Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A push and a shove at the teaching job

I was going to start a whole other blog just for my tales of supply (substitute) teaching, but then what would I write about in here, right? I mean I could just show you our pictures from my trip to Penshaw Monument, which I took with the blog in mind, but I may as well throw everything together.

Yesterday, I was sent to a Secondary (high) School to do supply teaching. Now, mind you, I’m an English teacher and they said they needed “general cover” which included P.E. (I don’t even like sports, guys.) I agreed because there’s only three more weeks of work left that I can take for this school year. When I got there (in my blouse and trousers and sensible, Born strappy shoes) they tried to send me to do boys’ P.E. I was like, “No. The teaching agency said I was supposed to be here because there was girls’ P.E. I needed to cover.” So, they found a male teacher to watch the boys play cricket, I was sent up to watch a Textiles class.

The first class was fine, but the second class, P.E. was different. There was another girl working for the agency who had on a track suit to teach P.E. I had on my purple coat, and was carrying my little, foldable water bottle with Hello Kitty on it. (Substitute teachers rarely get access to a kitchen, a cup, or anything that would allow them to have a drink throughout the day, so I bought a foldable bottle for a kid’s lunchbox to keep in my bag. The fact that it’s Hello Kitty has gotten much attention at schools.) Anyway, there was a Department Head of P.E. who barked at me, “What are you doing, carrying that thing around?” I just asked, calmly, “My water bottle?” She said something about that being okay, and carried on. Don’t know what her deal was with that. When we got into the locker room to tell the students that I’d be taking over the class, she massacred my last name like four times, trying to make it Pickerton, Pickton, Pinkton, and so on. When I told her it was just P-I-C-K, she just blankly stared at me. Whatever.

So I had to stand outside in the wind and cold (Summer here is 55F on a “mild” day), and watch Year 7 girls play Rounders. It’s what baseball started from. There’s no mitt, or ball diamond. No one is sliding into second or making a home run. Just about as boring as watching baseball, in my opinion.

At breaktime, I sat in this little cafe area and listened to much older students tell cafeteria workers to go to Hell when they were told to sit or calm down. Charming. At lunch, I had to sit in the lobby alone (at least I had a place to sit) and eat as kids were about as disrespectful to the cafeteria workers there. That stuff use to not bother me, or shock me, but now that I’ve been in schools were people take no crap, it ticks me off to see kids get away with that kind of behaviour.

Case in point: 3rd Period P.E. I went back to the girls’ locker room, and waited as the only regular P.E. teacher on site tried to get girls into their exercise clothes. A handful of them didn’t bother bringing their P.E. Kit, so they had to be issued new sweat pants. I heard Year 8 girls say things like, “What do you expect me to do with these?” or “I’m not wearing those!” Also, in that same, large locker where the sweatpants were, they had to lock up phones, and purses, including mine, with a big padlock. (Red flag!) The girls would be told to give their phone to the teacher so she could put it in the locker. Girls rudely refused. “I’m not giving you my phone!” Fine, get your crap stolen, is what I thought. Me and the other supply teacher would just look at each other like, “Did you hear how that girl spoke to her?” One girl on the field told her teacher, “You’d better make up your mind,” when she was trying to chose teams. Seriously? I guess the kids are so rude like that, that nobody does much to even fight them. If they were with our Teacher Assistants at my little Primary School, they’d be given all sorts of Hell for talking to an adult like that. The girls were even asking the other supply teacher if she was a gypsy, if she had a gypsy boyfriend or girlfriend, and all sorts of stupid crap like that. Ugh. I can’t even imagine dealing with that again every day.

But the kicker was…the fire drill. There I was, standing in the little entry way of the girls’ locker room, when the fire alarm went off. Four groups of Year 8 and Year 10 girls took off running, screaming, and giggling, and slammed right into me by the doorway. I was thrown up against a wall and the only reason I didn’t fall flat was because there were chairs next to me. Plus, they kept running into me. So I was trapped and I panicked a bit, thinking about stampedes at music concerts and how easily that can happen. The teacher said nothing to them as I was almost knocked down, thrown into the wall and the chairs, and the girls, obviously didn’t even notice…or care.

I almost left after that because even though I was at some tough schools in Florida, none of the kids has ever physically done anything to me, accident or otherwise. Those kids just seemed completely out of control, and I didn’t want to be around them at all after that. Even when they all went to the tennis courts to report for their fire drill, I made sure to stay outside of the fence because I didn’t want the whole school taking off running again and knocking me over.

Since I only had an hour and a half left, I stayed, but I ended up late for the last English lessons because they had put me all the way over in the Sports Unit. Also, everything had to be locked, so I couldn’t get my purse back until the other supply teacher brought back the key. She had to lock up all the equipment, even though they’d use it again for the next lesson. Every bathroom I tried to go in to was locked – handicapped, girls’ and faculty toilets. All the classrooms had to be locked as well. Again, that’s a huge red flag to me that they can’t trust any students.

When I finally found my way back to the English class, some teacher had taken over and called up front, looking for me. (Why in heck they didn’t know where I was is beyond me, but that’s organization for you.) For the last lesson, I sat with some Year 7 kids who could have cared less about writing a horror story (and at this point, I didn’t give a crap what they did as long as they stayed in their seats which was hard enough as is.) Before I was even out the door, I knew I didn’t want to come back there.

This was the same school were I interviewed at and the Headteacher walked out five minutes after I’d started my mini-lesson. After experiencing that, the barking P.E. coach, and some lady who pushed me out of the way to sign in on the visitor registration book even though I was trying to look up my car tag number on my phone to fill out on my own sign-in sheet. I have a feeling that rudeness isn’t all in the kids’ behaviour. (I really should have said something to all of those people but, again, the Englishness of “keep it to yourself and get on with it” suits my lack of confrontation habits too much.)

The best part is: this school is “Outstanding” – the highest rating a school can get. They also have awards for the arts as well, I think. Amazing, isn’t it? It seems like a miserable place to work; a big school full of a bunch of people who don’t want to be there. I felt bad for telling the teaching agency to not send me there for supply work at all again. Other supply teachers there said the kids are never good, so I was surprised that the teaching agency said they’d never gotten such feedback about this “nice, big school.” Maybe people put up with more than I do these days, but, again, after being at nice schools with happy staff and happy children, I don’t want to bother being in a volatile atmosphere.

My main concern is my back. I already pay a chiropractor each week to make sure everything is all aligned. My vertebrae is tender to the touch when I have my spine examined, so I am not going to risk getting slammed by one of those big, teenaged boys, and being out of commission for a week.

But I was assured that they wouldn’t send me to that school again. After being at that school for a day, I’m glad I didn’t get that job when I interviewed a few months ago. I’m glad that I found Primary School teaching and schools where people are friendly and welcoming. I can wait for a nice job at a nice school now.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Camp NaNoWriMo and unfinished business

I was listening to a recording from Pen Paper Write about common mistakes writers make. From the list I gathered the following notes:

    Point of view character - choosing the right one

    Not watching out for changing POV. (I’d include changing tense as well.)

    Use different color highlighters for each character’s dialogue

    Read it aloud. You can hear when the POV shifts

    Characters who all sound alike, or inauthentic dialogue

    Overuse of adjectives and adverbs. “He ran quickly down the alley.”

    A storyline that successfully connects the scenes

    Crude, detailed, or in-between plot outline

    Second guess, rewrite, and never finish a thing

    “Does my writing make you want to know what happens next?” (All you want to ask your first beta reader.)

    I also want to add that in school, we teach kids to use words other than “said.” Said is just fine.

Now, most of us have heard these tips before, but it doesn’t hurt to have a little motivational advice repeated again. I’m trying to get my hands on more writer-based resources lately, because I’m suffering from the wishy-washy blues. Yesterday I flat out didn’t want to write a thing (even though we should write something every day whether we feel like it or not.) But I sat there, looked at the blinking cursor on the screen, and shut the computer down. I didn’t even try.

Today, I looked at my comments on my blog, and Damyati said she writes 500-1000 words first, then allows herself to blog or whatever. I’ve thought about it in a non-fixed form of goal, but if this is a routine that works, I may as well give it a go. Today it worked (hence why I’m blogging now.)

So, Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up in July and I’m going to make a good attempt, again, at the next project I have. Granted, I have two (technically) that are sitting in the middle, waiting for the rest of the story. One I’m probably going to scrap, the second one, I could finish next month instead. I’m not sure.

Anyway, the recording from PPW stressed an outline, just as I’ve been reading about in my other writing books. Yesterday, I was thinking that I should just jump in and fix things later, but she’s right, I at least need a structure to build around.

Since Steve is an artist, animator, and video game guru, I’m always pleasantly surprised at how much I can learn from the genre. Last night we watched the Disney (we love it, you know) documentary Waking Sleeping Beauty. I loved seeing the creative process that went into the films, especially the storyboarding and pitching the plot of the movie to the chairman of the company. The outline: It’s essential. The characters: They’re essential.

When they discussed how The Little Mermaid came about, they knew that all of Ariel’s hopes and dreams had to be surmised in one song in order for us to see her struggle with her desire to be human for the rest of the film. The chairman didn’t like the idea, and they struggled over and over for the plot, with the test audience of children, etc. Same thing with The Lion King, “nobody’s knows nothing about anything,” because they thought it was going to be a terrible movie that no one would want to watch.

Same goes for writing. We never know if the storyline will work unless we try it out. We have to have characters who are telling their story. And we can all do it in 50,000 within the month of July if we want to. PPW also suggests the 60 Scenes in 60 Days approach.

If you’re wondering, as I did, if 50K is a bit short for a novel, here are some examples of other 50K (approximately) books.

So, who’s with me? Anyone else going to Camp NaNoWriMo? My profile is HERE. What are you working on for the month of July?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fear of work and the writing routine

Another sunny, Summer day in the North East. It got chilly the past few days, especially after the rain, so some sunshine is nice to see again.

I had an interview for a Teacher of English job that I could have gone to today. I got my mini-lessons PowerPoint and discussion ready last night. Last week I even emailed the receptionist who sent me the interview letter that said, “Please confirm your attendance and ask any me any further questions.” I asked if it was a problem to bring handouts that needed Xeroxing. I never got a response.

Now, I would have never dismissed a job interview before in my life, but these days I have a better feel for a potential goal. Before, I was just grasping at straws and trying to get a full-time job because it seemed like the right thing to do. Of course, I always ended up with the, “you’re not mean enough for high school” critique.

It’s not to say that my main reason for not going on the interview was just “fear” of having the same thing happen before. I hate the word “fear” being thrown around so much. Fear to me is an illogical “what-if?” When someone has reasons for not doing something, or hesitation, or concern, people love to say, “You can’t be afraid. Do it because you’re a warrior/fierce/insert any other trendy cliqued term for a strong and powerful woman on Radio 1.” Driving in the U.K. could potential lead to an accident if I hadn’t learned how to do things properly (and I’m still learning, mind you.) That’s not something to be dismissive as, “Oh you silly thing, don’t be afraid.” That’s like saying, “Oh it’ll be fine. Just jump off that bridge without checking that your harness is secured. You’re being ridiculous!”

My “fear” of taking a full-time job is that I’ve not been successful at the high school level before. I liked it, but I’m not good at it. Maybe at some point, somewhere, I would be, and that job may have been the right school for me. More than likely not. And if I were working, I’d have stress, exhaustion, no time for myself, no time for Steve, and no holiday in Florida.

So, rather than waste my time or anyone else’s, I didn’t go.

Besides, I’d rather have a temporary position at a Primary School to bone up on my chops there. I was considering taking some SEN courses online to get the much-desired UK training, but I don’t know if it would help matters that much.

Anyway, with that said, back to the task at hand: the writing.

I have a new bookshelf (Thanks, Steve!) One of the many how-to books I own, is No Plot? No Problem! Since my biggest obstacle is procrastination (always has been) I liked how Baty acknowledges that being a full-time writer at home gives you all the time in the world to do everything but write. That’s me and I’m so glad I’m not the only one since writing at home can keep you away from the rest of the writing world. (Especially when people love to give you blow-by-blow accounts of their book on Twitter as they write it.)

Having a routine each day would be handy, as I try to do now on my days off when I get my blog entries for this site and bookblogarama done. Then I go off to Starbucks in the afternoon and do some actual work. The outlining and the motivational how-to reading, along with the reading for entertainment, all has to fit in the day somewhere as well.

So, I’m curious. What kind of routine do any of you have for getting writing done in the scenario otherwise known as life?

Finally, LiveHacked’s newsletter today references Creating Characters: How To Build Story People and gives some good advice about character building:

Another helpful tip I picked up long ago was the idea of writing out your character's details 100%, then using only 10% of it in your book. It's more of a general concept than a hard-and-fast rule, but it's helped me immensely to separate extraneous character detail in my novel (which the readers don't need or want) from helpful character-building dialogue and inner thought.
To aid in this process, you can literally write an "interview" with your character(s), answering it as if you were them. Fill out bios, add life/career/work details, and as much information you'd like. It'll be nice to "know" your characters before you start writing them into your story, and it's perfect fodder for series-based novels!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Supply teaching plus writing - making my own work schedule

I just turned down a temporary job working with kids who are acting for the BBC. First of all, the hours could be from 8:30-7PM at night, and secondly I wouldn’t have my July or Sept holiday time that Steve and I have already scheduled. It sounded like a cool job but, nah, that’s not for me.

In fact, I’ve been quite okay with my job situation as of late. The Primary School I’ve been frequenting has been really fun to work in, so I put my application in with them. Now that I have the car more supply work has been coming in. Steve and I discussed my goals and if I really wanted a full-time teaching job or if I’d prefer to just stay in day-to-day and temporary work as I have been.

Full-time teaching takes a lot out of you. In fact, I just read this great article on Tumblr called Please, please, stop saying these things to teachers… It talks about how freaking tough the job is, and how misunderstood educator’s issues and complaints can be. Yesterday they announced that England will be changing their GCSE testing again and Year 7 will be the first to feel the brunt of it next school year. I’ve taught plenty. I’ve gone through the enormous pressure of good English test scores, working in boring workbooks, and doing nothing but test prep for 90% of the school year. You work all day, then have to grade papers and plan your lessons at night. You’re exhausted, you spend no time with your family, and you’re told what more you could be doing.

But I’m still going to an interview for an English teaching job next week. Now, England’s interview process is much more complex than anything we have in Florida. They schedule out a morning for all candidates to do a 25-30 lesson for students they’ve never met before, then arrange a discussion for another group of students, then have interviews with the Headteacher, Head of English, and anyone else who may need to be involved (so it can end up being a panel of five who take turns asking you questions together or in separate rooms.) Then they make another shortlist, then ask the final candidates to come back for interviews before choosing who they want. It’s enough pressure to make me nervous, just typing it out.

However, I’ve learned that Headteachers want someone who is British, British trained, with British school experience. I understand that though. Irish teachers are moving to England to find work and you have Newly Qualified Teachers in England already trying to find work. My oversees, clueless self is not going to be one of their first options for a full-time job. As Claire from Steps put it on Celebrity Big Brother, “People don’t like to admit it, but the British are very patriotic.” Again, I don’t blame them. It’s just frustrating to get your hopes up just to have a Headteacher sit in on your well-prepared mini-lesson for a good five minutes before walking out the door (really happened) without “having a chat” or any kind of interview whatsoever. Waste of time and energy.

Supply teaching, on the other hand, has the beauty of walking away from work each day without anything to take home. Granted it’s nerve-racking to go to a new school, not knowing who the kids are and if there are any kind of lesson plans left for you. Kids don’t respect supply teachers as much, especially at the Secondary level, but, again, if you don’t like the school and the kids act up, it’s really not your problem. Leave the day, tell the agency not to send you there anymore, and that’s that. It pays less and there’s not a lot of room for advancement, but it’s not the worse job in the world. (It certainly beats a £56 a day office job that I’ve been offered in the past – less pay and longer hours with no room for career advancement.)

Also, my main objection to a full-time job is I have time to do things like this. I’m sitting here, at home, at my computer with my cup of hazelnut Dunkin’ Donuts coffee that was sent to me from Florida. I can chose to have a “me” day for blogging, reading, and the all-important task of writing. I can take my netbook down to Starbucks and hang out for an hour, typing away. I can take our holidays whenever Steve has time off work. We can go to Florida for our anniversary, and I won’t have any outside work to plague me at home.

It’s a good middle ground in the dilemma of writing vs. teaching. Granted, I’d scoop up a job if it were offered in October or so if it were at the little Primary School I like so much. But otherwise, I’m not really fussed.

I’ve considered starting a supply teaching log, but I have a hard enough time keeping bookblogarama updated when I’m otherwise preoccupied. Maybe later.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Teaching in the afternoon

As I mentioned last post, I found a temporary supply teaching job at a Primary School this week. I can’t believe it took me this long to figure out that teaching 11 years and younger is a much more rewarding, and satisfying job. The school I’m in isn’t an “outstanding” rated school, but the staff enjoys being there and the students really are very sweet. Granted, we’ve had an incident about every day with arguments, tears, and name-calling but that’s nothing that I can’t handle. I’ve seen some unsettling things at the Florida schools with kids who have just as difficult home lives as some of there here, but having to deal with the tiffs between Year Six students is no great shakes.

Since last Thursday, we’ve caught mayflies in the river, made aquariums to keep them, gone on bug hunts in the garden, dug up weeds, played tennis, played rounders (which I quickly changed to a game of baseball), played soccer (I mean football), watched chickens hatch, got hailed on in the play yard, learned about puberty, and, as far as I’m concerned, had a good week. (Minus a handful of incidences, of course.)

This week has come to an end though, and after my stint here, I plan on leaving my application in case a permanent job pops up over the summer. I’ve let the Headteacher know I like being there and I’d really enjoy working there as full-time staff. You know when you just have a good vibe from a school? I was terrified before to go into schools with little kids, but now I feel good walking in each morning. I’m so glad I figured all of this out.

This isn’t to say that I don’t miss writing. I really do. The thing that I was trying to get across in my last post about teaching and writing is that there just isn’t time for both. Even though I’m not making lesson plans and/or grading papers, it’s still an exhausting job. I’m going to be glad to take my netbook into a Starbucks again and get back to doing what I’ve aimed to do.

Of course there are ways to do both, it just takes longer to get the work in progress finished. Then there’s the editing – oh the editing. I’ve mentioned as well that I’m really trying to outline the projects now, but that itch to just get down to the actual writing part is too tempting. I have to at least piece some ideas together in a long-handed, sloppy form.

Anyway, I have a couple of hours before I finish out my week with Year Six. This afternoon we’re working on the end of the year play. Here’s hoping everyone can stay on task and enjoy it as much as I do.

One last thing I should mention: driving.

I am much more confident than I was but, Good Lord, Newcastle and all it’s roundabout options and motorways is a nightmare. I panicked the other day when I went to pick of Steve and got stuck in that Quayside traffic. I can’t stand that I don’t trust myself and I don’t take my time to see what the Garmin is saying. I’m afraid of going the wrong way down a road, so if I get lost, I won’t get on a road unless I see someone else driving down it. (Lord knows not every road is clearly marked.) But I figured it out after going all the way around the Civic Centre and back. The next day I inadvertently screwed myself up again (that traffic going across the bridge sort of forces you to follow along with everyone else because I can’t clearly see where I’m meant to go.) But I kept calm and carried on, as they say. I went through City Centre and made it back slowly but surely.

Some days that driving makes me more nervous than going to a new school, but I’ll get accustomed to both of them eventually.