Must be the holidays…

My last post was in January (Christmas Holidays) and a new post can only mean we’re in the Easter holidays! Such is life in education.

It’s been a busy term, thanks in large part to an Ofsted inspection of March of this year. The official inspection report hasn’t been published, but when it does I shall have more to say about it.

There are a few other things embargoed from being mentioned at the moment. One I can talk about from Wednesday, the other? Not for a while.

Last time I talked about doing a Tough Mudder this month. Unfortunately that is not going ahead now, and I’ve postponed my entry until October. For the past few months I’ve noticed stability issues and pain in my right hip and left knee. Things came to a head when I began having bad neck pain which got progressively worse. The doctor sent me for blood tests and x-rays, and while the blood tests came back fine, the x-rays have revealed I have the early stages of osteoarthritis. So that’s nice. I always get the best presents at the holidays (root canal at Christmas, now this good news!).

It feels very odd to not be marking the final controlled assessments for GCSE portfolios this year. I’m hoping my former students do well. I still see them around the College, usually to a chorus of “Paul, come back!”. I’ve heard good things from their new teacher though, so I shall keep my fingers crossed.

Back on Wednesday.

When the going gets tough, the tough get muddy!

Sometimes I get strange ideas into my head, and develop an obsessive impulse to do them, no matter how often the rational voice in my head tells me “this is literally the worst decision you’ve made since the last one.” Sometimes these little obsessions don’t last very long.

For example: magic (1986-89, 1994-95, 2003-04). Or poi (Dec 25 2007-Dec 26 2007). Or strap-on heelies (Dec 25 2007, 12:30:00-Dec 25 2007, 12:30:12). [Incidentally, the last two items lit up, resulting in my older brother declaring I was like The Tick.]

Sometimes however I do get an impulse to do things and see them through. One of these is running. After tackling a few 10ks, half-marathons and the London Marathon (and because I’m not being invited back for the VLM 2014), I’ve decided to have a crack at a Tough Mudder.

For those not in the know, this is a 10 to 13 mile run designed by the British Armed Forces. And being designed by the army, it couldn’t just be a straight run.

No. This run involves uphills. And downhills. And off-road trails. And mud. Lots of mud. Deep mud.

And water. And walls to clamber over. And fences. And ropes. And monkey bars. And barbed wire.

The barbed wire is often combined with the mud, but sometimes with water. Or ice. Or fire.

Have I mentioned the electricity yet? Electricity too. Sometimes combined with water.

So yeah. I’m doing that in April. Because I wasn’t using my body for anything particularly important.

As ever, there is charity involved, so if you fancy chucking a few quid my way, donations go straight to Help for Heroes.

My donation page can be found here: https://www.eventbrite.com/donate/the-league-of-ordinary-gentlemen-paul-anderson/275391.

I’m running as part of a team (currently numbering just myself!) called The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. If you’re in the west London way and fancy joining the League, I shan’t say no.

But I won’t hold it against you if you prefer to stay warm, dry, and un-electrocuted either…

That was a year, that was

End of year reviews. The lazy way to file a blog entry. But I’m on holiday, don’t feel like doing anything original and what better way to get back into blogging than a lazy review post. That and the fact I only made 8 posts in the whole of 2013 means anyone who follows the blog has virtually no idea what I’ve been up to this year.

So here was 2013.

January
I returned to the new term to two classes of students wholly unprepared to do the poetry assessment we had to do. This 4 hour assessment took the whole of the month to do, and by the end I still had students saying they hadn’t read any poems. We had been working on this since November… In and around all that, I signed up for the Virgin London Marathon, having stopped my marathon training in October after I initially failed to get a place. Still, four months is plenty of time, right?

February

What the hell did you do to your eye? ~ My father, August 2013

What the hell did you do to your eye? ~ My father, August 2013

February saw me join the University and College Union (UCU), something that would have a rather large impact on the rest of the year. I also “enjoyed” a half-term consisting of gastric flu, an eyebrow piercing and 90 controlled assessments to correct in 3 days, courtesy of losing days to the previously mentioned gastric flu. Lovely.

Meanwhile a resignation at work opened up a managerial position in my department which I speculatively applied for…

March
…and subsequently got an interview for! Given I wrote the application under the influence of the gastric flu of February this was a surprise. As well as the usual tests, I had two interview panels: one with two of the managers, and one with a panel of students!

I was delighted to find out that I got the position, and would assume managerial duties in May.

April

About 15 seconds before I burst into tears...

About 15 seconds before I burst into tears…

The Easter break saw me dealing with rescuing students stranded at the NUS National Conference. Because those in education only work 9am to 3pm, 5 days per week and not at all in the holidays…

The defining moment of the month however was when I crossed the finish line at the Virgin London Marathon. It was gruelling, I felt awful the next few days, but I did it, and it is probably what I’m most proud of in 2013.

May
I took up my managerial position (part-time) to allow me to finish off teaching, as with one month before the exam it was felt it was too disruptive to the students to change teachers. This gave me confidence that if I could handle 12 hours of teaching plus the managerial job, then 6 hours the following academic year would be manageable. This misplaced confidence would come back to bite me later in the year.

It’s not a bottle opener!

I hadn’t run since the Marathon, and almost forgot I also had an entry for the BUPA 10,000! A 10k run is a walk in the park after 26 miles, so what had previously been a challenge was a nice little stroll around London.

For my birthday, Julia and I visited The Magic Circle headquarters in London for an evening of close up magic and laughter. It was incredible, and something I’ve wanted to do since childhood.

June
If you work in education, December isn’t the end of the year, it’s June. And in June I finished the first year of my PGCE, and saw off my classes for the year, most of whom sat the GCSE, and many of whom did so at Higher Tier, the first time I’d entered students at that level. Needless to say I think I was more nervous than some of the students.

Winter is coming…

I had only been a member of UCU for 5 months when proposed redundancies at my place of work threw me into frontline union work and I became part of the committee who responded to the paper. Then a funny thing happened at our AGM. Despite not even attending, I found myself elected Branch Chair. Which was unexpected, but rather flattering.

I celebrated the end of the (academic) year with a new tattoo. Shortly after The Red Wedding aired. Great timing Paul…

July

Yeah, these seats will do.

July saw me wrapping things up at work before going on annual leave. Further meetings with members and management about redundancies and restructuring, setting up for the Freshers’ Fair in September and generally getting to grips with the role.

I also undertook Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, which was emotionally difficult but very worthwhile. Three days after completing the training, I had to put it into effect.

My annual leave started at last, and began with a trip to the Anniversary Games, courtesy of some tickets generously provided by my father-in-law.

August
August was all about family. We travelled to Scotland for a gathering of the clan to celebrate my grandparents’ diamond anniversary. Then soon after we were off to Nottingham for Julia’s parents’ coral anniversary, then only a week later my mother-in-law’s (*significant*) birthday (21 again, for those interested).

And all too soon it was straight back into the firing line of enrolment and a new term…

September
A second AGM of the branch saw my election to Branch Chair confirmed. The Freshers’ Fair I organised was a great success, so I passed the first public assessment of my abilities in the new job. I also successfully negotiated resumed teaching (but only 4 hours per week), continuation on the PGCE and secured how I would carry out my union duties. Because I would easily be able to do all of this, and more (for those paying attention, this is foreshadowing).

The rest of the month sucked great big sweaty donkey balls for reasons I cannot go into. But trust me. Sucked. Donkey. Balls.

October

Game on!

A significant amount of October was concerned with the last bit of September, and after an incredibly long and stressful term, the half-term break arrived, which saw me, Julia and two dear friends heading to Wembley to see my beloved San Francisco 49ers steamroller over the Jacksonville Jaguars. With Wembley so well attended, how long before London gets a permanent NFL franchise, and can they play at Twickenham instead (since I can walk there!).

October also saw the tenants of the building where I live informed that the whole place was being sold, raising the question of whether we could afford to collectively buy a £2m listed building…

November
Union politics returned to dominate with a ballot for strike action called. I of course set an example as Branch Chair by voting yes.

The answer to the question about buying the building was no, and for some time the whole sale was in limbo as a cavalcade of surveyors and agents turned up or got in touch purporting to be handling the sale.

December

You don't get me I'm part of the union...

You don’t get me I’m part of the union…

The month started promisingly enough with a nationwide strike by UCU, and some nice local press coverage of the day.

From there, December sort of slid rapidly towards the end of term. I’d been struggling all term to try to get through to the majority of my students. I put it down to the length of time I had with them, that they were a far worse crop than previous years. But breaking down into tears at my desk for no reason in November signalled that something wasn’t quite right, and my inability to face going into work the following week really should have put me on notice, especially after my antidepressant dosage got increased.

I wasn’t coping, and the quality of my teaching, and my attention to the PGCE, was wavering.

I received another increase to my dosage and informed my employer. The side effects of the medication includes memory problems in general, and remembering words in particular – not something you want to combine in teaching and management.

After an occupational health assessment, I came to a conclusion that others had made before me, but that I had argued against for half the year. I simply wasn’t coping. I was doing too much. And the teaching was what had to go. This freed up time for my main job, removed the requirement for prep time and the associated stress.

And with that the term – and the calendar year – came to a close.

Oh yes. I had root canal work done on Christmas Eve. That was a very special Christmas treat.

2014
So that’s a potted account of significant events in 2013. There are other things that happened of course, but these are things that it is inappropriate to talk about in public, unwise to discuss publicly, or are simply far too boring to mention. Apologies for the lack of salacious gossip, but y’know… stuff.

What is ahead in 2014? This term sees me freed from teaching commitments, and a sense of relaxation for the first time in a long time. And I can see myself having time to get back into doing the things I love.

Like reading. I haven’t really read things in 2013. I want to change that in 2014.

And writing. I’ve written so little recently that I’ve actually excised most of the references to being a writer from my social media presence. Since the whole “being a writer” requires “actually writing”. But now I feel I have time, and energy for it. And ideas. Oh yes, there are ideas…

And sport too! I got a bike in September. It’s really nice. And gathering dust in my basement. As is my unworn running gear. So to rectify this, and get rid of the waistline I’ve developed, I’ve done something rather silly…

Oh crap…

At the end of April I’ll be taking part in a Tough Mudder. Go follow the link to see what that’s about. Then come back and tell me you think it’s a good idea.

Hopefully, I’ll post a little more here. But we’ll see.

End of term and all change

On Tuesday I taught my last class.

I’ve known since last week that today would be the day. On Monday I would have scoffed at the suggestion, Tuesday I came to the realisation something needed to go, and on Wednesday I sat in a doctor’s office, reading the text of an Occupational Health Assessment, and agreeing to the suggested course of action that I give up my teaching hours.

I’ve been on anti-depressants for over a year now, but within the past two months have seen the dosage pumped up twice to help me cope. I broke down in tears at my desk one day, and the following week there was a day I simply couldn’t face getting up, and had to call in sick.

I had too many commitments all at once. All the people who said back in May that I was taking on too much and might struggle to cope were–as much as I hate to admit it–correct. Although I didn’t have a lot of teaching hours, every hour of teaching had to be made up elsewhere as I also have a full-time management job. The work entails long hours, as does the preparation for teaching, plus the marking, meaning my work-life balance is screwed. Add in the fact I’m also studying for my PGCE, act as branch chair for our union and do voluntary work outside the College and it’s all getting too much. And that’s before adding in the pressure of an imminent Ofsted inspection, my inexperience in a management role, the increase in my line-management responsibilities, the pressures of the new programmes of study, and it’s a recipe for something to go “ping”, and it was my brain that decided to ping.

One Thursday afternoon I broke down in tears at my desk for no reason, and had to leave early. The following Tuesday I simply couldn’t face leaving the house, and had to take the day off. It took me a while to accept that the depression and the stress were getting too much for me, but I informed HR once I realised this, and swiftly had an Occupational Health assessment where it was recommended I give up my teaching hours.

So I am no longer teaching. I’m partly sad, but also partly relieved. I wasn’t connecting with my classes this year, and they need someone to teach them who is on top of their game. The pressure to succeed in exams, the marking, the disciplinary aspect; I’m not going to miss these. But I will miss my classes.

On the day I taught my final class this blog post by edublogger and teacher Old Andrew came out. There was a lot in there very familiar, not just to myself but to the lives of teachers I’ve known for years. If you want the realities of life as a teacher, this is it.

Term has now finished. And I’m feeling a huge weight lifting from my shoulders. I do not intend to do any work during this holiday, which in an ideal world should be the norm for teachers. It isn’t, but this year for me, it will be.

Have a merry, stress-free, no-thinking-about-school Christmas, and a happy new term!

Writing from the past

I was looking through my emails last night, and came across something I wrote several years ago. I think it holds up well, and has a nice Lovecraftian vibe to it.

To put it into context, on a forum I used to frequent, BBC Property Watch had posted looking for stories from people; I’m not sure what they had requested exactly, but what I sent was likely not it!

Dear Sirs

I saw your advert, and wanted to share my experience.

I inherited my home from a deceased great-uncle. He had long been the black sheep of the family, an adventurer and privateer, so they say, but everyone seemed loathe to discuss him.

He had died whilst living in Haiti, where he had become involved with some Vodun sect, and apparently before he died he willed his house, Old Wraith Manor, to me.

Why he selected me I can never tell – it has been remarked since that there is a passing familial resemblance, but there must be more to it.

At any rate, I soon moved into the place once the legal formalities had been taken care of, and soon set myself to the task of clearing out the accumulated objets d’art and curios my great-uncle had acquired (by regular, and sometimes dubious means) over the decades.

It was then that I discovered “the box”. Hidden in an obscure corner of the attic, padlocked on four sides, hidden under an old rug. Ebony, or so it appeared, and most disturbingly (for I had discovered it on a bitterly cold night in December), it was warm to the touch.

I picked it up, and the instant I did so, every light in the house was extinguished, and there began a tumultuous clamouring from the rooms below me – the room where my uncle used to plan his excursions.

And yet, what could be causing this disturbance?

For I was alone in the house, so no human could be making such a noise…

Summoning up as much courage as I could muster, and grabbing an old blunderbuss that my deceased great-uncle kept in the attic, I crept downstairs. The lower levels of the house were in complete disarray. Doors had been torn off their hinges. Carpets shredded. Every picture turned inwards to face the wall. A dank, dread smell pervaded the air, and what was worse was the creeping stain that stole across the walls. I touched it – damp and warm. On pulling my hand away, I realised to my horror that the stain was blood. Fresh blood.

Ghastly wailing noises and knocks could be heard, coming from within the walls. Such events occurred not just once, but every night for these past several weeks. And so I am left with only one question, that perhaps you can help me resolve…

If I knock through a dividing wall from the crypt to the laboratory of doom, do you think unleashing the hideous demons contained within would increase the value of the property? Or would I need planning permission?

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