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With the coming of this new academic year, I discovered I was going to be teaching year 3 and 4.  These children are between the ages of 7 and 9.  They are older than I am used to.  They are different in so many ways, and so similar in many others.  And I am learning the true meaning of teaching skills being transferable.

I think, that when you teach the same year group for many years, you get stuck in the mind-set of “I can only teach Year X”.  And that is so untrue.  SO, SO, SO many of the skills I used with the Littles, I now use just as effectively on the Slightly Biggers.

Anyway…  Yesterday some Year 4 girls committed my most hated child-sin.  Talking when I’m talking.  And after multiple warnings, a playtime was missed.  And during this playtime, they had to write me a letter of apology.  And who knew an 8 year old girl could be so unintentionally funny?  And become I intend “letters of apology” to be my go-to consequence, because they make me laugh, why not record them here also?  For the enjoyment of the wider Internet?  Once these letters were finished, a little line of girls appeared at the staffroom door.  It was hard to maintain my “cross face” once I finished reading these.

FYI:  Identities are concealed.  Most spelling is corrected.  But all grammar and intonation is left exactly as written.  Additional comments from me are in bold.

Letter 1.

Dear Miss Nicholson,

I am so sorry for not listening to you in class.  I will promise not to do it next time because I don’t want to go upstairs next time (missed playtimes are spent in the upstairs classroom).  I knew what I did but I feel so sorry for what I’ve done.  I didn’t mean to do it Miss Nicholson.  I double, triple promise not to do it next time in class.  So sorry once again.  Kind regards, X

Letter 2.

Dear Ms Nicoleson,

I won’t talk in a lesson again.  I am sorry for what I did.  I will try my best while working and whenever you talk.  I won’t.  I will listen and write my best.  I know talking over you is not good.  I still feel very sorry for talking.  If you tell me to write, I will and if you tell me to stop talking I will.

Acrostic Poem for you

Sorry for talking,

Oh so sorry I am,

Really I will try my best,

Really.  I will not speak,

You are the best teacher.

 

Sorry for talking.  Next time I won’t talk.  You are the best teacher and I have done you wrong.

Sorry Poem For You

Every time I talk, I will know when to stop, you look very pretty every time you wear a frock.  I will stop talking and I will give my mouth a lock.  Shouting is not good, neither is talking when you talk.

Letter 3.

Dear Miss Nicolson,

I am extremely sorry.  I promise I shall never do it again and I will not get distracted again.  I know it is very rude and disrespectful to you.  I deserve this punishment and I need a good education.  It will never happen again.  I will never be silly, you are the kindest teacher ever.  I am awfully sorry.

Things I need to remember:  Good listening, concentrating, don’t be silly, focus

I am deeply sorry.

Yours sincerely, X

PS:  I will never be silly again.

Letter 4.

I am so sorry I did not stop talking when you told me to.  I am not going to do it again.  I promise in future I will not do anything wrong.  It is very hard to be quiet when people talk to you.  I did not mean to make you angry with me.  I am deeply sorry.  I feel very sad.  I am very angry with myself.

Kind regards, X

 

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We’re now solidly into February, and Spring is making valiant efforts, here and there, to get started.

It’s scary to think that in about 8 weeks I’ll start preparing my class for the annual May Day celebrations, and once that’s done, the slide down to summer officially begins.  In fact, it’s already technically started.  February half-term officially signals that half the school year is done.  And when the previous summer still feels fairly recent in your head, it can seem a surprising thought to know you’re over the mountain of the academic year.

Anyway, my resolution for the new year was to cook more.  Not cakes, breads or anything like that.  I have no aptitude for them and no one here anyway, to share in the eating of.  I’m talking more of main meals.  Savoury things.  The meals of the day-to-day.  And tied to that resolution was the desire to spend less time on the internet, and more time reading, cooking and watching things on the telly that interest me.  The internet still has its place, but I feel like I waste less time on it and spend more time on things that ultimately make me feel happier, calmer and more productive.  As a result, this past half term has passed much easier than the one before Christmas, and although the work-load remains constant, I find I now get it done quicker and have more time away from it.

And through making more of an effort to cook more, and try new meals, I am enjoying it more and more, and pleasingly, it has turned into something I’m actually quite good at.  That daily movement towards the kitchen, and the trips to the supermarket to get the ingredients for a lot more “cooking from scratch” is fun to me.  I think that, when you have a job that is more physically demanding, and often extremely intellectually demanding, taking the time to do something practical with your hands that produces something necessary for your body, is a good balance to the other demands.

 

Personally, I did not grow up cooking.  I baked cakes and the like from time to time, but I don’t recall ever doing it independently.  I only ever did it with Mum, and (for me anyway, I don’t know about her), it was more about spending time together and creating a joint thing, than focused so much on the finished product.

The day to day act of “cooking to feed growing children” was rarely something I got involved with, and although I watched the process most days, I rarely participated or had any interest in doing so.  But lately…  I find myself scanning blogs and websites, and real, actual cookbooks, and marking pages and making shopping lists based on what I choose.

And just this month alone, I have discovered the sharp, cheesy, tangy wonder that is pesto, perfect smothered on chicken and baked in the oven.  I stuffed chicken breasts with mozzarella, tomato paste and pepperoni, and discovered it was way better than any hunters chicken I’d ever eaten out.  I made a vinegary pea sauce and mixed it with salmon paste and actual salmon chunks to plonk on a pasta dish, and just a few chilli flakes, and it was delicious.

It has been fun to dirty every single pan I have, and to use every single knife.  It has been fun to buy things from the supermarket, and consciously choose free range, or grass-fed, or organic.

There is something that feels so nice inside, about choosing to make things out of foods my grandmas or great-grandmas would have recognised.  And while ready meals and ease still very much have their place (a ready meal on Tuesday choir night is a pleasing necessary, and a ready-made pizza is still hard to beat), making things from scratch makes me feel rather smug and proud of myself!  And why not embrace things that make you feel good?

 

 

Yesterday, as I drove home from work, I listened on the radio as Donald J Trump was sworn in as the 45th US president, and then went on to give his inaugural speech.  And damn, he’s got good speech writers, because it wasn’t entirely offensive.  And had I been American, less educated, more right-wing, and more stupid, I might have just bought it.  However, because I’m not American, possess a post-graduate degree, vote left and am not stupid, I didn’t buy it for a second.

For starters, this man dared to mention god during his speech.  Honestly?  Who, hand on heart, believes he is a practising church-goer?  Looking at the things he has said and done, on the campaign trail alone, this isn’t a man who loves his neighbour, or who openly practises any of the fundamental teachings of any religion.  Those far-right bible-belt evangelicals may have been thrilled, but to everyone else it sounded moronic.  This is a man who is more atheist than I am.

Yesterday afternoon, as I listened to America step into the abyss…  It’s like watching a young child, or dopey teenager do something intensely stupid and damaging…  And you can only watch in bemusement.  America, as a nation, is so far removed from their own positive perceptions of themselves, that it’s laughable.  Civil rights, gun legislation, immigration, health care, LGBTQ rights…  They are so far removed from “equality, freedom and justice for all” that I don’t know how they dare to call themselves civilised.

However, maybe there is hope for them.  As a member myself of the first generation that grew up online, we have a perception of the wider world, and took it upon ourselves to understand and try to appreciate those people who are not exactly like us.  And as I got older, I grew to know a significant number of American women.  None of whom voted for Trump.  They represent the best of America.  They are wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, teachers, scientists, nurses, designers and entrepreneurs.  And if these women are opposed to Trump, when they are the best of the best, the rest of us must understand, and support them in their view, that this man is not a person equipped or to be entrusted with the most powerful job in the world.  This is a man who is a proven bigot, sexual predator and compulsive liar.  He is a man who appears to embrace and take pleasure in his own ignorance, bigotry and misogyny.

I completely fail to see what this man has to offer the world beyond fear and separation.  Trump supporters laughed it off as “just talk”, and that he would mellow into something more moderate.  This has yet to be seen.  Indeed, before the inaugural speech was even over, climate change and civil rights were removed from the White House website.  He moves fast.  Honestly, he has no reason to moderate.  He won the most powerful job on Earth, just as he is.  His views have already received the validation they needed.  Why change what has worked?  This is a man who has zero experience of politics or the military, yet now has a nuclear arsenal to play with.  How is that possibly seen as right or reasonable?

And who is to blame for this mess?  The answer is, I think, everyone and no one.  And who really cares about blame now?  The most powerful country on earth have voluntarily elected their most dangerous leader to date.  Someone right out of the history pages of the early 20th century.  This is the man who said “I love war”.  A man with zero experience, zero sense and zero capacity to lead with integrity.

Good luck America.  Good luck World.

And just like that, the summer is over.

Oh, I’m sure we’ll have gloriously hot, summer-like days in the coming weeks but the slower, drifting pace of summer is over. And what I really mean by slower pace is that I now have to drive myself to school every morning, and come home tired, as the sun starts to set.

I have officially starting my second year at my current school and my… 6th? year in teaching.  I’ve stopped and started, and changed around so much, I do lose track.

Continuing to take on more responsibility in terms of leadership, and interested to see what happens with that over the year ahead.  But still no desire to push into management.

And now it’s September, I have that excited feeling when the school year begins.  That sense of “new academic year” has been such a constant my entire life, that I think it’ll always be tied with that sense of “new beginnings” and “let’s give this another go”.  More so for me than January ever has been.  I am excitedly trying out new systems and switching things around.

September helps me realise that life is constantly in motion, and always comes round again.

It has been lovely to come back to school and see how much “my” children have changed in the 6 weeks since I saw them last.  The Year Ones I sent up to Year Two now look huge, and responsible and confident.  And my new Year Ones, once my Receptions, are so mature and capable compared to the new Receptions who came to join me this week.  I look at my Year Ones and feel quite proud.  I helped mold these thoughtful and funny little beings.

Hello again September.  I quite like you.

Yesterday, during a spontaneous shopping trip to Milton Keynes, I stumbled across a free exhibition of photos from the Titanic.

Subsequent research has shown that this particular exhibition is about to embark on a world tour.  But while it was sufficiently interesting to be worth 15 minutes of time, even more so as it was free, I can’t see people falling over themselves to make any sort of special trip for it, and certainly not paying for it.

That being said, the most interesting part of the exhibition came right at the end.  There was a passenger and crew manifest, colour-coded according to whether they lived or died.  A cursory look through quickly reveals that First Class women had the best chance of survival, and Third Class men, and crew members had the worst chances.

But when you actually look more closely at the names, and ages of people, some really sad stories pop out.

One of those is the Fortune family from Manitoba, Canada, travelling in First Class.  64-year old Mark Fortune was travelling with his 60-year old wife, 3 daughters in their 20s, and their 19-year old son.  During the sinking, the wife and 3 daughters were all put onto the same lifeboat, and Mark, and his son Charles, both died.  Neither of their bodies were ever found.

Also, affected in the same way was the Ryerson family from New York.  61-yead old Arthur managed to get his wife, her maid, their 2 daughters, their 13-year old son, and their governess on board the same boat.  But he was not so fortunate.  His body was never recovered.

Similarly, Dr William Minahan from Wisconsin managed to put his wife and sister onto the same boat, but did not survive himself.  Some might say that his family were “lucky”, in that William’s body was one of only 335 out of 1500+ perished, that were ever recovered from the sea post-sinking.

 

From looking at the list, it was also very clear how your luck depended almost solely on your class of travel, and your gender.

Generally, if you were female, in First Class, your chance of survival was pretty close to 100%.  And across the genders, eye-balling the list, your overall chance of survival in First was about 75%.  But if you split it on gender lines, men in First fared less well.  In fact, of all those who died from First Class, only 5 were women.

When you continue down the list to Second Class, again, virtually all who lived were women and children, but your overall chances of survival were lower.  Your chances, across genders, was about 50%.  But if you were female, or under 18, your chances were probably about as good as those in First.

But then you get to the unfortunate souls travelling in Third Class.  There, your gender or age didn’t get you very far.  If you got on a boat, you were incredibly lucky.  The chances you had of survival were about 20%.

A few sad tales also emerge from here, of whole families, or even whole families minus 1 (which I’d argue was worse) being wiped out.

There was Mr and Mrs Andersson from Sweden, and their 5 children, all aged 11 or under, who all died, and were never found.

There was also the Asplund family, also from Sweden, consisting of 40-year old Carl, his wife Selma, and their 5 children.  Selma, and the two youngest children, a girl and a boy, aged 5 and 3 were able to get on a boat and lived.  Carl and his other 3 sons, aged 13, 9 and 5, all died.  Carl’s body was later recovered, but the bodies of the boys were never found.  Of the two children saved, the 5-year old was a girl, Lillian.  Her 5-year old twin brother Carl Edgar was one of those who died.  Lillian went on to be the last living survivor who had memories of the sinking.  Two survivors outlived her, but both had been less than a year old at the time of the accident.

The Goodwin family were also completely wiped out.  Frederick and Augusta, both in their 40s, and their 6 children, aged 16 to 1.  The only body recovered as that of Sidney, the youngest.  His discovery shocked the crew who pulled his body from the water, to such as extent, that they paid for a memorial for him from their own wages.  He remained unidentified until 2008 when DNA testing by the Armed Forces lab revealed his identity.

 

Of the crew who sailed on the Titanic, your chances depended mostly on the job you held.  There was only an extremely small number of female crew members, so those numbers are not taken into account.

If you were deck crew, your chances were pretty good.  Around 80%.  I imagine that was because those were the men on-deck at the time of the collision, so had the most warning to get off in time, but also because they were the ones who would have manned the life boats.

Conversely, if you were engineering crew, and therefore based deep in the bowels of the ship, your chances were extremely poor.  In all likelihood, those men were probably trapped early on by water getting in, and most likely drowned in those first few moments after the collision.  That being said, subsequent reports have praised the work of some of the engineering crew, who were working the water pumps and preventing the boilers coming into contact with water, which may have saved the ship from sinking for an extra hour, giving many more life boats a chance to launch.

Another department to fare badly was the victualing department.  Nowadays these would be waiters and waitresses, maids, receptionists and the like.  They had a survival chance of about 10%.  But the largest group to do the most poorly was the restaurant staff.  They were employed separately, not by White Star Line.  There was some debate, post-sinking, whether they were locked in their quarters by stewards, to prevent them rushing the life boats, but this was never proven.

Needless to say, it was a tragedy that led to great loss of life, but also to vast over-hauls in passenger safety and evacuation procedures.  To this day, cruise guests all have to attend mandatory safety briefings over what to do in a case of emergency.  Public safety, and something that seems glaringly obvious (like having enough lifeboats for the number of people onboard), was a un-thought-of concept in the early 1900s.  The idea of a mass tragedy, aboard “the un-sinkable” Titanic, was something that would never have occurred to anyone.  To put safety procedures into place was seen as an admittance that “something might go wrong”, which was simply an unacceptable thought, and therefore not worth thinking about, or planning for.

 

 

At the end of last year, I was approached by my old university to see whether I’d be interested in mentoring a second year student as part of their newly-launched mentoring scheme…  There was a bit of investment on my part, in terms of training, but nothing that I didn’t really already know from my own teaching experience.  Plus I know that my dad has been successfully mentoring a number of students (now independent adults) for some years, and has found it to be a rewarding experience.

So I thought I’d give it a go!

I was originally paired with a student named Jack (female), with an interest in teaching as a career.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the “meet and greet” that the university set up…  I mean, I could have attended, but it was a week night event, an hour and a half drive from where I live, in early December.  Forgive me for not wanting to do that.  Even if they’d made it a Saturday afternoon or evening…  I’d have gone to that.  I really would have.  Anyway, I made that clear to the student, and also said that I’d be happy to make the trip down for a face to face, perhaps at Easter, and made a weekend of it, revisiting old jaunts and the like.  It would have been fun!

Admittedly, I didn’t have high hopes for the process from the beginning…  Jack wasn’t particularly engaged (was it being pushed as a course requirement?), but she did ask a few questions, to which I responded, and asked my own questions back.  This lasted maybe 4 emails, into late January.  And I haven’t heard a word from her since.

In February I was asked by the university if I’d take another student on.  And as Jack was apparently dead, I agreed.  This particular student did even more poorly.  We had, “hello student!  I’m Sally!” and then “hello Sally, I’m X.”  I can’t even remember their name.  And then complete and utter radio silence.

Of course, I could contact my link at the university to raise the issue – I do get periodic mass emails from the office in charge, full of the joys over how well the initiative is going! – but I have no desire to get either student into trouble.  And frankly, I can’t be arsed to get involved in a back-and-forth of emails explaining “why this isn’t working” and “oh dear, what can we do about that?” replies.

That “can’t be arsed” mentality reminds me a great deal of “Spoon Theory”.  In that “Spoons” can represent… “energy levels”, “cares”, or to be crude, “fucks given”.  And over the course of a day, week, month, there is a fixed level of Spoons that can be allocated to be “spent” on general life.  Now, for most people of my age, Spoons are to be spent, in their majority, on work/mental and physical health/relationships.  And by the time most of the Spoons have been spent on those areas, there are only very few left over to be spent on an unknown and apparently ungrateful undergraduate in a town not even moderately close to where you currently live.

And even less so when that undergraduate is both disinterested and unappreciative of your time, Spoons left to allocate to even emailing their superiors, fall to a figure approximating zero.  And when you swap the term “spoons” for “fucks given”, you’ll understand why I’ve done nothing about it!

In all, I haven’t been even a tiny bit surprised to find the experience a total bust.  I knew it almost from the day I sent an email back to the initial “would I be interested?” query.  *shrug*

Of course, I like to be open to new experiences.  I actively seek them out as much as time and finances will allow.  I’m a firm believer that new experiences, especially positive ones, lead to ultimately happier and more fulfilled lives.  However, unfortunately there is no way to see ahead to find out whether that initial punt on a new experience is going to be life-enhancing, or, as in the case of this one, a complete and utter waste of time!

 

I think, if we all think hard enough, there is at least one thing that we are significantly better that than the general population is. For me, it’s songs.  Both lyrics and tunes.  I have a pretty freakish memory for an exceptional number of songs, that stretch back right into the mists of time.

I like to test the skill periodically on “new songs” – that is, new to me. I have done it today specially for this post, with Hank Williams’ “I Saw The Light”.  I chose this song because I happened to hear it for the first time about 3 days ago.  Today I found it with lyrics on YouTube and gave it a go.  By the 3rd listen I can sing along with it with about 90% accuracy and on the 4th I can sing most of it independently.  Granted, this is quite a simple song, as songs go, but I find that listen 3 and 4 generally result in a secure knowledge, irregardless of the song.  The same goes for foreign language songs, suggesting it is working in my brain at a deeper level than purely language.  And once the song is learnt, it’s there in my brain forever and ever.  I still remember songs I learnt years and years ago, and haven’t sung for just as long.

And like all talents, most of them start off from when we are young. Because, as everyone knows, if you want to become expert at something, you need to start young.  I developed this particular skill aged 5, with the soundtrack to ‘Joseph’.  I listened to it constantly and would be “tested” with the lyric book by being given a lyric, and me saying the next one.  I don’t recall ever getting it wrong.  And now, being able to recite the colours of Joseph’s coat, in order, is still my party trick.

Musicals in general are still my strength. I guess it’s because it’s what I started with, but there are soooooo many musicals I know the whole thing of…  Off the top of my head I know ABSOLUTELY ALL of:

Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Lion King, Miss Saigon, Matilda, Oliver, Love Never Dies, Wicked, Joseph, The Sound of Music, Cats, Chess, and probably a load more.

Then there are another load that I know mooooost of…

In all, the number of songs I know probably counts well into the thousands.

I guess this incessant rote learning put the necessary skill into my five year old brain, the perfect age for something like that. And 25 years later, I’ve still got the knack because I have practised it.  I still hunt out or stumble over new music and my brain sucks it in just as quickly.

Aren’t brains weird?!

What’s your unusual talent?