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The anticipation of meeting the girls for the first time is tempered only by the confidence of having done this job for so many years, but having said that, this is completely new territory for me. I've never worked with children so young. All my expertise is in the area of upper primary, secondary and beyond. Working with preps and early years children will be a step into the unknown. I'm not nervous as such, merely curious and eager to get started and today is the day this new adventure begins. It will be interesting to see how I fare.
I love it. There's no simpler way to say it. Two days in and already I know this is the best job I've ever had. The girls are wonderful and so are the staff. It's a school in which I could easily see out my teaching career. It's that good! What is perhaps most interesting is the relative lack of angst I feel about what happens at the end of the term and whether the position will become ongoing. It's something over which I have no control so in the meantime all I can do is give it my best.
I hadn't realised what distinct personalities very young children have. All of my work with kids has been with the older ones, especially the early teen years that so many people find challenging. I'm guessing it's because they're with their peers. The quality and nature of their interactions is fascinating to observe. They are so wonderfully alive and open to everything and while there are a few shy ones, I've been fascinated by how readily they will reveal themselves once familiarity and trust is established, which doesn't take long in the classroom.
Yes, I'm loving being with the little people.
Picking up on the fact that even after six months of being back on the country I've still retained a bit of an English accent they want to know whether Iím from England so I spin a yarn about how many times I've been back and forth. Then they want to know how long I've been a teacher and I tell them I've been a teacher for over thirty years. One young girl seems especially intrigued. She stares hard at me, her brain working overtime.
"So that means you became a teacher when . . . (pregnant pause) . . . when you were 10?"
What a treat! Last term my weekends were spent either marking or preparing lessons for the following week. Teaching outside of my subject area, nothing was second nature. I had no resources of my own to fall back on. In short, I had to work my butt off. Thankfully, all that has changed. Things still need to be planned but I have a wealth of experience to call upon and the planning is a nonissue. I was sad not to get the other job but from where I'm standing now I'm beginning to think it was a blessing in disguise.
I really miss having somewhere to paint. Our little apartment simply isn't big enough. Even trying to do something small seems pointless. Although our flat in London was small it did have a spare bedroom. It was just large enough for me to put up the ironing board, put a board on top to create a makeshift work area and have enough privacy to paint. Here in Melbourne we only have one very small bedroom. So my painting ambitions will have to wait until the new house is built. In the meantime I'll have to paint pictures in my head.
I was eager to get to work today to see what progress had been made on my main junior art room. It had been looking decidedly tired when I took it over, so last week I arranged for it to have a fresh lick of paint. I was not disappointed. Despite the fact that it will take another weekend to complete the transformation is already substantial. By the end of the day I had my first display of student work up on the wall and the challenge now is to turn it into the most vibrant room in the school.
Working in such a gentle and nurturing environment, I can't help but wonder how I managed to weather all the storms of anger and frustration that would sweep through the children I worked with in London on such a regular basis. The emotional energy needed to withstand such storms and the tenacity and resilience required simply to navigate myself through any given day seems extraordinary to me now. There's no question that I was both passionate and committed in my endeavours and I worked with some amazing people, both colleagues and students, but I'm glad it's now all behind me.
I look at what these kids can do and I find myself awed by how much children can absorb and learn in such a brief time. The young brain is an amazing thing. Within a few short years children learn how to communicate both linguistically and otherwise. They learn how to think, how to write and how to reason. They acquire skills such as dance and movement, mathematics and reason, the ability to play a musical instrument, the ability to write stories and draw pictures. The list is endless. It makes me realise what extraordinary creatures we humans really are.
"There are fairies living in the garden," she says to me in all earnestness. We've been making funny shapes by blowing wet, watery paint through straws. One of her shapes resembles a beautiful fairy with wings.
"Really?" I reply. "I'll have to get you to show me the next time I'm on lunch duty." Upon which the whole class volunteers to show me where the fairies live in the beautifully maintained gardens that surround the school.
This is the first time I've worked with children young enough to believe in fairies. It is a very privileged position to be in.
After so many years of working with angry and disaffected children Iíd all but lost faith in the concept of childhood. I'd almost arrived at the conclusion that it was some kind of lost ideal, a casualty of the modern world in which we live. And let's not be naive here. For many children thatís the sad truth. Bit it's incredibly restoring to be in a place where children can still be themselves, in an environment that is safe, caring and which respects their right to grow and flourish in the way that every child should be able to do.
Much as I find myself welcoming the arrival of the weekend it's not through any sense of relief to have the week behind me; rather it's to be able to turn my attention to other things. Since commencing work at this school I find myself completely focused and on task the whole time I'm there, so the need for down time is simply a way of maintaining the balance. It's been a while since I've been able to say I love my job but after just a few days of working with these kids I can say it once more.
We sit by an open window in the Prince of Wales drinking cider as Melbourne's gay, lesbian and transgender community come to celebrate and watch the Midsumma Pride March down Fitzroy Street, before heading across to Greasy Joe's for lunch. We watch a group of energetic street dancers perform some curious moves and then stroll around Luna Park. We amble along the boardwalk and gaze out at the sea, then browse the Sunday Market stalls on the way back to the tram. This is how we used to spend our weekends before London and here we are, doing so again.
I'm a boy and I love my toys but if anyone had told me that I'd develop a passion for writing with my iPhone Touch I probably would have laughed but that is exactly what's happened. After announcing on Facebook that I'd decided to stop writing my 100 words a day I discovered the pleasure of using the virtual keyboard on public transport. For one thing, it's easy; for another, it's private. I don't have people peering over shoulder trying to see what I'm up to, and above all it's convenient.
And no, this is not an advert for Apple.
Unlike last term when I was teaching outside of my key subject area, I now feel as though I have the curriculum running out the ends of my fingers. I have enough new ideas to keep my classes occupied for years, let alone the first term. To be working with children who are so wonderfully vibrant and eager is a pure delight. For the first time in a long while I'm reminded not only of why I chose to become a teacher but more specifically why I became an art teacher. Quite simply, it's the best job in the world!
This is the first time in my life that you haven't been on the planet for your birthday. You would have been 97 today. It's weird but in my mind I'd already been thinking you were that age. I would have called you last weekend to catch you before the day. I would have ordered flowers from the Elizabeth South Florist. We would have had one of our simple, scripted conversations so as not to confuse or alarm you.
Alas, our days of conversation, limited or otherwise, are gone, but still I say,
Happy birthday Mum, wherever you may be . . .
I love the challenge of taking a rundown part of a school and transforming it. A couple of weeks ago l organised for the larger of the two art rooms to be repainted. Now that the job is done and I've started to fill the walls with artwork the transformation is extraordinary. Far from being the poor cousin of the rest of the school the room is now one of the airiest and most colourful. It's a space that I look forward to spending time in, something that has been enhanced by the overwhelmingly positive response from the girls themselves.
I get to the end of the week and I'm knackered but it's a good knackered. The pure, unadulterated energy and boundless enthusiasm of the girls makes it so worth my while. Theyíve already gobbled up all the work I'd planned for the first five weeks and done it brilliantly to boot. So I'll have to get my thinking cap on over the weekend and come up with more. Not that I mind. Planning curriculum for such capable kids is a pleasure. Not only that, it's great fun. It might be knackering but I'm as happy as the proverbial pig.
There's nothing I like more than being lazy. Left to my own devices I could quite happily while away the hours of the weekend doing nothing in particular, which is why I suggested we take the tram down to Port Melbourne today for lunch. I'm glad we did. We sat out by the water munching on fish and chips and feeding the seagulls while a gentle sea breeze kept us cool and refreshed. It's easy to let the weekend slide by without doing anything much. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But it's good to do something different, too.
I've seen a job in the paper that I have to apply for. It's not that I want to but with no certainty of employment beyond April I'd be a fool not to. The position is a one year contract in an identical role to the one I have now at one of Melbourne's top private schools. A contract position is not ideal but the pickings are slim at the moment and it would sit well on my CV. If the current job becomes an ongoing position then I'd have to break contract to take it up.
And I would.
It's their sheer capacity for invention and creation that I find so exhilarating and satisfying. As I jokingly said to one of my colleagues the other day, like spinning tops, all I need to do is set them all spinning and then stand back and try to not get in their way. There are a few whose confidence is perhaps a bit shaky at times but with a little input in terms of technique and/or ideas, along with a few comments of encouragement and strategically considered words of advice and they're off spinning again for all they are worth.
I'm enjoying living back in Melbourne. It really is a great place to live. Voted the world's most liveable city several times over, itís a relaxed city with a decidedly European flavour. Big enough to be interesting yet small enough to be friendly, it's easy to get around and it's aesthetically pleasing. You could easily go to a different venue every night and never go to the same one twice in a year. With each month that passes London becomes a distant though fond memory while the feeling of being displaced recedes further into the past. And so it should.
I nearly gave this writing habit away. I'm glad I didn't. To have done so would have been to break a commitment I made to myself to keep going indefinitely. There are so many things in life that we start with the best of intentions but which eventually fall by the wayside for one reason or another. I thought last month that I'd reached some kind of logical conclusion with regards to this project. What I realise now is I merely was merely transitioning from one chapter of my life to another, and writing is an integral part of it.
I stare at the screen and try to assemble my thoughts into words but the words aren't there. It happens. I've been at it like a bull in a china shop and while the heart is willing the brain simply won't cooperate. It's feeling overwhelmed by so many different demands which, while reasonable and largely self imposed, nonetheless add up to overload. Time to go home, protests the brain; go and grab an hours sleep and then see what you're capable of. In the end I relent. I turn off the computer, tidy up the room and head for home.
I look up and there high above me are six massive air balloons drifting lazily across the city skyline. I can only begin to wonder what it must be like to hang suspended with little more to keep you up there than hot air and fabric. I reach for my camera and try to capture the moment but given the quality of my pocket camera the results are predictably lame. I run down the street hoping to get a better vantage point but in the end I resign myself to the fact that the moment is best committed to memory.
The next couple of months are going to be very telling. With the exchange rate still very much against us and the looming onset of some eye watering expenses, securing a permanent job is going to be pretty crucial. I've become so accustomed to living with uncertainty that it still doesn't seem quite real to think the new build is merely weeks from starting. They say moving house is one of the most stressful events in one's life. Personally that seems pretty low on the scale to me right now.
No, I'm not feeling stressed or at least, not yet...
Another weekend has gone by in which Iíve done nothing of any real consequence. Correction: yesterday we went down to Geelong to look at some windows at a double glazing window supplier and today we finished watching series one of
, a series that passed us by while we were living in London. But in terms of anything else it's been a non-event. I think that needs to change. There are periods in life when it's okay to let time slip away but increasingly I'm feeling the need to be doing something more with my time and especially my weekends.
I'd been expecting Mum but as it turned out it was Dad. It was one of those incredibly realistic experiences, totally lacking any of the surreal qualities of dreams. We were in a car but had stopped. Realising he'd lost his way I offered to drive. I knew the way. Prior to this I remember waking him up telling him it was time to go. There was more too but I'm limited to one hundred words. Still, the symbolism isn't lost on me.
It's strange the way the dead can still affect us years or even decades after they're gone.
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