“Memorize This, Ya Bam…”

I pretty much forget or misplace my bus pass, hearing aid and/or glasses on a daily basis. If I don’t do things immediately, or make some sort of very obvious note reminder of them, then I am sure to forget to do so 3 minutes after it occurred to me.

In my job, however, I expect my older pupils to revise and remember great chunks of information – some of it directly quoted from a literary text. Information that will help them in the appropriate English exam paper. Information that they then have to pick through and put down on paper in a properly relevant and structured form. In 90 minutes. Under exam pressure.

This exercise will be replicated in some way in almost every other exam that they sit.

I haven’t done the same myself in 27 years. I teach broadly the same texts over and over, but if you were to ask me to quote accurately from any of them, I would be struggling.

But I expect this generation to do so: a generation who can find the answer (correctly or incorrectly) to any question that they need by typing it into their phones. Or tablets. Or laptops.

As a “wheat from chaff” measure, I suppose it makes sense. But it heavily rewards memory. Even if a student has studied and studied, revised and revised, the entire course of their future school career or life is dependent on what they have succeeded in holding onto the moment that they walk into the exam room.

And, as said, this is a generation who need to retain very little of what they have read in their every day lives.

I can’t help but feel that the exam system needs to change to accommodate and test the skills that are most useful in the students’ lives. The skills of finding, analysing critically, and using the information they are given via a blue screen. The skills of recognising credible sources. The skills of identifying what they are being sold, and how it is being sold to them.

Memory, after all, is a faulty tool.

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The Going Deaf Thing.

I reckon that I have been in denial about my hearing loss for…ooh…5 years?

I mean, yes, obvs, I have hearing aids, and a free bus pass(for the moment) and closed caption subtitles for EVERYTHING I watch. I cannot completely ignore the fact that I am going deaf.

But. It takes social interaction to remind me properly and painfully that I cannot hear the way other people can hear. That my experience of the world is somewhat akin to being in the next hotel room over to a couple having the barney of a lifetime; you can tell that they are fighting,  but not, annoyingly, what they are specifically fighting about. 

So, from conversation in noisy environments, I can read tone and facial expression, and fake the appropriate reponse; but I catch bits and pieces of the specifics, not all. Hearing aids help only so far – I still have to focus my listening attention on everything that is being said to me, as the aids pick up all the extraneous sound around. If I have to ask for some thing to be repeated, I am only going to ask ONCE. Twice, three times, would be mortifying.

Listening constantly is exhausting. If you see me zone out, it is not boredom; I am needing a “mental break” to reset my listening faculties.

In my daily teaching experience, having my pupils repeat things to me is significantly less embarrassing. Because, after all, I am already that “weird teacher.” A legend status is useful in this job.

But, socially, in the very settings that I would have thrived in in my 20s and 30s, I find myself isolated, wary of making conversation. I want to honour friendships by my presence at important and not-so-important events, I want to LIVE outside of the walls of my classroom and home. Doing so, however, cranks my anxiety to the max. I no longer worry that people “like” me because of my personality; I worry that I frustrate them with my deafness.

And none of this addresses the underlying fear. The one made plain by the experience of my uncle, who is now profoundly deaf. The one so helpfully emblazoned on an advertising feature about hearing loss. The one that links heart disease, stroke,   dementia, to hearing loss. The one that tells me that, in a short number of years, I could become a major burden for my little family.

I am no longer in denial. I am, however, tearful and terrified for the future.

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Oh, What A Lovely War!

I remember being properly shit scared as a teenager that a senile old man in the Kremlin and an equally senile old man in Washington D.C were going to blow the world to pieces. Starting, of course, with Britain, because (a) we were smack bang in the middle and (b) playing reluctant host to America’s nuclear arsenal.

This was, of course, when the world didn’t have anything like the nuclear capability or weapon technology that it now has. The sort of technology that can make a nuclear war – a nuclear fucking war – “thinkable”; “limited”; “tactical.” Or, in the words of General “Buck” Turgidson: “…no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks.”

As a commenter on the blog post correctly states, if Obama had said what Putin despairingly told journalists recently, the world would be in full-scale panic mode.

Instead, we are being distracted by political Punch and Judy shows while the military-industrial complex quietly starts the timer on its nuclear war schedule.

The Canary: There’s A War On the Way

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Sucking Helium.

I have lost my voice.  It followed a week of constantly blowing my nose, then coughing so hard, I had to hold onto the carpet. This is Day Four of speaking like Minnie Mouse.  Or, for those of us raised on kids’ TV in the 1980s, Baron Greenback from “Dangermouse.”

This is the second bout of a viral infection that I have had in 3 months.  Both after I failed to get my annual flu jab in February, because I really should have got it in October, and anyway, the “season is over.”  Even though I got my last flu jab LAST February, because it came with my asthma check.  Anyway.

The last two weeks at work have thus followed the following pattern: 3 days at work, two days in bed, a weekend upright again as “fun Mum”, back to work with no voice, then struggling again two days later to stay upright. All of which does my absence record at work a power of good.

As a viral infection, the only cures would appear to be drinking warm liquids and rest.  Which is easier said than done, when your body is exhausted but your brain is still ticking over and over.  God bless Alphabear. Rest is further complicated by the  feelings of guilt, and anxiety, which are always attendant with my being ill. Guilt that others are losing non-contact time to cover my classes; guilt that my absence slows up the schedule of learning that my senior kids have to complete in a year; guilt that my husband, just recovering from a bout of some bug himself, has to do more than half the parenting and household duties.  Anxiety about my absence from work, and the impact it will have on my workload when I return.

I don’t need any psychologist to tell me that these are control issues, and a fear of not being considered sufficiently indispensable.  Fortunately, my anxieties are palpably less strong than they would have been on previous occasions of illness,  thanks to the anti-anxiety medication that I have been taking; but they are still there, the “bad thoughts.”

What this has lead me to consider properly for the first time, is the daily experience of people with debilitating conditions – especially those which have peaks and troughs, like fibromyalgia, or chronic fatigue syndrome, or rheumatoid arthritis.  The frustration of feeling useless, waiting for my body to sort itself and get back to normal – that is a daily occurrence for people with these conditions, not something which will go away and stay away (if I remember to get my jab.)  Having your brain going batshit while your body cries foul…looking the same as you did the day before, but being unable to operate at anything like the same level…fuck that.  Fuck all of that.

I am on holiday for 6 weeks as of Saturday.  I have plenty of time to get well, recover, get back to being a “useful” member of society.  If there was a possibility that I wouldn’t completely recover, or that my feeling ill, sore or exhausted would return in – one week? Two weeks? Three days? I think that I might go out of my mind. Big, big kudos to those who don’t fully recover and get on with it anyway.



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#First Work Problems

It’s been an interesting time at work, recently.  And I do partially mean in the Serenity “Oh, God, oh, God, we’re all going to die” sense.

The inspectors have been in.

In a change to the previous 3-week warning, the inspectors now give 3 days.  Our warning came on the Wednesday two weeks ago: they were arriving on the following Monday.  So, technically, we got longer because you could come into school at the weekend…but still.  3 days.

I get that this is still in the “try-out” stages, and our school was one of the beta testers for the new-style school inspection.  I get that this gives a proper sense of a school in its normal clothes, as opposed to its “Sunday best”, which was the issue with the former system.  Inspectors must be quite familiar with the smell of fresh Blu-Tack. Continue reading

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Goodbye To My Thigh Gap.

For a long number of years, I have used three methods of ascertaining whether I am getting a little more hefty than I should be: Continue reading

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Life Long Learning

I’m never very good with the vocabulary of curricular matters.  Especially big, nationwide, and current curricular matters, like Curriculum For Excellence.  I mean, I’m not completely ignorant, but when I try to talk about them, I end up sounding like the boys from “The I.T. Crowd” talking about football:

I am aware, however, of the philosophy of lifelong learning, and I pretty much agree with that.  Because, if there is one job on this planet which involves lifelong learning, it is teaching.  And I don’t mean the business of making lifelong learners out of sleepy, grumpy, disease-carrying adolescents.  I mean the business of ME learning on a daily basis how to do this job better.

21 years in, and I’m still learning.  I teach the same texts year on year,  but not because I want to make things easier for myself, although I do not judge anyone else for doing so (seriously, only someone as addicted to cortisol as I am tries to make teaching harder for themselves); rather because I want to teach them better this time around.  So I revise the teaching materials, try new methodologies, find better ways of assessing the pupils’ grasp on what they are reading and writing.

Today is a case in point; sitting in a classroom after work with colleagues from my school and a catchment area primary, going over the benefits and ways of enabling our pupils to engage usefully in peer assessment activities.  Wincing as I spot better ways of doing things in my classroom, because a little voice whispers that I should, after 20 years’ experience, know these ways already.

I know where this continual need to prove myself (and to improve myself) as a teacher comes from.  20 years ago, a headmaster in a school in the North of England told me, two months into the job there, that he didn’t think I was cut out for the job of teaching.  Year Two was the worst year of my teaching experience, even including the year when I was repeatedly crank-called by a particularly vicious little madam. She is now a social worker: go figure.

And his is the voice bubbling under my daily teaching experience: the one that calls me a fraud, a fake, someone who is not really meant to be doing this.  Doesn’t matter that the headmaster was a bit of a shit in terms of people management, or that the last – well, 15 years anyway – have proven his words to be utterly worthless.  It’s still there, poking at me, making me justify myself and the decisions I make on the content and style of the lessons.

Still, it makes teaching for me as fraught, lively, enervating and engaging as it was 20 years ago.  And, given I’ve got another 20 years on the clock before I can retire with a full pension,  perhaps that is actually a good thing.

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