Last day of school! Woo hoo!
And trust me, that is exactly what is going through my head right now…..as I chill, relax, sip my wine. I feel like I can breathe again, after days, weeks, months of chasing my tail.
This evening has a feeling like no other. The beginning of my time with my family, where I can switch off (for a little while at least), and just enjoy being a mum.
But this evening is also one of the toughest nights of the year, and when I explain why, I can guarantee that a bzillion other teachers are sitting on their lounges thinking the exact same thing.
You see today was my last day with my kids. No, not my two beautiful offspring…..my other kids. The kids that I spend all day, every day with. The kids that, over the last twelve months, I have cared for, loved, nurtured, soothed, calmed, listened to, mentored, laughed with, cried with….oh, and taught. I have listened to their stories from the weekend, grinning and nodding as they tell me every detail of their Saturday morning soccer victory. I have comforted them after a fight with a friend. I have pretended to be gobsmacked by the rock that they found in the gutter that morning. The rock that they are convinced is the Te Fiti Heart stone from Moana. And I have then wrapped it in a tissue and placed it in a special spot so that no one could touch it.
I have wiped their tears.
I have laughed at their stories.
I have watched as they have grown from a level 5 reader to a level 17. I have watched their writing grow from one sentence to a whole page story. I have panicked when I thought I wasn’t doing enough and I have smiled when they achieved their goals, hoping that I had played some small part in that.
And today, I said goodbye to them.
They’ll still be there next year. I’ll see them on the playground, at assembly and as they walk past my room and up to Year 2. But you see, these kids are no longer mine. Some will stop and say hi. Some will come and curiously wonder who has taken their spot in the classroom. But they will move on.
After spending all day every day with them, I won’t be there when they move up another reading level, or conquer another learning goal, or make a new friend.
I am so proud of them. So eager for them to achieve everything they set out to achieve. I have adored (nearly) every second of having them as my kids.
And that is why tonight, although it’s one of the best nights of the year, is also one of the hardest.
As a teacher, I get lots of awesome moments. From kids, parents, colleagues….I’m lucky like that.
But last week, I had a number of awesome teacher moments that occurred during Parent Teacher Interview week. Interview after interview, late nights, dinner in the school canteen three nights in a row….and yes, it was still awesome. There were many. Moments where I walked away from an interview thinking, "I have the best job in the world.' There were two though that really stuck with me....
Awesome moment 1
During one particular interview a parent asked me if there was any chance that I was going to teach this same grade again in Year 2. This is huge...read on and I’ll tell you why.
Awesome moment 2
I received the most beautiful email of my entire teaching career, expressing not just thanks but complete gratitude for the hours of work that she, as parent, never sees. For the obvious love and care that I show her child and for supporting both her and her little one. Again, huge.
And I’ll tell you why. Because as teachers, the pattern is usually (definitely not always), that we hear from parents when something is wrong. And to hear about the things that are going right, that the things that I am striving for every day are having an impact….this is huge. Whether you are a school teacher, a ballet teacher, a soccer coach, a tae kwon do master….I’m sure you get it. For some of the parents you work with, the only time you get feedback, is when you get it wrong!
You see, for this first parent to ask if there was any chance that his daughter may have me again next year, tells me that I am getting something right. For that second parent to send me that email, from a place of complete gratitude, tells me that I am doing something right. That I am not just teaching the curriculum, or just creating engaging lessons….it tells me that the relationship that I have developed with their families, and in particular my amazing students, is mutual. That they can see, feel and appreciate the investment that I have made in their beautiful kids.
I completely get that you have to let teachers know when things are heading south. I completely understand that you might be concerned about your child’s learning, or their friendships or the fact that you disagree with how I handled something. This is part of my job. I am not perfect, your child is not perfect and we need to have that relationship that allows me to have those discussions with you.
But when you get those moments when parents really take the time to thank you, to let you know that they get how hard you work for the benefit of their child, or to recognise just how emotionally invested you are in your ‘job’, this is huge. It’s tear worthy! And you would probably be surprised at how many teachers have a little tear when they do get that moment with a parent!
So, thank you to those that gave me that boost in Week 10 of Term 2. After weeks of writing, editing and publishing reports, after a week of parent teacher interviews, after 6 months of building that amazing relationship with each of my students and watching them grow. Thank you for the amazing constructive conversation that we had, where we discussed what wasn’t working and what we needed to change. But thank you most of all, for thanking me.
I spend waaaay too much money on clothes. I completely admit it. My friends know it, my husband knows it….even my kids know it. The secretaries at work don’t even bat an eyelid when yet another parcel arrives for me at work (in a lame attempt to hide it from my husband….he’s an accountant. He checks the credit card), and the Australia Post delivery guy just rolls his eyes at me when I do happen to be home during his delivery.
But now…..I’m on a budget. That’s right, Mr Not Another Supermum and I are going on our honeymoon…..12 years later! NYC, here I come. And it’s Summer over there so I had to stock up on a few new pieces for the trip. Come on, ALL the Summer goodness is on clearance prices! 50% off the reduced price at Portmans online….Woohoo!
But it’s time to stop. And you know who my worst enemy is in this struggle…..Cookies. No, not the choc chip kind. The follow your every move, track all your purchases, internet browsing and google searches kind. The one that has meant that since I bought my Estee Lauder foundation six months ago, I have had Estee Lauder advertisements popping up on my Facebook feed for ages….tempting me, willing me, teasing me…..
Even the internet is against me. Every time I open my chrome book (I can’t afford a Mac because of my ridiculous make-up addiction), I am greeted with clothing ads...Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, even the ads on YouTube when I open up a video to use in class are geared towards my shopping habit! Even my 6 year old students know that I shop too much!
I get it. It’s convenient. Why go searching for what you want, when the magic of the internet puts it in front of you 24/7?! Well, when you are trying to curb your spending, the internet is no longer your best friend…..IT’S YOUR WORST ENEMY!
I am trying. I am trying so hard. But the latest Witchery sale, Sephora Clearance….the list goes on…..it all appears like magic tempting me to buy.
So here is my public commitment. No more spending until I actually land in New York. (Actually, we have a four hour stop over at LAX, so let’s just say American soil). For the next few weeks, I will scrimp and save and definitely NOT purchase those cute Sportsgirl shoes that I saw for 20% off in the shopping centre today.
I solemnly swear that…...Ooooooh, Stocktake Sale!
So, an article popped up on my FB feed tonight about a woman who quit teaching after 30 years….for a variety of reasons, but number one….was burnout. And there was one line in this article that really grabbed me. Shocked me. Made me feel desperate…..that I had to do something.
‘A report out this week found that up to half of all Australian teachers are leaving the profession in the first five years’
Woah. Five years….We’re not even lasting five years!
Now, I can’t change the system. I’m not a politician, a policy implementer or a curriculum maker. But I am a writer (of sorts) and I can do this…..I can write a letter to the first year out graduate teachers. Those of you who are have just started, who still have that fire, that passion and that eagerness to just get into your own classroom and make a difference.
So here it is.
It’s half way through the first year and I know that it’s been tough. The teaching job that you thought that you signed up for, has actually become your lifestyle. It’s always there in the back of your mind, isn’t it?! When you are blow drying your hair in the morning. When you are cooking dinner. When you are putting the kids to bed. No matter what you are doing, your classroom full of kids and what you are going to do for them tomorrow….it’s all lingering in the back of your thoughts.
And once those kids are in bed, the time that you thought you would have with your husband…..is now planning, programming, reporting time. It’s when you do the work that you can’t fit into your normal 9-5 day because you have a room full of kidlets who need your attention ALL DAY. Who need you to be switched on and focused from the moment you walk through the school gates, until you leave after yet another staff meeting.
You’ve been told to differentiate your teaching for the kids in your class….who have a reading age range from about 4 years old to the kid who is 8, and could cope quite nicely in Year 7 English. You want to do your best for all 30 of them, but the range is so big and you feel like you are not quite hitting the mark.
Well, I’m here to ask you to hang in there. Please….because your colleagues, our schools and our amazing students need you.
Teaching isn’t easy. In fact, it’s ridiculously hard….and takes over your life.
But it’s worth it.
When that child, with the reading age of 4, uses a taught reading strategy for the first time…..it’s worth it.
When that child that you taught in your first year of teaching, who you weren’t actually sure would even finish High School, comes up to you in the supermarket to tell you that they are about the move to Newcastle to go to Uni….it’s worth it.
When that one parent writes you a note in their child’s reading diary to thank you for the work that you are putting in with their child….it’s worth it.
When you are about to collapse in a heap because you are trying so hard to balance life, family and school…..and then get one of those gorgeous handwritten, 6 year old spelt notes telling you that you are loved…..it’s worth it.
When some smartarse makes a comment about teachers working 9-3 and your husband gives you that knowing look because he knows that you were up until 11pm last night, programming an amazing English unit to build your students’ love of reading and literature…..and then that unit actually works and your students’ do actually end up loving reading and literature…..it’s worth it.
No one said that this was going to be easy. It’s going to be hard. But you know what….lots of jobs are.
But it’s going to be worth it. There will be days when you don’t feel like it is. But there will be more that make you realise that it is.
So please, hang in there. You can either get caught up in what makes it hard, what makes it unfair or what makes it so damn difficult…..or you can collaborate with your colleagues, use your mentor, vent to your friends and then focus on the things that make it worth it.
But most of all, you can look at those little faces that are so excited to see you each morning. Smile into their adoring eyes and realise that they are why you are doing this.
"I Don't Know How You Kids Survived".....Why Parenting in 2017 Has to be Different to How our Parents Did it.
“I don’t know how you kids survived.”
Do you ever hear this? When you are agonising over a decision regarding your kids, stressing over an issue that your child has shared with you or wondering whether you are being too strict, too lenient, too restrictive, too nosey…..
There seems to be this view from those that may be a tad older, that we are all stressing too much about it all and that we should just parent how they parented. I’m pretty lucky and don’t cop this very much, but discussions with friends have proven that the general consensus from the older generation is that we all just need to calm our farms and just go on our merry parenting way like they did.
The problem is this…..
Our children are not growing up in the world that we grew up in. They don’t have the same carefree existence that we did and a speaker on kid’s wellbeing that I had the privilege of hearing the other day, made me really reflect on why.
Imagine our life when we were little. You rarely heard about anything much. The news came on at 6 o’clock and that was pretty much the only access that we, as kids, had to worldwide events. Now, our kids hear about world events just minutes after they take place. A bombing in Syria, a crazed driver in Melbourne or most recently, a bombing outside of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. And it’s not just through the news. Their social media is flooded with details and firsthand videos within the hour, their friends are changing their profile pics in support of the victims and people are searching for their loved ones by sharing Facebook posts that get shared exponentially within minutes.
A teen pop sensation, a stadium full of people…...and a suicide bomber. Not a combination that we would have ever considered twenty years ago.
It would be lovely for our kids to be growing up in the same carefree, play in the street until the street lights came on, kind of childhood that we had. But the reality is that they are not. And the stresses and pressures and anxieties that our kids are coping with are real.
While sitting listening to this speaker, a nationally renowned uni lecturer, it dawned on me. My kids were born into a world where a terrorist attack is not just something that you hear about once or twice a year, on the news, in a far off distant land.
It’s a possibility, in cities that they have holidayed in, or live in.
When travelling somewhere by plane, it crosses their mind.
When booking a family holiday, it crosses their mind.
When booking Ed Sheeran tickets, it crosses their mind.
It could happen in Melbourne. It could happen at an Ariana Grande concert…...it could happen anywhere. Now tell me that that’s not stressful.
And it stresses me out too.
Mental illness, teen suicide rates, the immediacy of a world of information and detail that we were once oblivious to.......
It’s not all doom and gloom. Parenting, growing up, raising kids…It’s not all about considering all the horrible things in the world. It’s fun, entertaining and full of moments that make you burst with pride, joy and love…...But it is different.
There was one phrase that struck a chord with me, as I sat in the audience listening to this strong, intelligent woman.
“Children’s shoes are an awkward fit for most adults.”
But maybe that’s what we need to do. When our teens are struggling…..put ourselves in their shoes, their world, their everyday. I’m the first to admit, that I struggle with this. I’m a fixer, a rescuer…..my general response is to just stop stressing and focus on what we are going to do about it. I had never really stopped to think about just how different our kid’s world is. And had I ever really taken that into account? Parenting has to be different in 2017 because the world is different in 2017.
I don’t have the answer. In fact, most of the time I feel like I have no idea what I am doing and whether I am doing it right. Or, whether my kids seem to be turning out ok, despite having such a clueless mother. But I do know this….
I have joked before with friends, that I would not want to be growing up as a teenager in 2017. But I am raising one....
Do you sometimes feel like you have kind of lost yourself? You look back to who you used to be and how you used to be and think, “Where did that girl go?”
I remember once saying to my husband, in one of those busy, cranky moments, “I used to be the funny one!” When I was little, in my family of four kids, I was the funny one. I was quirky and creative and never quite fit in. I remember reading my sister’s journal once, (Sorry Lovely, but we shared a bedroom for eighteen years, it was going to happen eventually), and in it she described me as the black sheep of the family. Not in a bad way. Just in that I was always a little bit left of centre, would often come out with bizarre sayings and would do bizarre things….but over the years…..I have become…..well, normal.
I became a mum and a wife and a teacher and a woman...and somewhere in the process I have started to lose myself.
Perhaps lost isn’t the right verb. I’m not lost….underneath it all, I am still there. But in the busy routines of motherhood, being a wife and being a teacher, I sometimes feel like there is less of me and more and more of what I need to be or should be for everyone else.
No, I don’t think I am lost. But I do think that as mothers and wives and, in my case, teachers, we do sometimes need to turn the focus away from what we are doing for everyone else and back towards ourselves. Not for ever, or even a long time, but just every now and then. So that we don’t get lost.
Over the next week, maybe two….let’s be realistic, probably three, I am going to write a series of articles focusing on not losing ourselves in the routines that we are all so caught up in. I’m sure I’ll come up with a better title at some stage, but at this stage let’s just call it a How To….or more accurately a Why it’s Important Not To.
Why it’s Important Not to Lose Yourself as a …...
Four articles…..with the goal of getting some clarity for myself….and hopefully one or two of you. Clarity around how and why it’s time to turn the focus back to myself…..just a little bit and a little more often.
It’s an amazing time of life. Being a mum, a partner, having a career…..but it doesn’t mean that we have to lose our original selves in the process.
So, we are about a week out from NAPLAN….and sorry to disappoint, but no, this is not another article bagging NAPLAN.
I was catching up with an old friend recently, (It’s amazing how many of my articles start like that. I’m sure they’ll stop talking to me soon!)....
Anyway, we were catching up for a coffee when her daughter, who is in Year 3, came and joined us in the kitchen. She was telling me all about school….friends, her teacher, the choir she’s in (girl after my own heart!), when talk turned to the upcoming NAPLAN.
It’s ok. I won’t go very well. I am not very “smart.”
I could have just smiled and said, “That’s ok, we can’t all be rocket scientists. That’s ok, as long as you try your best….” But for me, it goes a bit deeper than that….
So to all of those gorgeous faced little cherubs sitting their NAPLAN tests next week (including mine, although you’d never know. He hasn’t even mentioned them and neither have we), this is to you.
The Spelling test that you are sitting next week….That doesn’t tell you how smart you are. It does tell your teacher what aspects of Spelling you are already rocking it in and which parts you might need a bit of extra help….but it doesn’t tell you how “smart” you are in anything but Spelling.
That Maths exam…...That doesn’t tell you how smart you are. It tells you how good you are at Maths. It tells your teacher which concepts you’ve got so that they can challenge you in that area. It tells them which areas (probably fractions, if you are anything like me!) of Maths you just can’t get your head around so that they can break it down for you and help you out….but it doesn’t tell you how “smart” you are in anything but Maths.
You get the picture.
I am not anti NAPLAN….I am anti you thinking that NAPLAN tells you your entire school-based worth.
There is no creativity test in NAPLAN. NAPLAN doesn’t tell you how creative, musical or artistic you are. My friend’s beautiful daughter is, at the age of 8, an already accomplished pianist, can read music and loves to compose her own pieces.
And this child thinks that she’s not smart!
There is no STEM test in NAPLAN. NAPLAN doesn’t tell you how “smart” you are in programming, coding and building phenomenal feats of engineering, things we see you do every week at school!
There is no friendship test in NAPLAN. NAPLAN doesn’t tell you about the time that you sensed that your friend was upset and you spent your lunchtime walking and talking with them, giving up your own play to make sure that they were ok. It doesn’t tell you about the time that you saw a kid sitting on their own and you invited them over to sit with you.
You might not be awesome at Maths…….but you might be an amazing athlete, dancer, artist, public speaker, scientist, historian, musician….you might be amazingly good at reading people’s emotions and connecting with people. You might have a passion for social justice or you might have phenomenal leadership skills.
But please, as you all sit these tests this week, remember that you can be “smart” in about a bzillion different things and NAPLAN only measures a few.
Like half (probably more) of the population of Australia, I am in love with Samuel Johnson. He appeared in my life when I was a teenager and entertained me with a long line of quirky and lovable characters.
But last week, during his Gold Logie acceptance speech, the reason that I love Samuel Johnson was expressed in his heartfelt and genuine words.
It was a fairly muddled ten minutes of Australian television. And the message in Samuel’s speech was overshadowed by the media comments and opinions that followed. But, for this mum, teacher and advocate for the Arts, his message rang loud and clear.
“I was a very spirited, very confused kid. With a colourful background and fairly savage amount of energy. I was an outlier of sorts, just desperate to find my place in this world and I found my home here in the Arts. A place that celebrated difference.”
Samuel was the kid that I see everyday. In the playground, in my classroom and in my house. A kid that is different, quirky, unique, creative and doesn’t quite fit the mould. Spirited, energetic and colourful. But also confused, an outlier and desperate to find their place in the world. You see, our aussie society celebrates the sporty kid, the kid that fits in, the kid that does well on their NAPLAN tests and the kid that sits in his desk and does what he’s told. Our society does not celebrate the quirky kid who thinks outside the square, the kid who daydreams and hums a new melody rather than answering Maths questions or kicking around a soccer ball. And it breaks my heart that these kids think that they shouldn’t be like they are.
And this is why it is so important that Samuel’s message gets out there.
"I found my home here in the Arts. A place that celebrated difference."
Cause you see, in the Arts, you can be whoever you want to be. You can stand out, you can be unconventional and most of all, you don’t have to try and fit the mould to be accepted…..You have to try and break it!
So thank you Samuel Johnson for reminding us how important it is for us to create schools, homes and a society where difference is admired. Where our kids don’t have to fit in and the fact that their unique and eccentric ways are what sets them apart, is celebrated.
Thank you for reminding us that the Arts is not just an extracurricular activity.
For some, it’s home.
I didn’t go to my ten year school reunion. The thought of it made me ridiculously nervous and after two or three weeks of ‘should I/shouldn’t I’, the decision was made not to go…..and I have regretted it ever since.
Then, a couple of weeks ago I received a FB message. A close friend was organising a get together of any women from school, who were back in the area and just wanted to catch up for a drink. And this time, I went.
And it was fantastic! Catching up with girls that I spent all day everyday with for the 7 years of high school was very cool. Reminiscing about old teachers, crazy parties, old boyfriends and horror stories from nights out at the Macca (those of local heritage will understand. Those that aren’t, every town has a pub like that Macca…..You know the one!). The drinks were flowing, the laughter was raucous and heartfelt…...and the barriers, social lines and ridiculous status quo from high school had disappeared. It was beautiful. Those years of social hierarchy and “cool groups” had disappeared and what was left, was a group of women.
And I wish that every pre teen or teen girl that I have ever taught could have been there.
I wish that they could have seen that the dramas of high school, disappear the day that you graduate from Year 12 and that the tears and anxiety of being 15 had melted away.
I wish that they could have been there to see that the status quo of the playground was now non-existent. That no matter what group you were in, what extra-curricular activity you were involved in, what clothes you wore….the list goes on….you were now all just a bunch of women talking woman stuff...kids, work, partners, memories…...
Most of all, I wish that they could have seen that, as these women had gotten older and had experienced life, they had realised that every women in that room, every girl that had been on their bus, or in their roll call class, or on the playground, ended up being phenomenal with an amazing story worth celebrating.
I wish I could tell them to just sit tight. That High School and everything that goes along with it, is just a small blip on the journey. That one day, they would sit with those same girls, as grown women in a bar and drink and laugh and celebrate.
Celebrate the journey…..Celebrate the seemingly never ending years of High School….Celebrate the zits and the high school crushes and awkward first kisses…….
Celebrate the phenomenal women they had become.
Is anyone else exhausted?
It seems so. Everyone I talk to at the moment seems tired and worn out. People are stressed, busy and just plain exhausted. The world is full of noise and manic energy, and we just never seem to stop.
When did our lives get so damn busy?
Maybe it’s our stage of life. Maybe that time of your life where we all have kids, be they babies, toddlers or teenagers with better social lives than our own. Maybe we are all at that stage where we are trying to balance the unsolvable juggling act of work versus family versus just having time to collapse on the lounge and chill. I was busy in my twenties, had my first bub, got my first teaching job…..but then I hit my thirties and BOOM! It’s like the only time that I stop is when I’m asleep. And even then, I’m dreaming about work and kids. I can’t even escape when I’m unconscious!
Maybe it’s our age. Maybe where you’re up to in your life map has nothing to do with it. Maybe we just all hit our mid 30s and from then on, amongst the hectic chaos that is 2017, we just never take the time to step off the treadmill.
Maybe it’s our generation. All those awesome feminists in the 60s and 70s, who fought and took a stand for the amazing choices that we have today….maybe that all gave us a subconscious sense of owing it to both ourselves and those strong feminist women of the 60s, a sense that if we don’t at least try to have it all that we are letting down the team. That we are letting down those women who weren’t allowed to work, or vote or have a say. Who all chipped away bit by bit so that we could.
Maybe it’s the mother guilt. The guilt that drills into the back of your brain every time you hear about another kid who is doing some amazing extra curricular activity and you think, “Oh shit, is my kid missing out because they aren’t learning to yodel like the kid next door?” (Just kidding, learning to yodel is so Von Trapp and Julie Andrews). When you feel like your kids should be getting every opportunity that you can afford. When their busy adds to your busy.
Whatever it is. I’m stuffed. I’m tired, and exhausted, and in need of a good holiday with a pina colada in hand. (Lucky for me, I’m a teacher and it’s the last week of term!)
So here’s to admitting that you are tired. Here’s to admitting that you just need a break and that you need things to calm down for a bit. No matter what your job is, how many or how old your kids are, how many extra curricular activities they do, how much running around you have to do before the next lot of visitors arrive….Here’s to just stopping and taking a breath.
The school holidays start in exactly 2 days. No manic mornings, no ballet, no Tae Kwon Do, no piano lessons….and if anyone is looking for me, I’ll be snuggled up on the lounge watching a good movie with my kids, just…..slowing down.