Up, up and away 

I love airports. The excitement and buzz of people going to exotic destinations is palpable. I know some may be making mundane flights but I like to imagine everyone is going somewhere magical and special.

I love the anticipation of travel. Sure the whole standing in line thing to go through security can be a bit dull but once that’s over, you know you’re very close to getting on a plane. 
This latest adventure has been many months in planning. The excitement has been escalating over the last few weeks. The ultimate destination will be Sydney in a few weeks time for my nephews wedding. 

As I sit at the gate with the family Young, I know we are all going to have an amazing time. I simply can’t wait to see my sister and her family. I have been looking forward to experiencing new things, new foods, new cultures for many a month now. 

I’ll blog as we go. Join us on our adventure as and when you feel like it.

Next stop Hong Kong. 

Nothing prepared me for a day like today.

Nothing prepared me you for a day like today.

A day when the quiet, nervous student told me that he felt empty inside. Like he didn’t belong here. Like he had nothing left to give. And just to be sure I understood what he was saying, he mentioned his suicidal thoughts.

Nothing prepared me for how quickly I would replay all our conversations. Flash back to his challenging family background. To the difficulties and the terrible things his family had endured. The list is too long and shocking to recall in detail. My mind was desperately searching for facts. I know he was in supported living accommodation. There was some talk of him moving at 18. My mind struggled to recall the details.

Then some sort of autopilot reaction took over. The welfare team was called upon and I took the student off to talk to someone trained to deal with these situations. In the meantime, he talked about how he was feeling. And I listened. He told me about feeling like an outsider. About feeling trapped in his own body. He felt like nobody cared about him. He said he often feels lonely and afraid. And I listened.  I reassured him the best I could that people do care about him and want the best for him. All the while I was seeing his student history on our computer system in my mind’s eye, knowing full well that he had no family at home worrying about him. The welfare team leapt into action and spent the rest of the day listening, supporting and helping this student. I hope he was able to open up and talk through his problems.

Nothing prepared me for feeling so desperately helpless in this situation. All I could do was to offer an ear and a kind word. All the time I was hoping I wasn’t making matters worse. I’m glad he was able to talk to me today.  I’ll be so very glad to see him in my class tomorrow.

Are we nearly there yet?

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On our recent walking trip to Scotland, we had so many memorable experiences. And many challenges too. The weather played it’s part as was to be expected in March in the West Highlands. This added to the sense of adventure although I’m not sure I thought so at the time.

One days’ walk took us from Bridge of Orchy all the way to Kingshouse. This was about 13 miles of tiring walking mostly on an old drove road. The cobbles were worn down from all the weary travellers and had become slippery from the torrential rain. Not the easiest of walks. I’m not exactly sure if we got to see Glen Coe through the rain and mist.

Most sensible folks would have ended their walk at Kingshouse. Not us. No. We were going up the Devil’s Staircase no matter what. 30 minutes up a winding path to the summit then a long descent. The guidebook said it wasn’t as bad as all that. We’d probably had harder climbs earlier in the week when we were feeling more lively.

The weather was turning worse. Drizzly rain; the sort the West coast is famous for. It lent a dank and moody atmosphere to the climb. We made our way slowly up the winding path. At times we couldn’t see where the path was going as we zig zagged up the hillside. Probably a good thing. We just kept following the twisty path. Up. Up. And still up. It was tiring on our weary legs. Occasionally we could see fellow walkers in the distance. The mist was getting thicker and It was hard to tell if they were going up or coming down. We literally had our heads in the clouds. A few crazy folks were running up the hill. Respect to those folks. They seemed oblivious to the huge rocks on the path and the overflowing streams. Like mountain goats. I suppose they’d been on the path before and had the terrain mapped in their mind. Or else they loved this kind of adrenaline rush.

I had to stop a few times; to admire the view and to have a well-earned breather. One welcome stop was to have a chat with an old man and his dog who were coming down the hill. I asked him if we were nearly at the top! I probably sounded like an impatient child on a long car journey. I must have looked like I wanted an accurate answer rather than some waffly words of encouragement. It made me chuckle to think of how many other people had stopped to ask him the same question. With twinkly eyes, he said we were about two-thirds of the way up. Good use of fractions I thought! The old man told us that despite being in his 70s, he regularly walks up and down the Devil’s Staircase. He said his wife sends him out so she can have some peace and quiet to get on with her chores.

The old man told us that he had been a mountain guide in the Lake Districts. He said that when walkers used to plead with him if they were nearly at the top, he always said yes. He would patiently explain that the top was just round the next corner. He would add that there wasn’t much further to go. That they had passed the worse bit. He explained his reasoning for not being entirely truthful. It was very simple. He realised from his experience that if the walkers had known what was coming up, they would simply give up and refuse to go on.

As we said our goodbyes and continued our climb, I started to think about the students in my resit GCSE maths class. It’s fair to say that few of them want to be resitting maths. In the early days, many of my students saw my class as a pointless exercise. Some probably still do. Most thought maths was irrelevant to what they wanted to do and where they want to be. Many of them kicked against coming to class. I suppose they felt they knew what was coming up. They found maths difficult, challenging and basically hard work. For some, progress was painfully slow. Lack of basic skills led to frustration and most certainly hampered progress. Indeed, most of the students would have bolted out of the class given half a chance. Somehow I managed to cajole them into coming to class and having a go. Eventually, I managed to get some on side. Some started to make a bit of an effort. Slowly, we recapped the basics, worked on the gaps in their knowledge and did a whole lot of maths.

With less than 6 weeks to go to GCSE maths, I now need to prepare my students for their exams. All too often in education, we focus on the final result. In FE, having a C grade in English and maths is a bit like The Holy Grail. Rightly or wrongly, this is one of ways that our teaching ‘success’ is measured.

This week I’m going to get my students to stop and think about how far they’ve come since the start of term. I’d like them to look back and see just how much they have grown and matured. I want them to be proud of their hard work and effort. I hope they will be able to see that the resilience they have gained by sticking with something that they find challenging will be invaluable to them going forward. I hope these skills will linger with them long after their algebra knowledge has faded.

#EpilepsyAwareness #PurpleDay2016

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My 17 year old daughter was recently diagnosed with juvenile epilepsy. The neurologist explained that she has probably had this illness since she was about 10 years old. I guess that means I won’t be winning any prizes in the Parent of the Year competition. The neurologist says that since she’s very active and healthy, her brain has managed to somehow mask and deal with the symptoms up until now.

She’s never been a morning person – always difficult to wake up and a touch cranky. When I look back, I can remember so many mornings shouting at her to get out of bed, to hurry up and get dressed, to eat her breakfast. Typical teenage behaviour that I’m sure most parents have experienced.  But it turns out there’s a very good reason for this. She has nocturnal seizures. As she sleeps in her own bedroom, these seizures were undetected till very recently.

She had some friends sleeping over for an end of holiday treat. Her friends were woken by her mumblings as she seized in her sleep. For anyone who has seen someone having a seizure, it was a frightening experience and we watched helplessly for what seemed the longest time for the seizure to be over.

When it was over, she was dazed, disorientated and confused. It was a while before she was coherent and had no memory of what happened. She had bitten her tongue quite badly and had a bad headache afterwards. If you’ve ever had a migraine, I think the after feeling is somewhat similar. We spent the day in hospital with the doctors running tests to find out what was going on.

There are many different types of epilepsy. The good news is that she will grow out of the condition in the next few years. Her seizures should be able to be controlled with the right medication. The neurologist talked about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle; common sense things like getting enough sleep, regular exercise and avoiding stress. The medication will control the nocturnal seizures soon. Although it isn’t always obvious if she’s had a seizure in the night, the groggy feeling, aura and difficulty getting going are tell tale signs. These can have a debilitating affect and can be hard to shake off.

We are very fortunate to have an excellent neurologist and an epilepsy special nurse at our local hospital. The information, advice and support from The Epilepsy Society (@epilepsysociety ), Young Epilepsy (@youngepilepsy ) and Epilepsy Positivity (@epilepsyposi) has been amazing. These offer online support platforms for sufferers to chat, have a vent and compare notes.

We have been overwhelmed by the support of family, friends and our online community for #PurpleDay2016 and #EpilepsyAwareness. We hope that you will continue to talk about epilepsy. Thank you for taking the time to read this post.

Stop all the clocks

I never did get to tell you about my trip to see you dad. About the 6am start. About the foggy, misty day. About how the roads were quiet as we drove to the airport. I never did get to tell you about how big and busy Stansted airport is now. Barely recognisable from your visits dad. I never did get to tell you about the long winding queues of people waiting to get through the security checks. You would have laughed  when I told you about how I picked the wrong queue, as usual. I never did get to tell you about the girls going on the hen weekend; happily drinking bottles of beer at 7am. We would have laughed at that. I never did get to tell you about the family in front of me who had forgotten to pack their liquids into the little plastic bags despite the notices and the reminders every few metres. About how they held the queue up for everyone and how annoyed some of the other passengers were becoming. I never did get to tell you how I had to take my shoes of and how the beeper sounded as I went through the gates, like it always did. You would have laughed at that and made some silly joke. I never did get to tell you about going to gate 85 like I have done many times before. I didn’t get to tell you about how the queue had started to form for boarding the plane. We would have laughed about the human capacity to stand in line and wait. I didn’t stand in line. I didn’t much want to talk to people. To strangers. You know how I don’t much care for small talk.

I never did get to tell you about the plane journey. You would have asked me how busy the plane was; no spaces, as always. I would have told you about the group of lads all wearing their Father’s For Justice t-shirts and talking relentlessly about the Three Peaks Challenge. I wonder if they were as enthusiastic about it on their homeward trip. I never did get to tell you about the beautiful blue sky and the fluffy marshmallow clouds. It was so peaceful and felt like the plane was barely moving. You would have laughed when I told you how I panicked when we were landing because I couldn’t see the sea. I had forgotten that the plane was landing in Glasgow airport and not Prestwick. You would have made a joke about me forgetting things, about getting old. Silly me.

You would have enjoyed hearing about me taking the little bus to Paisley Gilmour Street to catch the train to Ayr. I would have told you how different is all seemed to my university days; how I only knew where I was when the Abbey came into view. We would have talked about my graduation day perhaps. Do you remember it dad? We had a lovely day and one heck of a party in the pub afterwards. We all wore the gown – you were bursting with pride about my shiny Engineering degree.

I never did get to tell you about the long train journey with the endless stops at stations that nobody ever got on or off at. I never did get to tell you about the kind man sitting near me who gave me some tissues because I was crying. You would have told me off for crying. But you know what I’m like dad. Always the emotional one.

Doubtless you would have listened to all my talking. You loved me to tell you about my daily life. You would have told me all about your old friends and all their news. You would have had tales for me for sure. You would have told me about the weather. How you could wax lyrically about this. The old familiar phrases would have rolled off your tongue. I would have giggled to myself because I know the routine. You would have told me off for still having my silly cold; for not taking any medicine. You would have told me I should get a flu jab like you’ve been telling me for years. We both would have giggled to ourselves in the knowledge that I would never get round to making the appointment or whatever has to be done. I expect we would have laughed at my inappropriate clothing for my visit. At least I’ve got a warm coat this time although my trainers are less useful.

You would have asked me about my new job. You know I’m enjoying it so very much – you would have loved to hear about my new workmates and how great they all are. I would have told you all about the politics in FE at the moment. We would have talked about that for ages. You loved current affairs so much. I would have told you about some of my students and the challenges we face. You would have reminded me, gently that not every child has a loving or supportive family such as me. Once again, your endless compassion, warmth and affinity for the underdog shining through.

When we finished with all our catching up, we would get down to the important conversations; the hard stuff. I know all the small talk is just our elaborate code; our way of expressing our love and devotion. I would have asked you how you were – you would have said you were fine. You would have brushed off your eye sight problems and how hard it was becoming for you to get out. You wouldn’t have dwelled on this for long. You never much liked this kind of talk. You would have skilfully got the conversation back to other matters – how the girls are growing so fast, about their news, about their lives. You were so good at this manoeuvre dad. You would have laughed so much when I told you about their latest exploits. And you would have reminded me of how I was just the same. Maybe you would have told me a funny story about me when I was younger. You had plenty of those at your disposal.

I never did get to ask you why you had laid out your new suit on your bed. I can’t remember you ever having a blue suit before. Were you planning on going somewhere dad? Or was it for your final journey? You would have told me off for over thinking, for over analysing again.

Mostly I never did get to tell you how much I loved you dad. My constant companion, my best friend, my role model. You have always inspired me by your resilience, your brilliant mind and your endless ability to see the positive in every situation.

Rest in peace my wonderful dad. My superdad. My hero.

W. H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead

Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,

Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;

I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Sad goodbyes

EmilysQuotes.Com-moving-on-intelligence-comfortIt’s my turn to say goodbye. I am really hoping to slip away quietly, unnoticed as you know how uncomfortable I feel about being the centre of attention. I doubt very much that’s going to happen so I will be wearing sunglasses and feeding you all cake. Maybe that’ll be enough of a distraction!

It’s been an incredible three years for me. I have enjoyed working at ACL so much and have made so many good friends along the way. I’m going to miss you all very much. To all the lovely frontline staff – you really are the friendliest faces! Thanks for all your smiles, support and giggles. We’ve had the most ridiculous conversations. I’m still blushing at the last episode. Thanks for everything you have done to make my job easier. You are all amazing.

Ben, Michael and Lee – you are the unsung heroes of ACL. Thanks for always being on hand to help me especially when teaching my evening classes! Ben – at least you won’t have to worry about accidently locking me in the ACCESS room in Harwich. I still haven’t fully recovered from that experience! Thanks for all the cups of tea and emergency snicker bars. Thanks for always being on hand to carry my few bags to my car! I guess there will be a few more spaces in the car park without my space hogging Volvo ;-)). I think I’ve left the photocopier and the printers in full working order. You probably won’t need to call the Xerox man in so often now that I’ve completed my rigorous testing phase! I never did get the ADMIN password out of you guys. Lee – your origami apprenticeship is officially over. I am relying on you to keep folding – the office needs more cranes!

Jane – what an incredible journey we’ve been on. Partners in crime for the last three years; we’ve planned, plotted, marked and laughed together every step of the way. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me – for making me slow down and for forcing me to stop occasionally. Driving home after a long day, I’d often reflect on the events of the day with a bemused grin. I’m sure I’ve got some material for a sitcom you know! It’s just as well our classroom wasn’t wired for sound. We’d have some serious explaining to do! It’s been an absolute blast my friend!

A very wise person recently told me that I get to decide how I feel about any given situation. I feel extremely proud of all I have achieved at ACL. I know I have helped many students achieve a qualification in maths. This has given many the skills needed to move onto the next stage of their journey. I truly hope I have helped build confidences and self-esteem in some small way. I hope I have passed on a love for learning and a belief that anything is possible with hard work, determination and a growth mind-set. I know I have come a long way in my teaching and have learnt so much from my colleagues and students. Now it’s time for me to move on to a bigger challenge. I need to push my teaching further so that I can grow and learn more. I am so excited for my next role. I relish the thought of being part of a larger team and a much bigger organisation.

Although I am sad to leave you all, I know that you have all influenced the teacher I am now. You know you won’t get rid of me easily. I am hard to ignore and even harder to shake off ;=))

My sensible head has decided to be happy. Not sure if this message will find its way to my emotional self. There will be tears. Mostly mine.

Teacher5aday #day9 #notice

Today at 12 o’clock, we all gathered in our main office to bid a fond farewell to Sue, our lovely exams officer. The first thing I noticed was how uncharacteristically quiet we were as a group, each of us emerged in our own private thoughts. A few controlled folks even managed to keep their emotions in check. (Not so for me and Claire).

The job of handing over the assorted gifts was given to Anne. Poor Anne was so chocked that she could barely find the words to express how much we are all going to miss Sue. Mostly I noticed just how supportive, compassionate and caring the group of people I work with truly are. It’s been a tough few months for us all here in my college. We’ve looked out for each other and noticed just how stressed some of us have been.

Sue has touched all of our lives by her commitment to her job and dedication to our students. I have been truly blessed to have worked with such an amazing lady who has taught me so much about patience, kindness and above all, that our students and staff must always come first.

Today is not goodbye. Today is the start of a new adventure. Friendships do not end just because a little time and distance has come between us. We will look after each other and your students. We will keep our FE flag flying high and proud.