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A new month and a new take on things. I’m glad I took Maggie’s advice about doing nothing and having a proper break. I needed it. And while I’ve not done all of the things I was going to do I’ve done some of them and that’s the main thing. I’ve had a lot of sleep too, and that’s made a difference. When I go back to work on Monday it’s going to be with a renewed sense of purpose and resolve. I’ll give it my best shot. I’ve taken on bigger things than this before. It’s all quite doable.
Am I ready? As ready as I’m going to be I guess. The dread has passed. I’ve bought some new clothes, ironed some shirts, polished my shoes. I’ve tidied my bag and rearranged all those things I’ve not looked at for the past week. And I’m going to have an early night. I’ve become somewhat philosophical about things: whatever will be, will be. I’ve determined that I’ll leave on time two nights per week, use the travel time to read some books and try to maintain a healthy work-life balance. As for the kids, it’s simply a matter of time.
I’ve had a good day and work and it’s important to state the fact. Were the kids perfect? No. Will they ever be? Of course not. Nonetheless, productive work was done, important discussions took place and positive things were said by colleagues in other parts of the building about us. I didn’t get half of the things on my 'to do' list done but hey, the other half
get done! And I can begin to see the way ahead with regard to the curriculum as well. So when all is said and done yes, it's been a good day.
There is a palpable sense of the world holding its breath at the moment. In the States the voting has begun and all the indicators point to a sure win for Obama but there’s also a powerful sense of holding back, of not wanting to get too carried away lest we all find ourselves disappointed by some last-minute upset. It’s happened before. Even so there can be no denying the historical significance of what is currently underway and the powerful message it sends to the rest of the world. This is not merely an American event. Its impact is global.
Choosing the right words to do justice to the occasion is somewhat daunting. Everyone is falling over themselves with superlatives. I’m not even going to try and compete. It is enough simply to say that history has been made and while I may not be an American I am nonetheless deeply moved by the scale of Obama’s election victory and its significance both in terms of what it means to America and in terms of what it means for the rest of the world. The last 24 hours have been extraordinary. The audacity of hope has truly won the day.
Four good days in a row! This week does feel very different to the first two. It was telling yesterday when Nikki and I were talking about working with kids. One of the lads asked if I had kids. Artfully dodging the issue I simply said my partner was unable to have children. It usually does the trick. Then he surprised us both by saying, “So in a way we’re like your kids.” Nikki and I both smiled at each other. Those sorts of comments don’t emerge without some basis of familiarity and trust. Not bad for just 14 days.
A line was drawn in the sand today. I’m the one who drew it. One of the lads decided he’d see how far he could push the boundaries by calling one of my staff a fucking whore and a slapper, amongst may other colourful superlatives and nouns. When I’d finished with him he was in tears. I didn’t shout. I didn’t raise my voice. I was simply an immoveable object into which he came crashing and having crashed, I took decisive action. He emerged with his integrity intact but ended the day in no doubt as to who was boss.
Whether I like it or not the job is demanding and some of the free time and mind space I took for granted has been swallowed up. I can deal with that but it means painting will have to take a back seat. My weekends by necessity need to be relatively mundane and stress-free, at least for the foreseeable future. There's time enough to write though and this is the weekend I embark on the new project with my sister. I’ve had an idea rattling around in my head for a couple of weeks now and it’s a good one.
I’m becoming acclimatised to the shorter, colder days. There’s something oddly agreeable about looking out on a dull grey day from the warmth of a bedroom window or a table in the coffee shop downstairs. It’s that time of year when putting pen to paper comes naturally. The words tumble out a little more readily than they otherwise might. I spent the afternoon and the better part of this evening penning the first chapter of the new book. It came together quite quickly and while Corinne will probably want to make some changes at least it's now up and running.
After running riot for nearly three weeks, a no-nonsense meeting with his mother and an obligatory apology to the relevant member of staff, with all the appropriate consequences and sanctions put in place, he went on to have a brilliant day. The knock-on effect was unmistakeable. A corner has been turned. And while I don’t kid myself it will be plain sailing hereon in, I can see that incremental steps in the right direction are not to be dismissed. It’s heartening. It serves to remind me why I do this. It’s about creating a win-win environment, and today, everybody won.
His father was executed. His brother exploded into a human torch. His grandmother is on dialysis. His home is infested with rats. His mother is doing her level best to hold the family together.
Of all the lads he’s been the least respectful; the most closed. But today he wandered into my office after the others had gone home and started to talk while he made himself a cardboard mask. Nothing deep or intense, just casual conversation, but for someone who doesn’t do casual conversation it was a significant step forward. It helps to establish trust.
And trust enables growth.
It’s a process, and process involves time. At the outset I had a vision of how things would be. Mistakenly I assumed the vision would materialise quickly. It didn’t. Having said that, the time factor is beginning to kick in. It takes time to establish trust and build relationships. It doesn’t happen overnight. People need to get to know each other, suss each other out, test the boundaries. The key as I see it is consistency. Consistency facilitates security and trust. These in turn facilitate good will. And once you’ve established good will the rest tends to follow on naturally.
He forgot to take his tablet before coming to school. Just one little tablet! We decided to monitor his behaviour as the morning progressed but it didn’t take long to ascertain it was going to be a very challenging day. Words like ‘walls’ and ‘bouncing off’ spring to mind. His normally reasonable nature became a hostage to his more volatile, frenetic self for whom reason is a foreign country. I could have sent him home. I obtained his father’s permission. Perhaps I should have sent him home, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So we muddled through.
It feels a bit like running away or escaping, leaving work five minutes early instead of an hour late, taking the train instead of the bus, collapsing for ten minutes on the bed instead of making calls at my desk and boarding the coach down to the island instead of vegging out in front of the TV. By nine I’m meeting Andrew at Ryde Pier and by nine-thirty I’m breathing the clean sea air of Ventnor and enjoying the warm hospitality of friends in a home away from home while the hustle and bustle of London seems far, far away.
I spend a lot of time blocking out the sounds of the city: buses and taxis that rumble past the bedroom window; the screech of sirens piercing the night; the rowdy drunks on the street below; the slamming of a neighbours door or the intrusive wail of a security alarm in the middle of the night.
But here on the island, listening becomes an active pleasure: the wind gathering momentum through the branches of trees; the rattle of pebbles caught in the tide or the cry of gulls overhead – sounds that calm the mind, sooth the spirit and nourish the soul.
I arrived back in London feeling more relaxed than I have done for ages. Two good sleeps and the company of good friends has been the tonic I needed. I’ve always imagined a short trip to the island would be a rushed and stressful endeavour. I couldn’t have been more wrong. To sleep in silence, to breathe clean air, to enjoy the company of good people both young and old, to stroll across stunning countryside and to be back in the place of my birth – it’s all in such stark contrast to my London weekend routine and so very, very relaxing.
The traffic is unusually heavy today as we snake our way slowly through the narrow streets of South London. The number 36 bus I’m on is twinned with the number 36 bus in front. It would seem everyone's decided to set off early to avoid the traffic and in doing so created the very problem they were trying to avoid. Life’s like that sometimes. Outside the window people are rugged up against the chilly November morning now breaking overhead where vapour trails criss-cross the pale, luminous sky. The island feels a long way away now but its influence lingers on.
Going through the files of my students makes for sobering reading. It also provides a powerful yardstick by which to gauge what’s been achieved over the last few weeks. There’s always a tendency when things begin to improve to push a little harder. That’s all well and good but there’s always a risk of pushing them too far too soon, which can sometimes trigger a nasty reflex action. I’ve managed to avoid that so far, although the temptation to do so is there. Maintaining a positive balance is tricky, tiring even, but the benefits of doing so cannot be overestimated.
I haven’t been able to see out of the kitchen window for nearly two whole weeks now. While I can dimly distinguish the shapes of the fuschia, the geraniums and the money tree in the darkness, beyond that I haven’t a clue how the rest of the plants are doing. I go to work in the dark, I come home in the dark and last weekend I was away on the island. I like the view from the kitchen window and I miss being able to enjoy it on a daily basis. It’s one of the downsides of the season.
There’s no denying that the culture of the place has changed. I’ve heard it from enough quarters to convince myself that it’s so. I’m told they’re a lot calmer, more amenable and a lot more settled. I have to admit it’s nice to hear. I feel a lot more confident than I did, although I’m not kidding myself that it’s anything more than a temporary lull. I’m also aware of all the things that I haven’t got on top of yet, the things that other people don’t see, and it’s going to take a concerted effort to address them all.
I’m glad it’s Friday and I’m glad it’s not raining, although there’s a bitter cold front on the way according the forecast. With one staff member out all week and another one leaving early today I’m feeling a little dubious about the prospects for a well-managed conclusion to the day. While things may be going pretty damned well at the moment it takes a lot of emotional and mental energy to facilitate and for all that my batteries were recharged last weekend I just want to get through today so that I can go home and collapse in a heap.
While I’m not fond of the shorter days and the ensuing lack of daylight, I do like the weekends and a crisp foray down to the shops in and around Pimlico and Victoria, especially in the lead up to Christmas with all the festive window displays. After a week of travelling to and fro in the dark, a splash of late autumnal sunshine, an unexpected sweep of blue sky overhead combined with the cool, crisp air on the cheeks can really serve to lift one’s spirits in what can otherwise seem like a rather dispiriting and bleak time of year.
With my better half heading off to Poland and then Germany in the morning I’m looking forward to having a couple of weeks to myself at home. I think the various times that we spend apart are one of the many successful features of our relationship. There’s something rather satisfying about having time out from each other and indulging ourselves in our own rhythms and routines. Time spent alone against a backdrop of a secure and loving relationship is for me time well spent. It allows me to reconnect with aspects of myself that can otherwise become overlooked or neglected.
While there are successes, there are setbacks also. ‘Two steps forward’ and all that. When something goes pear-shaped there’s a temptation to switch from reconciliatory to authoritarian mode, which rarely, if ever, facilitates change, much less growth. There needs to be a third way, or even a fourth or a fifth for that matter. The question is what? Inevitably I am making mistakes along the way and I worry that I’m storing up trouble for later. The problem is I don’t have a lot of options to fall back on. Still, no one said it was going to be easy.
As I sat looking at myself in the mirror of Mr. Toppers in Soho while having my hair cut (what remains of it) it occurred to me for perhaps the very first time that I'm actually beginning to feel comfortable with the fact that I'm approaching 50. As almost 50 year olds go I'm doing okay! It was a revelation. Usually I'm mentally trying to peel away the years but this evening I found myself not only accepting what I saw but feeling at ease with it. For me, this represents a significant breakthrough and one that is long overdue.
I am developing (acquiring?) a whole new appreciation of what it means to be quiet and still; to go inwards and reflect upon things instead of having to always be taking things on board. More and more I’m opting to leave the iPod in my bag, turn the TV off early, spend a little less time online and go to bed a little earlier. With so many of my waking hours spent actively engaging, listening, empathising, trying to communicate with and trying to understand others, the opportunity to simply switch off and be quiet is becoming an increasingly attractive option.
Sleep. It’s an amazing phenomenon. In the last few days I’ve allowed myself to sleep more than I normally do and the benefits in terms of rest and sense of wellbeing are extraordinary. Admittedly with the evening currently closing in at around 4:30pm it’s not difficult to do. My natural inclination at this time of year is to hibernate. But it’s not an instinct that I readily give in to. Being on my own for a few days however has allowed me to eat earlier and climb into bed earlier as well. And I have to say, I’m enjoying it.
Friday afternoon and the temptation to lose my cool increases dramatically. In the face of it I remain calm and what might easily have left an otherwise positive week in tatters is avoided. At the end of the day the feedback is frank and to some extent challenging but it deserves an honest hearing. Certainly there are many outstanding issues - that is the nature of the job. Nonetheless it behoves us well to remain clear about what our primary objectives are at this particular juncture. With these kids progress is made comes with steps rather than leaps and bounds.
It’s a curious thing about relationships. No matter how well you think you know someone, no matter how long you’ve been together and no matter how strong and secure you may feel about things, sooner or later you end up doing something that really pisses the other off in a big way and for a while you’re left floundering around wondering what the hell you did wrong and, when whatever misdemeanour you’ve committed is not so mildly pointed out to you, it’s generally something that could easily have been avoided, which is cold comfort given that it’s already happened, sigh!
It’s been one of those weekends where I’ve artfully dodged all the school related work I so conscientiously brought home and promised myself I would do. Ah well, I’ll just have to work smarter tomorrow. With an Ofsted inspection just around the corner I’m beginning to feel a little nervous about all the things I’ve put on the back boiler. I may only be new to the post but nevertheless there are some basic procedures I’ve chosen to ignore, which will no doubt be the very ones they’re going to check.
Still, it’s not like they’re going to sack me.
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