Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Accomplishments of 2013

I didn't read much this year and I honestly don't feel like I did much, but in retrospect there were a few big accomplishments I gathered up on 2013.


    • Got Indefinite Leave to Remain
    • Learned how to take care of my back
    • Got my driver's license
    • Got my own car
    • Drove through the moors to The Lake District
    • Had a lovely vacation at The Lake District
    • Had an awesome Florida vacation
    • Learned that I like working in Primary Schools
    • Finished a book
    • Tried to get published (book needs work but I worked towards getting it out there at least.)
    • Had an awesome Thanksgiving
    • Had an awesome Christmas
    • Had an awesome New Year's Eve (stayed at home – going out is over-rated.)
    • Discovered Meg Rosoff, Veronica Roth, and Lauren Oliver
    • Got my first British tax return
    • Went to my first British writer's workshop

Very motivational New Year’s resolutions

This year I decided to make my resolutions, or goals, more simple and to the point. I’ve enjoyed reading her books and watching her television show for years now, so I’m using some of  Joyce Meyer’s motivational quotes to guide me with my goals for 2014.  

The flesh, or human nature, is generally lazy and self-centred.

I am the first to admit that I really shy away from anything that’s difficult. I get put off by anything that will be tough to do. That does not make for a pleasant lifestyle because it’s so dang boring to sit around all day. I know it’s fun when it first happens but after months of not having a routine that includes going outside in the world, you go a little stir-crazy. So one of my goals will definitely to be out there more.

Humble people ask for help.

I also have a habit of not wanting to spend time with people, and next year I’m really going to seek help from people in regards to my writing and my teaching. I’m hoping to sign up with a Teaching Assistant course in January, and I’ve already used CPSeek to find a writing partner to critique some of my work. I know it’s a crucial part of the writing process, and after reading Kami Garcia’s 13.5 Things That Will Change Your Writing, I decided to accept that I need help and got on with it.

The truth is, anyone can start projects. The world is full of just-started projects that looked great at the time but were never completed.

This also goes under Neil Gaiman’s Advice to Aspiring Writers that we have to finish things. I have some great story ideas to work on this year, and I know it needs to get done. However, I’m not going through making a whole Excel spreadsheet about how many words I’m going to write on each day. I tried that and I just don’t follow through. Instead, I’m going to work on the “Write When You Can” advice that Kami Garcia has. I’ve gone back to typing some notes up in an email to myself at night on ye olde iPhone, just so I keep the momentum of the story going in my head. I’ve tried putting things of until “Writing Time” and it just slips away too easily.

Strive for excellence, not perfection, because we don't live in a perfect world.

I too often get out of things because I think it won’t live up to my expectations, or it won’t be worth doing in the end. It’s a self-doubt thing. It’s a fear thing too, I guess. I can so easily get into the mind-set of thinking I won’t be good at whatever I’m going to do because in the end it’s not going to be perfect. It will be messy and a pain in the butt and I won’t want to go through it anymore and just quit before I even start.

This is why I rush through things when I write. I aim for some obscure deadline I give myself, just so I can be done with it because I knew it wasn’t going to be as good as I wanted it to be. But that’s okay. As Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is s**t.” We have to make a bad first draft to make a good second draft. We have to make mistakes, so we can learn how to be better. I really want to work on being okay with at least doing the thing and working hard at it, even if it doesn’t end up perfect in the end.

Watch out for the joy-stealers: gossip, criticism, complaining, fault-finding, and a negative, judgmental attitude.

I’ve known this for years now, and I want to keep this on my list. The more I get upset about little things on Twitter, or at school, or in the news, the more miserable I make myself (and Steve, poor guy, who has to listen to my rants.) It’s not worth the energy and stress to get worked up about it, so I have to keep that in mind as I head off into 2014 with my new goals.

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 16, 2013

9 more sleeps

I took this picture in 2011 at Beamish. This was the first Christmas I spent as a UK resident, although we had “Pre-Christmas” together in 2009, and “Post-Christmas” when I moved here in Jan 2011.

Now I’ve been here almost three years and I plan on writing up a whole little tribute to the UK post when the time comes. As far as Christmas is concerned though, England does it so well. I know that the cities in the US and even some small towns would have celebrations and fun activities for people to participate in the festivities, but I’ve never seen such outpouring of “Let’s Celebrate!” as I have here.

Aside from Beamish, we have ice skating at the Life Centre, we have the Fenwick window display, and we have Enchanted Parks at Saltwell. Also, the stores are full of Christmas appropriate food and gift boxes. Even if you just take a trip to Tesco, you can find plenty of presents that has some kind of incentive to buy with vouchers and sale prices. Even last Friday I went to Sainsbury’s to get petrol and the Salvation Army carollers were in the store entertaining the shoppers. Then we went to Tesco and a Silver Band was playing music in the entryway. You just wouldn’t get that at Wal-Mart in Florida.

We have Christmas TV specials and this big break that everyone is so incredibly thankful for. Even when I was teaching last year, I was amazed at how Christmas break was treated like we would treat Summer Break in Florida. Kids had a Year 7 dance to go to and were allowed to dress up in their finest. Teachers went out to eat and dressed down for the day. Everyone who works has a Christmas party where they go out to eat. Bottom line is, the English love to celebrate Christmas and I’m so grateful for it. It’s nice to have some kind of positive, happy outlook on life with pleasant attitudes towards family time and just enjoying the holiday.

For me, during this last week before Steve is off work until after New Year’s, I am working on a few projects (sadly I can’t keep one in check, I keep thinking of something new and having to do a little work on them to keep the initial ideas fresh.) But it’s good. The more I write, the more I write (if that makes any sense.) I have even found myself writing over the weekend, which I didn’t do before unless it was for NaNo. Yesterday I got 1100 words down. Making this a habit is one of the most important challenges in my life.

Friday, December 13, 2013

When teaching isn’t teaching

I said last time that I didn’t have much to write about, so I hadn’t updated anything in a while. Well, I think it’s because I’ve been in the house so much that I’m fresh out of any stories to discuss. When things are good and you’re content, there’s not a whole lot to mention in a blog. But when you go out in the world and see the things of the public school system, then you’ve got a story.

Yesterday I had one of those final straw moments that I think are good and necessary to get you really firm in your convictions about what you should or shouldn’t be doing with your life. I have said this many times: I’m not a good teacher. I was never trained to handle discipline. The Florida Teacher Certification for non-Education majors just takes someone with an English, Science, History, or Math degree, throws them in a classroom, then while they struggle to keep up with behaviour issues, lesson planning, and grading, the administration will tell you what a crap job you’re doing. They’ll tell you to go to teacher classes after school where you watch movies about teaching, have you harassed by a mentor and any teaching support who can come into the classroom to “help” so you never have time when you’re not being constantly monitored and criticized. (They’ll harass your students during lessons too, by the way.) Then admin will tell you how they’re trying to “help” you but “it’s not working” and you’re just “spinning your wheels.”

By the way, they never teach you how to make a lesson plan either – I learned that last year here in England, thank you very much. At least Florida now has courses that you can take at a college that will give you a stand-in Education degree that actually trains you for the job.

In the UK, they won’t let that happen. In order to be a teacher, you have to have volunteer hours at a school if you’ve never done teaching support work, undergo a Master’s level program that puts you, as an adult, into the classroom. You have to be accepted into a competitive program. You go through a rigorous training that I’ve been told is “the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” This is coming from British teachers who have gone through every possible high level testing imaginable too.

But, alas, since I already had a Florida Professional Teaching Certificate, I was allowed to get Qualified Teaching Status in England because my first language is English from an English-speaking country.

I still haven’t been really trained.

With that said, I have long been struggling to get out of this ridiculous supply teaching gig. Not because I don’t like going to school, I do, it’s just that supply teaching isn’t teaching (unless you’re on a contract of some sort and are responsible for the lesson plans and grading.) But the Secondary Schools, the Year 7 and up classes, those are the ones I originally wanted to teach when I was an English Major at UCF ten years ago.

When I got here in England, I tried to just jump right back into teaching by doing supply (substitute) teaching and hope that it worked out. It didn’t, and here’s an example of why.

Yesterday I was called by my teaching agency about an English teaching job at a Secondary School for four days. There was no information given other than the name and location of the school. Since I was given a day’s notice, I accepted because, I’m in need of some kind of work to get me out of the house more. Plus, I hate being home and not enjoying the pre-Christmas festivities around town. But, anyway, so I drove to the school early, fought the traffic, and made it just on time.

But here’s the thing, British schools are never worried about you being late if you do supply. They just casually take you over to class when they’re ready, and kids will already be sitting there, waiting on you. Now, here’s the thing, they will sometimes not give you any work for kids to do, or they’ll give you ridiculous lesson plans like I had yesterday:

First Period Year 7 Pastoral class was supposed to do work that some other person had at Reception. Of course when I asked about this, Reception gave me a strange look, like I was a Space Cadet, and said the person who would have the resources wasn’t there. Of course. The school nurse brought me up to the classroom and didn’t have any idea what assignments they were supposed to do either. Of course.

The kids were okay, but there was no work for them. I just tried to chat with them about movies and video games and Florida. They told me that they had been watching a film (9 times out of 10 it’s a lie, but if there’s no work, I was willing to give it a go.) Of course the computer wouldn’t log my temp teacher info, or the kids’. In the end I found some coloured pencils and had them draw Christmas pictures. During this time I had one boy who pushed and shoved everyone and was a right pain in the butt. One girl walked out because he and another kid were drawing pictures of her, so that was a big to-do and her friends wanted to go find her and bring her bag to her. Eventually, a gentleman (no idea who he was) came in, took two boys away, and the garbage bin with said portraits in it. Good riddance.

I had planning afterward and I looked over my class plans for the rest of the day. The Number One no-no in sub planning: “The class is to silently read all period.” I was going to have two Year 7 classes, and one Year 8 who was already on class report so if there were any behaviour issues, I was to use Mr. B’s name as a threat. Now, ask me if I know who Mr. B are or how to get in contact of anyone while I’m in this classroom, stuck in the corner of the room with 30 kids and no phone. I don’t and I can’t. I contemplated yelling for help out the window, but it just overlooked an empty soccer field.

When the Year 7 class came in, I immediately saw why this teacher was going to be gone for four days. 30 some kids who could have given a care less if I spoke to them, shouted at them, or instructed them to:

  • stop turning the lights on and off
  • stop erasing people’s names off the board
  • stop drawing on the board (I took the markers off the whiteboard and they tried to get them off the shelf behind me instead.)
  • put their phones away and stop video recording me and the class
  • stop sitting on the desks for group selfies
  • stop walking out of the room without permission
  • stop playing with an open sack of sugar in someone’s bag that half the class managed to get all over the desk and the floor
  • stop shoving and pushing one another
  • stop opening the window
  • sit down and stop dancing
  • stop talking and read

The story was, as some of the girls in class told me, is they had one teacher at the beginning of the year who left, then they brought in an Australian teacher who was “horrible.” (Good on her for being mean.) But after knowing she was out for four days, I’m wondering if she’s getting the heck out of there too. I don’t blame her. I even wrote on her note that if this Year 7th class wasn’t her worst, I felt very sorry for her. Apparently I’m not the only non-Brit who is getting the raw end of the teaching in England deal.

She even had only 8 pens available for the class and she had to keep tally of which kids had borrowed pen from her because they never had supplies. I had that kind of thing in the 7th and 8th grade classes in Florida. They would come in without a book, bag, pen, anything. Ridiculous stuff.

Anyway, I gave up on the silent reading idea after ten minutes of getting no where with them. They told me reading was awful and they hated it, so I told them to get their workbooks and carry on with what they had done in class before. That was a whole big deal too because some didn’t have one and what should they do and if one had a new book the other one wanted one. You get the picture. I circulated the room, I talked to individual students, I did my “thing” you’re supposed to do to manage children. They would just look at me, then carry on doing whatever they wanted.

Eventually, some teacher/support worker saw them running in and out of class, came in and scared them enough to sit in a chair (this only works for permanent staff who know the kids and know what to do with ones who are misbehaving.) She said something about them knowing that they aren’t allowed to use the toilet during lesson times. News to me.

But no matter, by that time I had already sat at my desk, emailed the teaching agency on my phone and told them to find someone else to cover the classes for the rest of the time. When they asked why, I told them that I’d never seen a Year 7 class misbehave that much and I didn’t want an incident to occur after they’d been video taping me. (That’s all I need to start some law suit about my being liable for some kid shoving another kid into a desk while I’m shouting at kids to put their phones away.)

And after all these years of trying and “spinning my wheels” and knowing that, as I’ve been told by 100s of teachers before, you have to put on an act of Wicked Mean Teacher day in and day out, I left. It is too stressful and not worth the anger and frustration. It’s especially not worth it for £75 that a school is only willing to pay for someone as “Advanced Cover Support” instead of a “Qualified Teacher.” After I stood there, watching the kids get progressively more rowdy, even after a member of staff spoke to them, I knew I was going to leave. Once I dismissed them (I tried to only dismiss the first row, but they all took off and ignored me. They turned the lights off again on their way out for the 20th time too.) I got my things, signed out, and left.

That is not teaching. Teaching is not being a presence in a classroom while kids do whatever the heck they want to. I think Year 7 is the worst. Year Six at the Primary School is more tolerable. In fact Primary is very tolerable after seeing things like this at a huge Secondary School with too many kids to keep track of.

So I told the teaching agency I wasn’t going to do supply for a Secondary School anymore. I’ve been to some nice ones where the teachers weren’t yelling and screaming at kids in the hallway all the time, but that’s been maybe two out of a dozen. I enjoyed being at the Primary Schools because you have other classes around you, other teachers and support workers around you, and a lot less kids at the school to deal with. Even a middle school I went to 40 miles away on my first teaching assignment after I got my car – that wasn’t bad at all. But once they put these guys in a huge school, something happens that I just can’t imagine. They run around doing whatever they please. It’s not as bad as what I’ve seen in Florida, but I still wonder what kind of money it would take to get any future children of ours into a school that actually helped them succeed.

And this is why I’m back to the idea of training as a teaching assistant. I have experience and I would rather work in the Primary Schools, so in order to get some qualifications, I figure I should take a course here and get job placement to train. I honestly don’t know what other jobs I could do. Steve is totally willing to get me back in school and get another certificate under my belt, but I don’t know what else I could do. As I said before, the library training was useless (I even tried to contact the CILIP about what I could do and no one’s ever gotten back to me.) I just don’t want to keep “spinning my wheels.”

I love books and I love school and it’s a shame that I don’t have a career in either of them.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

15 Sleeps Until Christmas

Christmas @ MetroCentre

Okay, kids. This is another post that I’ve started to write but, unlike the countless others, I’m going to post this.

Everything has been good and fine here. I think I have about everything I need for Christmas Day. (There’s plenty more I would love to get but my cash flow isn’t having it this year.)

I’m hoping to get myself in a Teaching and Learning Support course in January so I can have a certificate that UK schools recognize. Not having any kind of British credentials to my name is making my career completely stall. Plus, I’ve never been properly trained as a teacher of any kind, so I’m hoping to just start fresh.

I’m working on two books as well. One of them is the NaNoWriMo project that I tried work out a basic outline, then stalled on actually writing it on November 1st. Little by little, I’m working on it without the pressure of “write like mad without any worry about it making sense.”

With that said, I may not be posting for a while (I may be, but who knows?) I’ve not been that interested in blogging lately, but if something interesting comes up I’ll update. It doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the blog, it just means my need to discuss myself is starting to diminish. Weird, I know.

So if I don’t get back to the blog before the holidays, I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!