A NEW OPPORTUNITY

A few weeks ago I signed myself up for the ‘Blogging Fundamentals’ course, part of WordPress University. I was really excited from the off as I was hoping to spend time working on my writing muscles and also engage with fellow bloggers.

I have a tendency to be pretty hard on myself when it comes to ‘getting shit done’, believing that there is always more that I could be doing. But I have been trying to stick to my commitment, that is, of posting at least once a week.

That was until this past week or so because work happened… Well, to be more specific, a new job happened.

As I mentioned in some of my earlier posts I have been torn for some time between whether to remain in teaching or not (I am talking at least five years). It is the only profession I have known apart from stints of working in various retail outlets and then a waitress when I was a student, and I can’t leave out the two years doing a newspaper round in the neighbourhood in which I grew up. But in the past few years I have been toying with the idea of leaving to do something different, either still within the field of education or breaking away entirely.

The idea of toying of leaving was very nearly going to become my reality when, after some months I was unable to find another teaching job. I work in the international circuit having left the UK five years ago and, unlike three years ago when I first moved to SE Asia, this time it was going to be much more difficult. In the first instance, my search area was restricted due to a move to be with my partner and also because the teaching market where he is based is incredibly competitive. Most, but certainly not all, international schools have many of their positions filled by Christmas with some advertising as early as September/October for the following academic year. By March, I was resigned to the fact that I would be moving without a job and would be living off some of my savings for an indefinite period of time.

But then a job came up and despite some mixed feelings about applying for it; primarily due to the resigned feeling and wondering whether I still want to teach, I put in an application. And things went from there.

I had an interview and received an offer a little over a week ago.

And the best thing? I am really excited about it!

BREXIT MEANS BREXIT, APPARENTLY

A little thing called Brexit was triggered today, as Brexit is both a verb and a noun, or more specifically article 50 was triggered. The Treaty of Lisbon, which contains the article itself came into force in 2009 allowing member states to apply to leave the European Union. And if you listen to some areas of the media, Britain will not be the first country to do this. It means two years of negotiations between the European Union and the UK to establish what they can both get out of the deal, with what it really coming down to who is going to pay out the most or least depending on how you look at it. But it was a nice photo opportunity for Teresa May to sign official papers in Downing Street as it was also to then have these delivered to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk.

In some areas of the media, the result of the EU referendum has been likened to a divorce, resulting in the subsequent dividing up of assets between opposing parties. But, my view is that the relationship is more akin to frenemies. After all, we all know what that’s like… one minute you like one another and the next minute, you don’t. The difference in this instance is that the breakup isn’t usually permanent with frenemies, unlike this situation*. 

Successive British governments, although there have been exceptions, have not found the partnership with the EU easy; they’ve squabbled, they’ve become best buddies again, there have been periods of relative calm (particularly before the economic recession in 2008), only to eventually decide to call it a day in June 2016 in a globally televised vote. I voted in the referendum and found myself gobsmacked when the final result revealed that ‘Leave’ had won by nearly 52% and with a voter turnout of over 72%, this was higher than the previous two UK general elections (65.1% in 2010 and 66.1% in 2015).

It has taken some months for things to sink in, as I, like many, battled with a number of emotions following the result. I was in the Remain camp and felt that we were better together than apart, and I still do. I am not saying that everything about the EU itself is wonderful and it exists in some magical place full of rainbows and unicorns, the EU headquarters are only in Brussels for goodness sake. But silliness aside, the EU is bureaucratic, it is bloated and I also imagine that in some areas it is also expensive to operate. But for me at least, when I think of Europe and its creation, I think of it’s central aim when it was first established – to bring countries together after a period of chaos and war.

Now, where is that magical place full of rainbows and unicorns? Any ideas?

* In theory the UK, like other countries have done in the past, can ask to join (re-join) the European Union and there are various tests a country must pass before being able to do so.

‘HAPPINESS LESSONS’ IN SCHOOLS

I first realised that something wasn’t ‘quite right’ in terms of my emotional health when I was in my early teens.

Sure, like all teens my hormones were all over the place and combined with the fact that I was a frightfully sensitive young woman, it just meant that I was a sucker for punishment. Certainly, the hypersensitivity that I experienced was nothing new, but by the time I was around 14 years old I felt as though I had slipped down a rabbit hole.

As much as I had some wonderful friends, I didn’t feel as though I could confide in them about what I was experiencing. I suppose to some extent I believed that either everyone was going through the same thing or nobody was. But either way, I wasn’t prepared to find out, I felt far too insecure. My parents also had busy working lives and apart from over the dinner table we rarely sat down as a family ‘to talk,’ or if we did, it felt disjointed and false. So I certainly wasn’t going to bring up personal issues with them.

Back at school the only guidance we had about issues related to mental health linked to exam stress. An important area but I didn’t fully understand or couldn’t even yet articulate to a large extent my own thoughts about how I was feeling and why, but I knew that what I was experiencing wasn’t solely down to exam stress.

I felt that there was and still is a level of stigma associated with simply taking the first step in asking for help. During my teens and even up until relatively recently as an adult, I felt that if I did speak out about what I was experiencing I was effectively branding myself as ‘different’, something that would surely cause me much embarrassment and even more anxiety.

So I read with interest recently that the government is planning on trialling ‘happiness lessons’ to eight-year-old children as part of the government’s wider support for mental health services. The lessons will utilise mindfulness techniques with the aim of helping students to “self-regulate their own behaviour.” It is a step in a good direction and especially trialling the scheme with younger students especially as it will hopefully instil them with tools that they can come back to when necessary. However, at the same time I am cautious, can you really ‘teach happiness?’

Right today everyone, we are going to be learning about happiness. Here are the lesson objectives…

  • Know what happiness is
  • Apply this to your own life
  • Evaluate your own levels of happiness

And that is what concerns me, in all subject areas, a student’s progress is measured by a predicted level/grade of some sort. This then allows a school to compare this data to other students and schools. I would hope, that if the trial is successful, it doesn’t result in a data crunching and comparison exercise where the original purpose of the research is lost. In one school where I previously worked, even in PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education), a curriculum that focuses on life skills such as careers advice, sex and drug education, and health and wellbeing, students were given termly assessments to check their progress.

I would also hope, that any scheme, this one and others with a similar ambition, focus on the breadth of emotions that we can experience. Yes, teaching happiness is all well and good, but even that has a range of emotions attached to it from ecstatic joy to a more sedate level of contentment. Although I have come to live with bouts of depression and varying degrees of anxiety, it has taken me years to accept and come to terms with these aspects of myself. But, if schemes like this can help young people recognise the emotions that they experience from an early age and it helps them articulate them then I am all for it.

MEETING THE NEIGHBOURS

With work being a little busy over the past week, what with a parents day and additional preparations to be made as I look ahead to a busy summer with examinations, or should that be my students’ examinations… I have decided to pull together a few of the tasks from Blogging University 101.

One of the best things about blogging is the fact that you are able to join all sorts of communities for your different interests and a number of the tasks in the last few days have focused on just that: discovering and greeting other bloggers, and also building an audience of your own.

A community whether in physical or cyberspace form, can only flourish if it is tended to. So the tasks specifically have encouraged me to take a step out of my ‘safe place’ and to get commenting and connecting.

I have to say the ‘safe place’ is all well and good and can be pretty cosy at times, but it has been great to put my view out there and receive feedback in return.

Therefore, as well as the initial commitment I set myself when I first started Blogging University 101 of posting at least once a week (whilst work is pretty heavy – I am hoping that this will ease somewhat in the next month or so, so I can post more), I am going to set myself a second commitment: to regularly meet more of my neighbours.

PULL UP A CHAIR

The challenge posed by the fourth day of WordPress Blogging University 101 regarding ‘Identifying Your Reader’ initially stumped me. I imagine that the people who read my blog are varied and full of wonderful contradictions, much like the wide variety of blogs that I follow. So, taking inspiration from a careers course I took last year, I have decided to address this a little differently…

About Me

I am…

  • Creative. Yeah, I can do things the way they are ‘supposed’ to be. But, I like creating new things, new ideas – I want to see things in a different way as sometimes they are better that way.
  • Supportive. I am able to see the need for a supportive ear, whether it’s for advice or constructive feedback.
  • Sometimes pessimistic. So not every day is sunny and rosy. Perhaps I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I’ll try my best to keep things friendly, but sometimes allow me some space to grumble. Although in some circumstances this may result in some space away from blogging.
  • A warm person. Ok, so sometimes I can be pessimistic, shit happens! But generally, certainly at least 75% of the time I am warm and a good person to be around.

I am not…

  • Stupid. I implore you to treat me like someone who has a few brain cells in her head.
  • Always ‘sensitive’ or ‘emotional’ because I am female. Though sometimes I may well be. I am human and full of contradictions but don’t use my gender to predetermine what I can and cannot do.

About You

I hope you…

  • Enjoy my writing. I write about a number of different things so drop me a line if there is something that you enjoy!
  • Have some compassion. It takes courage for anyone to put content ‘out there’ in whatever format so if you are going to comment on my work, please be constructive with any criticism. I am sensitive at heart.
  • Share and share alike. I write about a number of things including education, politics, psychology and mental health, but I don’t want to stick necessarily within these parameters, so if there is something that you think I would like please feel free to share it with me. And I will do the same.

Want to see the original inspiration for this post?

Check out: Reverse Job Application by Andrew Horner

TITLES, TAGLINES AND TELLING TALES

So I have already broken the commitment I shared when I started Blogging University 101, I stated that I would post once a week and here I am, two posts in two days.

I am still wrestling with some of the finer details of the blog itself, I am happy with its appearance and theme in particular although the tagline caused some vexation for a period of time. In the end and for the time being, I have chosen a quote by Ernest Hemingway, a writer whose work I have only touched upon in the past but what I have read struck a chord. Coincidently, the quote fits rather neatly with the theme: Hemingway Rewritten.

Who is Audrey Jones?

When I first established the blog back in 2015, I knew that I wanted to use a pen name. The name was pretty simple in terms of its creation, My late grandmother was called ‘Audrey’ and ‘Jones’ was an even simpler choice as, for me, it just seemed to fit. The pseudonym of Audrey Jones provides me with a cloak of sorts to help dampen some of the anxiety I experience when I publish my writing. I am getting better with dealing with this and I read recently that Beyonce ‘killed off’ her alter-ego of Sasha Fierce a few years ago as she feels more attuned now to who she really is. I can relate to this, and I would like to think that with time I will feel the same way. Audrey will merge with the ‘real me’.

I am curious as to whether anyone has some insights into this so if anyone has any feedback, then please let me know.

TAKING A SEAT AT THE TABLE

My first tentative steps into the blogging world was five years ago and looking back I can barely recall what the hell I was writing about, probably nothing much of note, although I am pretty sure that the blog and the accompanying writing was pretty ‘undeveloped’ to say the least.

I didn’t really know what I was doing and so would post sporadically and when I did click ‘publish’ I would be so eager to simply get something out there that I wouldn’t necessarily stop to perform a simple spell-check. Jeez… Particularly in those early days of blogging, I didn’t really consider the reason why I wanted to publish certain personal stories online or even the quality of the output. I just knew that I wanted to write.

Therefore in a bid to develop my blog and to take more consideration into the direction in which I want to take my site, I have decided to register with WordPress Blogging University 101 (again!) The first time I did this was in a different blog’s past life about three years ago. I met some wonderfully supportive fellow bloggers coming from a vast array of fields; photographers, novelists, chefs, fellow teachers, poets, students and many more.

At the time I had recently moved for work and found solace in the awesome community. But in all honesty, I lost direction with the blog itself after six months or so. Once again I had failed to consider what I was doing and why and so that early enthusiasm* dwindled into once again sporadic posts. Every time I even so much as looked at it, I felt despondent and frustrated, that was until I finally closed the site.

And the worst part? I don’t think I even graduated.

Ok, so perhaps there are worse things than not graduating from Blogging University 101. But in this case, there is, I stopped writing. And for quite a while. My job was busy and draining and when I tried to get stuck into something, I felt completely void of ideas.

So here is my commitment: I am going to post at least once a week.

Small steps and all that.

* I recall once challenging myself to a commitment of posting at least twice a week, something that at the time was unrealistic considering the demands of my job.

TAKING THE TIME TO LISTEN

It is Friday afternoon and lessons for the week have just finished; students are heading home along with some of my colleagues. I don’t like to hang around too late on a Friday either, but I have set of test papers to mark that I would prefer to do from the relative comforts of a quiet classroom rather than in the real comforts of home. Besides, I have already allocated some of my Sunday to prepping for the following week, the test papers would just add to that load.

Then my door opens.

It is a colleague whose classroom is adjacent to mine coming in for a chat. But when I say ‘chat’ as that would presume that that there were two people involved in the conversation, it’s more like being spoken at about his day.

I put my pen and the exam paper down and listen to his frustrations; the students who haven’t quite registered that their final exams are in a few months time, the ones who have failed to hand in homework, and the ones who promised that they would turn up for the revision classes but didn’t. I listen and attempt to offer support and advice where I can, we are colleagues and part of the same team. I am also the Head of Department.

After he has left, I settle back into marking the papers. It’s a significant pile and I really don’t want to have to take them all home this weekend. Last weekend was spent proof-reading student subject reports for the department, I could barely see straight after I had finished.

Then my door opens.

It’s another member of the team, she’s relatively new and still working her way around the school and its quirks. I try to give her as much time as I can as I have heard on the teacher grapevine that she has already thrown around some flippant remarks about leaving before the end of the academic year due to the ‘unreasonable workload’. Much like a few minutes before, I am blasted with information and updates on her day. I sit and listen patiently with a set smile on my face, but in the back of my mind I am thinking about those unmarked test papers, about the data that it will then probably take another 30 minutes or so to input onto the school system, the emails I need to reply to, and the fact that I haven’t had chance all day to go the office to photocopy my resources for Monday.

After she leaves something strikes me as I am trying to get my head back into marking mode, I very rarely get asked about how I am by members of the team. Perhaps they think that I am fine because of the persona that I carry off (very successfully, if I say so myself) day to day. None of them is aware of the challenges I sometimes have just to get up in a morning and get to work, but then, why should they need to know? Or perhaps the reason I don’t get asked is because I am a member of management and there is a ‘them and us’ mindset to it. Sometimes people just need to vent and I do feel that part of my role is to cushion some of the blows or at least act as a sponge.

In this time-pressed profession, I would love to sit down and have more conversations with my team and other colleagues, perhaps about things going outside of the classroom and outside of the school. But I don’t see that happening in the near future, particularly as exam season approaches.

I admit my management style may have contributed towards this situation. Despite the seemingly constant curriculum changes and ever evolving school diktats, I try to manage with a democratic approach inasmuch as I can; concerns are discussed openly in meetings and if an issue affects someone directly, I will do my best to help. They are an amazingly hard-working bunch whose support I value every single day.

But it would be nice sometimes for one of them to ask how I am and pause for an answer.

A ‘CAREER GIRL?’

Each week at work like the rest of the teaching faculty, I am required to do two playground duties, one of which takes place in the morning before lessons begin. It’s a fairly uneventful and unexciting responsibility (unlike some of my experiences when I was working in the UK), where I wander around for twenty minutes, chat to students, give them a teacher glare if they are even thinking about doing something off the school-rules-book and perhaps catch up with a few colleagues.

The vast majority of the time nothing actually happens. That was until this Wednesday when a colleague who works in the higher echelons of the school hierarchy stopped to say hello. Although in fact, his greeting consisted of “Have you got a job yet?”

This is a fairly standard question I get asked nowadays, after all, I handed in my notice to my current employers some months ago. In the time since I have had one interview (although I have only applied for two jobs due to my location restrictions) and was unsuccessful in that case. I usually reply with a smile and “Nope, nothing at the moment” or something to a similar effect. But this time, whether it was frustration, defensiveness, general annoyance, the fact that it was a Wednesday or all of the above, I changed tact. Instead, I replied with “Does that have to be the first question I get asked?”

So that prompted a surprised reaction for both of us, he hadn’t been expected that response, even his facial expressions and body language spoke volumes as he arched his back and glanced around. And I was surprised at myself for saying what I have been thinking for some time actually out loud.

“I am worried about you,” he said leaning in. “A career girl like you, not having another job yet. I thought you’d have one by now.”

I didn’t want to share with him that I am seriously considering taking a break from teaching, I don’t believe that it is any of his business. Plus at this point, I was annoyed by his line of questioning and the patronising manner in which he approached the subject.

It’s interesting because as I read back over what I have written so far, there is a part of me that is muttering away: Stop being so defensive! He was only asking out of concern, why make a mountain out of a molehill? I will concede that perhaps the reason for his initial query was out of genuine interest and concern, but I am curious, would a man be told that they are a ‘career boy’ for the same reasons I was? I find it unlikely.

For whatever the justifications for his concern and his perceived label of me, I have unearthed a few positives from the encounter. Firstly, when I next get asked: “Have you got a job yet?” I will try and steer the conversation in a different direction, one hopefully that doesn’t entail an analysis of my career to date. Secondly and more significantly, I have also reassessed a number of things, particularly in relation to how I label myself.

Am I a ‘career girl/woman/person?’

I wouldn’t define myself in this way as there is an implication that I originally set out in teaching to achieve what I have (particularly in terms of having a management position), or that I indeed want to continue climbing the career ladder if I were to stay teaching. In actual fact, the latter does not fill me with much motivation in the slightest! So I guess I’d like to thank my colleague for helping reaffirm this for me.

WEBSITE REVAMP

I recently followed through with something that I have been reminding myself to sort out for a while now… a website revamp.

It has been a long time coming.

Although I loved the simplicity of it how my site looked previously, where the landing page consisted of bold featured images, after some time of trying to figure out why it just wasn’t working anymore for me, I realised that the images took centre stage more than my writing. It was more ‘style than substance’ in terms of first appearances. Plus I was ready for a change, I think that is one of the wonderful things about creating content and finally hitting the publish button, you are releasing a little of yourself out there, into the world and that includes how the content appears.

So the overhaul included a biggie – a change of template.

I believe that my site now appears fresher, bolder and I, myself am feeling reinvigorated by the revamp and ready to crack on with producing more content 🙂