husband Mike (who helped teach me how to sail) to my wedding in the summer, where I got to tell her of my First Class Hons degree and my impending NQT year. I finally felt like she could be proud of me… but she encapsulated a truly excellent teacher and mentor when she said ‘I’ve always been proud. I’ve always known you could do it’.

 

Two exceptional teachers; two different periods of my life. I hope that in my teaching I can inspire and nurture my children in the same way Miss Wilson and Mrs Sneddon did for me.

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New Year’s Resolution

It is that time of year; that moment when people across the world resolve to do things differently in the new year. It got me thinking: does anyone actually hold to these resolutions? If not, why not? Are our aspirations for the year ahead just too hard to achieve in reality? Or do we just give up once we go back to work and things get us down? I’m not sure I believe in ‘Blue Monday’ (see previous link), and I have certainly never achieved a new year’s resolution. This year, though, I am determined. I am determined to intertwine my intricate life of faith and failure with my all-consuming life as a teacher; I am determined to be purposeful in my resolution, by making my resolution about who I am now… and who I want to be throughout 2015.

 

“Fear less, trust more; take less, give more; whine less, thank more; talk less, say more; hate less, love more.”

 

I purposefully resolve to do the above, to be the above, in 2015. I recognise now that there will be times when I fail. I am certain that I will whine at least once even within the first week back. But this is where I must remember that this year is the year I interlace my faith in God with my job: where my faith saves the day once more. Why? Because God is in the business of endless forgiveness and umpteen second chances; He works in me to make good changes, to make me more like Him; He gives to me, and loves me endlessly.

 

Of course, this might be a little controversial. I am a teacher in a state-funded primary school. I am also a Bible believing, Jesus loving Christian. But I am convinced that this can work – my all-consuming life as a teacher, and my all-consuming faith. And that is the first hurdle, to give God room to make my faith all-consuming.

 

This week, I will look at each part of my resolution, in an attempt to show how each makes me a better teacher, and a better me.

Bullying

Short disclaimer: there is an ongoing investigation into the incident I write about at the moment. I will not name names and will try not to be too specific. I’d hate to be seen as unprofessional. This is a reflection on the effects of bullying, not a witch hunt for blood.

Recently at university I was the subject of a misplaced joke. Some might call it bullying, whilst others would just say it was a misplaced joke. I’m not sure what I call it. I want to let you in to how this ‘joke’ made me feel – immediately afterwards, and over the following weeks.

#fugly #slut

These were the words left for me on a board when I came into a study room to do exactly that: study. I had booked the room for 3 hours, with some friends, so we could work together on a presentation. As I walked into that room, I was breathless. I felt winded. And as I turned to look at my friend who was with me, I cried. This was followed by a brief lull in the emotions as we waited for the rest of our group… but when they walked in, I cried again. In fact, the afternoon was not a productive study session. It was interspersed with crying, paranoia, anxiety and great sadness from within me.

That night, at home, I sobbed down the phone to my mum. She was horrified that not only had it happened, but that it could have been written by someone who is training to be a teacher. To her it wasn’t solely about the nature of the words and how hurtful they were, but also about professional conduct. I went to sleep, feeling soothed, thinking ‘tomorrow is a new day!’ And it was. It was a Friday. I wasn’t in university, my housemate was away, I was alone. Or, at least, I felt like I was alone. I spent the entire day watching Geordie Shore (which is atrocious, but highly addictive) and eating rubbish. I just sat and let the waves of sadness, waves of anxiety and waves of inferiority wash over me. I didn’t believe the words they had used to describe me, but I felt insecure. I knew then as I know now, I am not a slut… but I felt dirty and weak.

For me, you see, the story actually begins 5 years ago. 5 years ago, I was a different person. I was insecure and weak. I was paranoid and anxious. I was depressed. Not as a result of bullying, but as a result of having the wrong priorities in my life. I had absolutely hit rock bottom, which included a brief encounter with suicidal thoughts. Thankfully, because of my ever-loving parents, I was able to move home and begin to fix myself. It was a very long process but, with their love and support, and the love and support of wiser friends, I was able to get back on my feet once more. Earlier this year I took the final step I needed to heal: counselling. I was able to, with a supportive professional, come to terms with my angers and anxieties; my insecurities and paranoias; and I was able to leave it where it belongs… in the past.

If we now jump back again, into the present, you may now begin to understand why I spent a week feeling sick and crying. It wasn’t all the time. It was, like I said before, waves. I was fine, until I wasn’t. The misplaced ‘joke’ broke me in the immediate aftermath. It brought me back to my teenage years. I was insecure. I definitely didn’t think I was pretty. Those insecurities were never things that I was bullied for at school. But they were insecurities which were never dealt with. And they did control my first few years as a young adult, from 18-21 years old.

I’m done, now, with this incident at university. Obviously, I hope there are certain outcomes, but the best outcome for me would be that the perpetrator realises that it was never about offence. If you take me out of it, it is about what is ok to say, and what isn’t. It is about professionalism. If you leave me in it, it is about this misguided thought process of the 21st Century. It is about people thinking they can say and/or write what they want, without thinking more deeply about the person they’re talking/writing about.

For me, as a professional, this is the challenge. Michael Gove, I know you won’t read this… but I wish you would. It isn’t about the facts which we fill children’s heads with. And it isn’t about how well they will contribute to society, economically. It is about working out what each child’s insecurities are, and tackling them. It is about teaching children to have respect and empathy. It is about guiding children and teenagers and young adults away from those feelings of anxiety and paranoia. Finally, it is about how well children today will contribute to society, emotionally and socially. I believe that all practitioners need to reflect on the new National Curriculum (2014) and upon their own practice. We all need to work out how we can develop children’s emotional and social intelligence; how we can nurture each child’s health and wellbeing. For me, that begins in the classroom. It begins with the teacher.