Thursday, 15 November 2012

Blog 54 [9]

   Blog 54 [9]…A special….

... Birthday! Yes it was my birthday this week and although it marks the passing of time it was a vey special one; not as special as 16 or 18 or 21 even…not a landmark one such as 30 or 50 can be but extra special as it marked my retirement! Wow I’ve said it and written it and it still feels strange…
All birthdays are wonderful really no matter what age we are, it’s still exciting to wait for a card through the door…I’ve a wonderful aunt who never forgets…I received a Christmas edition of my favourite magazine and a bar of chocolate from my aunt in Ireland [she knows me so well!] so that I can sit down with a pot of coffee and read to my heart’s content! As well as cards this year I got loads of lovely birthday messages on Face Book which is a great way to celebrate the day! I was also treated to an electronic birthday card via email titled ‘Queen for the day’ from a younger cousin of mine who lives miles away but still keeps in touch! Wonderful! As for the ‘Hubby’ and the boys, ‘Bridezilla’ and her ‘Young man’ and my father: they had me thoroughly spoiled with lovely presents AND a birthday cake! What’s so special about a cake? I think we take for granted these little things…when I was 8 my mother baked me a coconut cake shaped like a fairy’s castle and it was smothered in pink icing: I know I would have had cakes before that age but this one has always stayed in my memory because I was having some friends round for tea and there was a national bread strike on and so mum had to bake the bread for the sandwiches! We had what she called ‘French’ sandwiches: open ones to you and me! Sadly the last birthday cake I had was from my mother when I turned 30…strange how that particular year she baked us all cakes, including the ‘Hubby’ and he was just my ‘Young man’ at the time…as if she knew it would be the last birthdays she’d celebrate with us all.
It was very nice this year to get the chance to blow out some candles again and make a wish!
When I was thinking about my birthday and parties I remembered my 18th and how my mum said I could have a few friends round…only those who were 18 were allowed to have alcohol so straight away I thought it would be a flop! To make matters worse mum was making trifles, stuffed eggs, cheese and pickles on sticks stuck into a silver foil covered half cabbage…ah well it WAS the 70’s! I had been saving up for a long dress to wear…handmade in India in beautiful printed reds and golds…and I decided to dye my boring frizzy brown hair a beautiful chestnut…well that’s what it said on the pack! Of course my luck would have it…my hair ended up pink! We washed it a thousand times until there was no shampoo and no hot water left…but still it remained pinky and twice as frizzy so my mum suggested I tied as much of it into a bun on the top of my head as I could and just have soft wispy bits dangling…ha well the idea was there even if that’s not how it turned out! But the party was a success! I thought everyone would laugh at my mum still being in the house at an 18th… but it worked out well; she spent most of the night surrounded by the lads who loved her trifle and talked about pop stars and music…I know! How cool was that? I didn’t think my mum even knew about Rod Stewart and his latest L.P. [Long playing record for the younger generation reading this…they were made out of vinyl…oh and played on a record player…the equivalent of a CD!] One of the lads had bought me this L.P; Atlantic Crossing…and after a short time at the party he announced that he had to go home to revise…mum was VERY impressed with him and they talked about university and all things intellectual! To be told the following week by friends that my mum was simply the best…ah well that was the best birthday present for me!

My birthday has also given me the chance to catch up with some friends and family and eat lots of goodies and talk and laugh…and I’m going to give an extra special mention to three wonderful, modest, ladies: I had a wonderful surprise birthday lunch with my mum’s youngest sister, one of her daughters and one of her nieces, my cousins. They brought the lunch and cakes and we sat talking like the girls on ‘Loose Women’ as my aunt said! We did have a laugh and it was great for many reasons including the fact that they had arranged this and taken the time to organise it: buying the lunch, cakes and cards as well as taking the time to knit me a lovely mug cover: a brilliant idea, cosy cup holder with star buttons and coloured co-ordinated to match my kitchen! It was also great because sitting at the table with the three of them made me think if this is what it would be like if my mum and ‘Big sister’ were still alive? It just felt right, it felt great and by no means am I saying that I’d replaced my mum and ‘Big sister’ but to have my aunt who looks just like how I imagine my mum would now be looking like and to share some of her memories was just lovely and to sit with two of my many cousins and have a laugh was almost akin to how maybe my ‘Big sister’ and I would have been sitting together. It was a great idea of theirs and very much appreciated. So thank you ladies…you know who you are…

So you see how busy the week has been? Every day there has been something wonderful and tomorrow two friends are collecting me and we are driving up to see our very dear friend who lives in the lakes…well not literally IN the lakes but the surrounding countryside! The four of us were at school together and we have a lot of catching up to do over an extended pub lunch!
My week has turned from just a birth-day to a birthday week!
So, I am retired. I made the decision a while ago after taking the advice of other teachers and decided that if I wasn’t going to go back to teaching then instead of being unemployed and contributing nothing to my family I would take what teacher’s pension I could and enjoy it whilst I can. So that was it! I’m no longer unemployed, out of work…but retired and it’s beginning to feel great. Physically I’m the same, same chronic pain, same frustration, same ups and downs but mentally, strangely, I feel lighter, less worried, less anxious…relief almost! There was just a tinge of sadness when I realised that this is it my teaching career is over…not quite how I imagined retiring to be: no fond farewells, no acknowledgement of all my years in education…just an emailed confirmation of the date I officially retire. There! Kaput! As my mother used to say! Will I miss it? Well I have been missing the cut and thrust of the work place...ha! I have missed watching the children I teach blossom…seriously…I’ve always taken pride in my achievements…but the time is right to wave goodbye to the blackboard…er white boards nowadays…perhaps it’s time to do something completely different…
 It has been a lifetime and yet it seems to have gone in the blink of an eye. In 1976 I embarked on my Catholic teacher-training course in Liverpool. As you all know from an earlier blog it wasn’t my first career choice but I went along with it to keep the peace at home. I worked hard and struggled with the most awful home sickness. My nerves often got the better of me and I would feel my legs shaking when standing in front of groups of students during discussions and practicing teaching. We did what was called Micro-teaching: teaching the first part of a lesson in front of a camera and then having it played back to the other students so that they could offer praise …or in my case criticism! I shook like a leaf in front of the camera…I stuttered and leant against the table where my ‘visual-aids’ were displayed; it was a Maths lesson on graphs and I was using tower blocks of coloured wooden bricks to explain my point…naturally I knocked them onto the floor…
“Oh shit…oh God I said shit…oh shit I said God in front of the class…oh shit I said shit again…”
I think you can guess what criticism I was offered…
My first teaching practice was in a brilliant school in the docklands and the children were amazing, resourceful kids who had very little of anything except for a great sense of humour and a quick eye for anything that could be recycled! In my first week there I had to accompany a group of them across the road to the church for their Friday afternoon confession. They all sat in rows by the confessional box waiting to take turns with the priest to confess their ‘sins’ before mass on Sunday. When they each came out they sat and said their repentance prayers before getting up and quietly walking around the church, stopping at each statue with the candles flickering in front of them and obviously saying extra prayers as they bowed their heads.
“Are you going in miss?”
“Oh I don’t think so, not today…”
“Our miss always goes in…
“Yeah and she takes ages!”
Mmm well I thought I’d better set a good example and do what their teacher usually did. So I entered the dark confessional and began my ‘Forgive me father for I have sinned…’ when I heard a lot of scuffling and shuffling of feet and whispered giggling…
“Excuse me father, I need to just check the children…”
“You’re with THEM and you’re in HERE?”
I quickly jumped out to see a group of children standing by the door with an angry looking teacher and as I approached she calmly asked where had the other five boys gone? OMG a few of them had ‘clocked off early’ and the ones she had stopped at the door were asked to empty their pockets. What?
Ah well it would appear that you NEVER leave children unattended…even the oldest ones in the school…and as they began to empty their pockets I couldn’t believe what I saw…the bowing of the heads in front of the statues had been the action of blowing the flames out and putting the candles in their pockets…only taking one per statue at a time so as not to raise the alarm…the gentle walking round the church to pray had been so that they could take a bible or cushion pad; one of those that were hand embroidered; it made the lad look 7 months pregnant with it up his jumper…and one or two had taken the baskets from the back of the church used for collections during mass…one little girl had a handful of flowers… “AW they’re fur me mam…”
I’d like to say it got better but you know it didn’t.
I had to teach a topic on birds…and I was thoroughly prepared for all possibilities…or so I thought. My nerves made me feel sick to the stomach the very minute the teacher left me on my own with her class of thirty- seven 9 and 10 year olds. They all sat staring…not a peep out of them. I stood in front of the board and with a piece of chalk in my right hand I leant against the blackboard eagerly awaiting their responses to my questions…basic ones like ‘Let’s see what we know about birds?’ So that I could write the answers on the board and then we could correlate all the information…yeah right. The first few answers; ‘they shit on me mam’s washing…they dive bomb our cat’…and other similar answers I had to try to ignore by suggesting we look at how many different types of birds could we all think of…now the answers came thick and fast and I swayed to and fro in front of the board writing furiously…and when I paused to talk I leant on the board again and found that by swinging my leg up and down my nervous shaking seemed to settle. The lesson was going well and the board was filling up with bird names and I moved about feeling a little less nervous and then I noticed that one little lad at the front of the class didn’t look too good…just as I stopped swinging my leg I lowered it and I stepped back and unfortunately got my foot stuck in the paper bin…at exactly the same time as this, the little lad lurched forward from his desk and puked up over my foot in the bin…just as the class all said “Uew” the teacher re-appeared: she took one look at me and asked “What on earth…?” just as a voice from the back of the class said:
“The new Miss 'as made Johnny sick…and she’s written TITS on the board…” Dear Lord please let the ground open up and swallow me…who’d have thought I’d classify a certain group of birds under that heading!
My second teaching practice was brilliant…I was in a great school in Bootle and the staff had the best ever attitude towards teaching: all the children had to leave school able to read, write, do mental calculations and survive in the outside world; regardless of any other topics or new fangled teaching techniques. I learnt a great deal from these experienced, talented people who showed love and affection for the children they taught. These children came from deprived backgrounds and whose lives were hard enough without teachers making it harder by setting unreasonable tasks. For example there was no homework set as a lot of them went home to houses with no heating or lighting so extra lessons after school were offered and for the most were successful as it gave them a longer time in the warmth and safety of school as well as securing their chances of a better education. The school had access to a swimming pool across the playground and this was where most children had their weekly bath! The standard of teaching was second to none and I was happy there; I felt as though I was blossoming and perhaps I could be a great teacher. However, this was short lived as the last teaching practice school was a slightly tougher area of Liverpool…on my first day I asked the lollipop lady if I was at the right school…she looked me up and down and said:
“EY queen…I’d turn around and run like f**k outta ‘ere… they’ll eat ya alive…”
The first words from the headmaster were:
“Your surname isn’t a common one…I have to ask are you related to the family of the same name from this area?”
“Er no sir…why?”
“It’s that there’s a lot of trouble with rival gangs and the leader has been sent down due to being 'dobbed' in by a person with your surname…you’ll need to watch yer back…”
Good God…really? This goes on in real life and not just on the telly? This has to have been one of the toughest schools I have EVER taught in, in my entire career!
The Headmaster had a cane hanging on the back of his door...and told me he wasn’t afraid to use it if I had any problems. The top juniors, aged 10 and 11, were like men; tall, bulky and tough. They spat and swore and asked staff what were they going to do about it? They ran around the school yard like a mini mafia. My class were younger but just smaller versions…three of the girls mugged a secondary school pupil as she ran across the yard to her school one morning because she was late. They tripped her up, pulled her bag off her, sat on her back and ate her packed lunch…all in view of the rest of the children. I shook with fear every morning when I had to go out on duty with the class teacher who warned me not to make eye contact with any of the parents at the railings or question the older pupils who used the yard as a short cut to where they wanted to be. It was also suggested that I never accept any sweets or cakes that the children may offer…which despite everything they were generous children…
“It’s a hygiene thing…”
“But I ate some chocolate yesterday from Mary…her sister works in the chocolate factory…”
“Think about how she would get it past the security guard…”
“What? I thought they’d get discount…”
“Think about it…”
Dear Lord! It turned out Mary’s sister smuggled bars of chocolate out of the factory…without paper wrappings…down the front of her nickers…defying any security guard to search there…!”
 I was told in confidence if I managed to keep all the children in the classroom for most of the day then I’d pass my practice…it was just a case of getting through another day. The class ignored a lot of what I tried to teach them…one child sat all day under the desk at my feet, pulling at my tights and cutting them with little scissors…another preferred to stand swaying against the wall and pick the display work off bit by bit…another loved going to the toilet and staying there until the Headmaster found him during his daily rounds of all places where children could hide….one child cut her pig tail off and then proceeded to do the same to her friend…
“LoooK miss…we’re ‘airdressers!”
The Bishop came to do his dutiful rounds of all Catholic schools and we had to stand at the door of the class room with just a handful of pupils on show…the ones who were capable of answering the Bishop’s questions…my group were asked;
“What can you say about the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand…what did Jesus do with the fish and the loaves?”
“Please yer ‘ighness he made fish sarnies…I’m glad I wasn’t there I hate fish and me mam says it’s good for you but it stinks the hell out of the kitchen…”
Please now seriously let the floor open up and swallow me…I’m not responsible for what comes out of their mouths…but the look of the Bishop and the Parish priest and the headmaster were enough to make me feel a total failure…I had practiced that story all week…and this is what that child came out with!
This staff were tired, depressed and disillusioned. My college tutor was young, enthusiastic, highly intelligent and in cloud cuckoo land. She suggested that I had a wander around the estate and get a feel for the area and how the children lived. ‘Take a camera and make a folder of photos of the locality and use it as a point of discussion with the children…’ So I proudly set off one lunch time…all the shops were boarded up by metal shutters which were covered in graffiti …only shop doors were open…I guess you needed to know by routine which shop was which…there were no plants, no trees just piles of burnt out bonfires, discarded furniture and burnt out cars…groups of people hanging around smoking with no where to go…and as I clicked clicked away with my trusty little camera I found myself walking along the road where my bus stop was…and I was being followed…now I was frightened and now I realised how dense I was to think I could walk around their domain and intrude on their lives. Surrounded by a group of lads I feared the worst…from nowhere came a voice…
“Oiy yer theiving gits! Get away from er…”
“F**k off you ****
“You f**k orf or I’ll ram yer arses with this…go on…git…”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry…the sight of the lollipop lady waving her lollipop stick in the air and cursing and swearing as the lads laughed and stuck their fingers up at us was quite something!
She escorted me back to school; warning me that it was not safe to be alone…and to stay in school at all costs…she asked me why did I think there were iron railings all around the school entrance and at the windows…for the safety of those inside…her way of saying “Alright ‘dere now queen…” has never left me!

Half way through my practice my tutor decided perhaps if I changed the topics I was teaching and gave the children more practical experiences then they would respond…I certainly was never doing a project on birds again! I spent a full weekend changing plans and getting them passed by my tutor…she had also had a word in confidence with the psychology department and they decided I needed an effective method of praising the correct behaviour and ignoring the poor behaviour…sweets was the answer. So she provided me with an everlasting supply of sweets…stating that as I was a poor student no one expected me to pay for these ‘magic’ beans myself….hey presto! I doled these things out constantly…sit up, fold your arms, don’t call out, put your hand up, line up straight, walk quietly, don’t hurt any one, stop spitting, stop swearing, tidiest table, quickest pupil to get changed for P.E.…you name it a sweet was the praise and quite literally I had them eating out of my hand! It all began to go swimmingly…only one minor hiccup…during an art and craft session when the children were making collages of winter scenes I had piled loads of old materials on a desk and they had the freedom to choose what they wanted to use…my tutor arrived and unbeknown to me she had placed her purple, furry hat and her raincoat on the same table before wandering round the room watching my interaction with the children. Imagine my horror when she was leaving and reached for what was left of her hat…and a hole in her raincoat where one of the pockets had been! Well…those children certainly were responding to being more creative!
I qualified in 1979…just in time for the shortage of teaching jobs due to cut backs…so for a short while I worked in a warehouse…whole different blog on careers is that experience! But then just after the Christmas day in December 1979 I received a phone call from a headmaster of a school in Liverpool…he was desperate for a strong teacher who had experience of a ‘certain’ type of pupil and area and he had been having lunch with an ex-tutor of mine who had recommended me for the job…was I interested?
Hell yes! I’d gone through a lot of heartache to just fritter away my teaching qualification in a warehouse packing catalogues [although I did get promoted to counting order forms…!] His instructions were very clear…
“Get the Southport train from Liverpool Central…get off at Waterloo…come up the steps…follow the children in the grey uniform walking towards the church spire you can see from the station and you’ll find us…looking forward to having you on our staff…”
“What about an interview?”
“No need…I’ve heard all about you…”
“And you still want to give me a job?”
“ Ha ha! Just what I expected to hear…see you on the 7th January…”

            ... Best get my jar of sweets ready then...

....and so began my very long and varied teaching career…

Footnote: Johnny and Mary are not the real names of those children.

Blog 54 [9]

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