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I have a good feeling about the next 12 months. To be sure, it’s going to be full of challenges and I’ve no doubt I’ll be feeling the pressure, but that’s okay. A certain level of stress is healthy. The thing is, this is going to be a transitional year. By this time next year, whatever decisions need to be made about the move back to Australia will have been made. We might even be back there already! In the meantime I intend to make the most of my time here in London. Life’s way too short to do otherwise.
I’m feeling as though a light has been switched on in my head. It’s hard to explain but essentially something I have been feeling conflicted about for some time has finally resolved itself. It’s nothing to do with anything anyone has said or done. Rather, it’s as though I’ve reached the end of a long and protracted internal dialogue, an inquiry I didn’t even know I was having, or maybe I did know but I've been having it for so long I’d given up any notion that I might one day reach a positive conclusion. Well guess what? I did!
I was in a particularly upbeat mood as I headed back to work today. With the benefit of a long break in such a different head space I’m able to appreciate afresh what a good team of people I work with and what an interesting and rewarding job I have. This afternoon I interviewed a young boy from Sierra Leone whose father was completely bowled over by what he saw on offer for his son. As the interview was concluded and I was walking them to the door, he shook my hand and thanked me sincerely. I was genuinely touched.
I love working with kids. Yes, there are times when I am in the thick of things and I become genuinely allergic to them but that’s just the stress talking. In truth there is nothing that satisfies me more than when young people allow themselves to let their guard down and begin to trust in themselves and their own sense of worth. For some, watching a garden grown after spending hours of dedicated planting, weeding fertilising and nurturing is a pleasure unlike any other. For me, my classroom is my garden and, well, I think the analogy speaks for itself.
What a brilliant day! In her inestimable wisdom my line manager allowed me a day in which to pursue my own priorities. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth I set about rearranging my art room in order to maximise the space and create a more interesting and workable environment for kids to work in. By the end of the day I was revelling in that “I love my room” feeling that only those with a fetish for rearranging furniture would appreciate. It capped off three excellent days and set a positive tone for the coming term.
Teddy and I went to see a really engaging performance called
by the South London Youth Theatre this afternoon at the Union theatre. Seating little more than fifty the production was intimate and heartfelt. We were mere inches away from the performance area and while it wasn’t the most polished of productions we were totally won over by the charisma and dedication of the young cast who gave of their all. The audience was generous in its support and by the time we all left everyone seemed to be enjoying the feel-good factor despite the unexpectedly tragic ending.
Damn! How did that one manage to escape my attention? A major exhibition at the National Gallery about the Divisionists! I could have kicked myself. I only found out about it yesterday evening from an Underground poster. Had I got my act together today I could have gone but I forgot about it until I went into town late this afternoon. Ah well, London is like that. There’s so much going on at any one time. Had I not been luxuriating in all that down time after arriving back from Melbourne . . .
Ah well, there’s no point crying over spilt milk.
I work with an unlikely group of people. We’re all very different to each other yet we manage to pull together as a team and we have some good laughs along the way. And I think it’s important for kids to see that. There’s so much more to a curriculum than just doing the work itself. The hidden curriculum is every bit as important and modelling positive behaviour around kids is crucial. It’s really valuable for them to see adults getting along and having a laugh. It humanises the learning environment and engenders a positive community spirit. And that’s priceless.
Professionally speaking my current position has enabled me to grow in ways I could never have foreseen. My role as deputy means I get to have input into how we operate as a centre; as an art teacher I get to foster creative inquiry and have fun with the kids; as a school liaison support teacher I get to network with many of our feeder schools and as a special educational needs coordinator I get to have a positive effect on the lives of some of the most needy kids imaginable. In terms of job satisfaction, I’ve never known better.
I’d forgotten how susceptible to public transport narcolepsy I am. Travelling some three hours a day by public transport as I do, I can board a bus or a train wide eyed and bushytailed and within minutes I can turn into a head nodding zombie. I’ve been known to have half a dozen short dreams between Tube stations! If I’ve slept well the night before then it’s less of an issue but if I’ve had a late one I find the low, sonorous rumbling of a London bus or the rhythmic rocking of an underground train renders all resistance futile.
I had the strangest of dreams last night. I was with someone close to me, although who that person was I’ve no idea. We’d volunteered to “pass over”, whatever that meant, and I remember the two of us high up on a large hall gazing down at a very distraught relative below. I remember thinking to myself she didn’t need to be. The next thing I remember is actually departing and getting ready for the cross over itself. The next thought I had was, are we about to be killed? The question disturbed me and I didn’t know the answer.
I awoke from the strangest dream, and in that dream you rose up from your wheelchair and threw off the shackles and debilitating limitations that life has thrust upon you. As you did so we both started revelling in your newfound freedom, laughing and dancing and celebrating life and the physical liberation now bestowed upon you with such frenetic passion and joy it was as though we were teenagers once more in a world brimming with possibilities and promise; a world made all the more delicious and electric for having been so intimately acquainted with its cruel and darker side.
For someone who swore they’d never join Facebook I have to admit I’ve become something of a convert. I can see why social networking gets a negative press at times but like anything, it’s what you choose to do with it that determines whatever merit it may or may not possess. Speaking from my own experience it’s a novel way to touch base with the lives of others without the need for lengthy emails or phone calls. It doesn’t replace those things or even negate them. Rather, it exists alongside them and in many ways can be just as satisfying.
Something has shifted during the weeks since I arrived back from Melbourne. Internally, that is. It’s curious the way we pass through different phases in life. Everything can be going along just fine when out of nowhere it’s like a thick fog descends and nothing seems clear anymore. Everything gets called into question and it feels as though life has no meaning. At other times, just when you least expect it, the fog clears and you’re left wondering what all the fuss was about. Right now I feel as though many things have come into focus. And I like it!
It occurs to me that if this is going to be my last year in London then I might as well make it a good one, and I do find myself enjoying the place a whole lot more than I did a few months ago. It’s partly to do with not taking things for granted. By that I don’t mean I feel a need to go out all the time and be doing things. Rather, it’s to do with the little things that provide the flavour and feel to life and of living life in the moment and noticing it.
Anger and aggression used to really freak me out. I never knew how to be around it and it plugged into a younger part of myself that became genuinely fearful in the presence of other people’s rage. Nowadays, in my professional life at least, it washes over me without penetrating or unsettling me. In the face of it I find myself able to go to a place that is calm, focussed and totally present. Whether it’s a distressed colleague, an angry student or an irate parent, I find myself able to short-circuit the anger and help restore order and calm.
You were there again in my dreams last night, sitting amongst friends, aware of my presence as I was of yours. And while there was a warm, jovial atmosphere in the room, we ourselves were muted in our acknowledgement of each other.
It was me who spoke first, breaking the ice by saying hello. Your response was measured. We talked for a while, although the words escape me now.
What remains is the tangible feeling of unfinished business between us and for me the desire some kind of reconciliation remains – that, and to know what went wrong in the first place.
I find it surprisingly easy to be with and move amongst an incredibly diverse range of people. This wasn’t always the case. There was a time when I would feel excruciatingly awkward and out of my depth with strangers. But the nature of my job here in London, which requires me to sally forth into schools and liaise with such a wide range of professional agencies, not to mention working with children who are at times severely disaffected, even damaged, has forced me to confront and come to terms with my innate shyness in ways I once couldn’t have imagined.
It’s not rocket science, and it’s not to deny that there are some who are incredibly challenging and resistant, but if you treat kids with the respect you assume they deserve, whether current circumstances confirm such a notion or not; and if you’re coming from a position of self-confidence and self-respect yourself; and if you make it absolutely clear from day one that you intend to treat them in such a manner, it’s going to be pretty damned hard for them to resist the allure of such an opportunity to reinvent themselves to whatever degree they are currently capable of.
“There’s no one else in my life like you,” she said. “No one with whom I can be so open and honest with like family who’s not family. I’m sure we must have been related in a previous life.”
“I feel the same way about you,” I said.
And I do. In over 25 years we’ve never had so much as a cross word, let alone a disagreement. There is a knowingness between us that transcends the everyday. It’s enduring, timeless and has never once been called into question. Ever!
How lucky we are to be blessed in equal measure.
I was wandering through the Stables at Camden Market when I came across a box full of old photographs. One of the photographs was of two women in coats sitting on an anonymous beach. In the foreground of the photo was the tip of the shadow of the photographer. Was he the partner of one of the women and why did I assume it was the shadow of a man? Was it something in the nature of their upwards gaze? It was dated 1932 on the back. I wondered who these people were and who, if anyone, remembers them now?
Our current cohort of young people are no angels. One has burnt down a school. Another has been involved in knife crime. Some are in care, refugees from neglect, sexual abuse and physical cruelty. Others have assaulted teachers, smashed school property or self-harmed. They’re the usual mix of disaffected kids sent to us by mainstream schools in the belief that they’ll benefit from being with us or simply because they’ve run out of strategies and solutions themselves. And what’s so heartening is that in the short time they’ve been with us they’re already pulling and working together as a team.
It’s been a good term so far. Not only do the kids seem to be bedding down well but the new curriculum I’ve put together is going down a treat. Now that we’re into our fourth year it feels like I’ve ironed out all the creases. I know what I’m trying to achieve and I’m clear about what I expect. As for the centre itself, the whole venture has been so much more successful that I ever imagined it would be and despite certain issues that still need to be addressed my job satisfaction level is at an all-time high.
When she came looking for me I assumed it was to discuss the review schedule for one of the students. Instead it was to offer me the opportunity to head one of the Key Stages. My initial reaction was one of surprise. I hadn’t seen it coming. Flattered though I was I had to be frank with her. Not only am I likely to be returning to Melbourne next year, I’m feeling really committed to my current role and the team itself. She said she knew I might be leaving but to think it over anyway. I said I would.
With so much uncertainty in the world financial markets at the moment and the ensuing credit crunch, with even the esteemed (sic) George W. warning of an economic meltdown, I can’t help wondering whether taking on record levels of debt to embark on a building project back in Melbourne is the wisest thing to do right now. To be sure, the economic outlook will be a little clearer before a decision needs to be made but there is a lot of preparatory footwork to be done before then and it’s difficult to plan ahead amidst so much doom and gloom.
I thought I’d pretty much made my mind up about the leadership position but a good chat to a trusted colleague this afternoon has tipped the balance somewhat. The more I think about it the more I do in fact like the idea. It’s a good though greatly demoralised team and I know I could turn the tide and bring them back from the brink. It would be challenging, yes, but not inordinately so, and given the dire state of things at the moment I could pretty much write my own ticket.
Yes, the balance is definitely starting to tip.
It’s been a long and at times tortuous process but the end is now in sight. I had hoped to have it finalised today but the desire for sleep has overpowered the desire for completion and closure. Tomorrow will have to do. I always used to wonder what writing a book would be like and now I know. The writing itself is challenging enough, especially when the writing is being done with someone else, but the editing process is the real killer. Now however, the end is in sight. By this time tomorrow it will all be done and dusted.
What a beautiful evening! I’m sitting by an open window in Caffe Nero with Aretha to serenade me and good coffee to drink after a stroll through St. James’s Park soaking up the late bloom of summer sunshine. A little earlier I completed the final edit of what will hopefully be the first of many books to come. Having done so I now have to go in search of someone who might just want to read it possibly publish it. Wishful thinking? Perhaps, but I’ve lived long enough to know that, just sometimes, good things come to those who persevere.
It’s ironic that I’ve been having what is arguably my best term of teaching since landing in London nearly eight years ago. I’ve got the curriculum down pat, my standing with the students has never been better, my professional confidence is at an all-time high and I’m about to pass it all up to take on a new post. I officially accepted the offer today. Having given it all due consideration over the weekend I’ve decided that it’s not only doable but desirable. Whether it means staying longer in London I don’t yet know but I guess time will tell.
Having made the decision the nagging question remains: Have I done the right thing? Lying awake last night, my mind was abuzz with a myriad of, if not conflicting, then certainly varied thoughts regarding my decision. On the one hand I could have said no, regardless of the pressure to do otherwise and now that it’s done, the already high premium I placed on my existing position seems even higher. On the other, the thought of effectively having a blank canvas to work on is enticing, if a little daunting.
I guess I’ll just have to suck it and see.
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