Am I a quitter or a committer?

So a decision has been made, acted on and lived with for a week or so, and it feels ok, more than ok, in fact – I’m feeling good and ready to share …


This is a blog of two halves and colour coded … one is about work (and is in blue) and one is about relationship (and is in purple), so if you’re not in the mood for worky talk on a Monday morning, or if that ‘mushy stuff’ just leaves you cold, then feel free to look away now …

(Forgive me for skipping to and fro here – both of these themes have played an equal part in my decision, so I didn’t want to put one before the other)

Work  – I loved teaching young people, but teaching ‘A’ level broke me – I can see that now. I recognise the scars because when there is any sniff of my having failed to complete a task or forgotten to do something, however trivial … that familiar tightness reappears in my stomach, that little wave of panic reemerges and unseats me. And it happens every time. This shows me that my robust, resilient, secure self esteem cannot make up for the damage that teaching ‘A’ level has done to my sense of competence. Being found to have failed with even the slightest expectation has become something of a phobia.

Relationship – Carol and I have been together for twenty years, and yes, that does make me feel old! I can’t even say we’ve had our ups and downs, because we haven’t. We did split up, about nineteen years and fifty weeks ago, for about eight hours, but I missed her so we were back together by the evening, and since then its been a solid, stable relationship. I love that – she’s a good egg, she really is, and we seem to have stuck it out, so nothing broken there.

So I quit teaching, for the sake of my mental health, and with my part time work from the Open University to prop us up financially, I was lucky enough to get the chance to train for a whole new career. I knew physiotherapy resonated with my values and interests, and I had a hunch that I’d be able to do it and had a fighting chance at being good at it, but I didn’t know how this hunch would develop once I started my training. It didn’t though, and now I understand the reason for this.

I’ve been reflecting recently on how relationships develop and what ‘staying together’ means – do you say ‘well done’ to a couple who have ‘stuck it out’ for so long, or ‘congratulations’ because they’ve been really lucky to have just clicked and then stayed clicked? We talk and share and challenge and ask and give as a couple, but I’m not conscious of much of this being a big task or having caused any emotional upheaval … I mean emotional at times, yes, but not big emotions or dramas – nothing that would cut it for a TV series, even just a three parter. So its been quite an easy ride, I think – and I’d call that ‘luck’. 

I do think sometimes that only the slightest throwaway comment or action can change a person’s life. And if this is true, then we should be so mindful of what we say to people because one careless comment and we could throw them onto the wrong trajectory, completely unintentionally. OR … just as easily we could lift them right up and set their faces to the good side, almost without realising what we’ve done. I’ve been on the receiving end of this, and I’d like to share a couple of examples …

It was my first appraisal as an Open University associate lecturer, and not knowing what to expect, I prepared as best I could, which, if it was anything like my previous experiences in teaching were to go by, meant choose your targets wisely, because one’s standing / salary / job security depended on meeting them. One target I’d thought of was to do more student support on the phone. I explained that I didn’t feel so confident talking on the phone so had tended to support students via text or email, and that perhaps I should try to address this. My staff tutor simply said, “Well you are playing to your strengths, aren’t you?”, and saw absolutely nothing wrong with this at all. I was dumbfounded, to encounter such a supportive, blanket of warmth and affirmation – and thought what a wonderful organisation the OU is to work for. This set my face to the good side and I haven’t looked away since. 

When we first starting seeing each other, Carol invited me round and cooked dinner – it was a mild curry dish with tomatoes and chick peas, and I thought it was really new and exciting – to get my main meal in a bowl, not on a plate, and it wasn’t meat and two veg or a pizza. I knew right then that life with Carol would take me onto a different path to that I’d been used to, and it was a path I wanted to explore. I’ve liked her cooking ever since, and chick peas.

In fact the hot meals that she produced all those years since, when I was coming home, starving and shattered and yet bracing myself for marking until midnight, were such a gift from Carol – she knew how revived I was (still am) by food. Each evening I would come home, and she was like my desk – a strong, stable support I could lean on, place all my ‘stuff’ on and know that this support was unwavering and undemanding. And its been like this for years. I served in the army and went away leaving her with the kids, I studied, marked, tutored, trained, and always she would provide, listen, cook, shop, massage, make tea … be my rock. How lucky was I, am I, to have that in my life?

Having been encouraged and supported so consistently as an associate lecturer, my commitment to the university has grown more and more. I have always loved the ethos of the Open University – there to include and nurture and find a way, for even the most challenged or unlikely or unwilling. I love that – the OU fits with my values about education. I can mark work really thoroughly, and I can plan tutorials slowly and carefully, without fretting about having to demonstrate X, Y, Z criteria (in fact it was an A3 sheet of boxes to be ticked) every twenty five minutes if someone ‘dropped in’ for a ‘learning walk’. I have time to do the job really well, and I doubted whether that would have been the case as a physiotherapist. Moreover I doubted if I’d achieve excellence at all in a new career that I was only seeing as a safety net.

My father didn’t raise me to be a risk taker, though. I had learned that you work hard, create a secure income and then work hard some more. Life wasn’t about winging it, quitting or following a whim. So I should pass the course, qualify as a physiotherapist and have something ‘to fall back on’ if the OU doesn’t work out. Safety nets are good.

So Carol pointed out that I was thinking with my head – and challenged me to go with my heart. She was right, in fact she usually is, and she is my safety net … 

But at this point I’m wondering if this post is all getting a bit mushy … where’s the grit, the challenge, the edge, amid all the ‘my wife is wonderful, my boss is wonderful’?

Well I guess the challenge lies in payback. My wife has been the air I breathe for so long – I do love her so much, I love our life together and I love all the support she gives me, so freely, so often … and now its time for me to make up for this. Carol wants to get fit, but struggles to motivate herself … now I can help her with that. She’s working herself now, she got a job so that we could afford for me to do my masters … which means that now she’s the one coming home, tired, flagging and hungry – and so now I can feed her. I want to enable Carol to take sometimes, and I want to help her to grow, seek fulfilment and work out what her passions are and to follow them.  So Carol – lean on me, my love, its time for me to commit to you …

So work wise, whilst physiotherapy ticked the boxes of a being secure job that I could probably have become competent at … still I have been an educator my whole life and education really is where my heart is, however insecure it may be at the moment. When the next modules start in October I could be working full time or not at all, but its time to stop being so afraid of risk and to make a commitment, regardless. Therefore, I’m ready to close the doors to me ‘portfolio career’ so that when the next person asks what I do, I can say, “Me?, I work for the OU, and I love it”.   

So I have quit my course – I’m not going to be a physiotherapist. I love the OU and what it has done for me. Teaching broke me, but the Open University has put me back together, so thank you, Janine and Carol, for helping me to decide, and now the Open University is what I will commit to.

(Plus a bit more running, too, I suspect) 





‘Should I stay or should I go?’

Screenshot 2018-03-27 15.29.16

Hey! Its been a while, a long while. I’ve thought about this poor neglected blog quite a few times over the past few months, but haven’t quite found either the time, the topic or the tenacity to post some of the things I’ve been wondering about …
… until now
Life for me is very good these days, very good indeed, in fact – since I quit teaching, actually. I have started to learn what ‘feeling well’ actually feels like, and it feels wonderful. That constant knot of panic in my stomach has gone away and serenity has descended … bliss
That’s not to say that I’m floating around in a meditative state of nirvana all day, no, because since I started my MSc in January I’ve been studying or working all the time. By ‘all the time’ I mean that I’ve done a couple of running events, a few Parkruns, caught the odd News at 10 and shared a couple of meals with friends, and the rest of the time I’ve been grappling with sternocleidomastoids, vestibulospinal tracts and ischaemic hypoxia or doing my Open University work, which I decided to keep going with to pay for, well, living.
There have been tears, but I’m not afraid of emotions and I knew it would happen at some point, and there haven’t been many. They came about twenty minutes into the ‘Shoulder’ lecture, where, despite my very best efforts, the glenoid fossa, coracoid process and serratus anterior were just running away from me … the tutor raced through, my fellow students were seemingly racing with him (I know that not all of them were, but it felt like they were), and the session started to feel like it was disappearing into the distance while I was still working out what he meant by a scapulo-humeral rhythm that was 6 slides ago. I was plodding along at my 12 minute / mile pace and in the wrong race.
And that was ok, actually – I have learned much about how to deal with really challenging material and what it feels like to be at the bottom of the class. For example, I know now to buddy up with different students who are not afraid to say what they don’t know. I know too that after 4-8 more hours of study I will get it, and eventually I might actually remember some of this stuff as well. I could actually explain to you a V/Q mismatch and I can describe the function of all 12 cranial nerves now, without my notes!! I know that I will probably know enough to get through the course and become a physio …
What I don’t know is whether I want to,
And I’ve been toying with the idea of quitting the course for quite a while now … more so now that I have a bit of time out for the Easter break (although I’m still getting up at six to work and study because I have so much to do!).
The thing is that since I left teaching I have also learned to be gentle with myself, with all manner of things. These days I never start a race determined to finish, for example – instead I decide to show up, start and then see how far I fancy carrying on for. Last weekend I started an event in the Peak District, and not only did I not complete the distance I’d entered, I met Carol for a coffee and a brownie in a local brewery with two miles still left to go – my certificate said ’20 miles in 7 1/2 hours’, and I’m actually quite proud of that. Failure is fine, in fact, because for me it just means that I’d stopped enjoying myself, so I stopped. I’m not in the business of trying to re-frame failure, because let’s be honest – not doing the 27 mile distance you’d entered means you failed to complete that distance, but its ok.
So I’m not concerned about my self esteem if I quit, my self esteem is pretty secure these days – that’s one of the advantages of being of maturer years! No, its about more than that. There are so very many ifs and buts going on in my head right now, although I think there are probably three key pros and cons …
I have an NHS bursary and I feel obliged to make good use of such a valued opportunity, that in fact no one else will ever get, because we were the last cohort to get it. I feel like I will have taken that opportunity from someone else.
My work with the Open University is insecure – each contract depends upon enough students signing up for my course. Not only that, but with more competition from other distance learning providers I’m unsure what the future holds … so physiotherapy is my Plan B.
Despite the fact that its so demanding and taking up all of my time, I am actually enjoying the academic stimulation of doing something so hard – if I quit how else could I challenge my brain and stave off dementia for a few more years?
I failed to finish my event last weekend because I haven’t been out running and I’m not on form – I miss running, and I really enjoy running, I REALLY ENJOY IT, like loooaaads.
I really enjoy working for the Open University – if I quit my course I could take up extra work with them, cover for absent colleagues, do more professional development (But probably not a PhD, I know it makes sense, but I just can’t get my head around doing one ‘topic’ for so long, so don’t think I haven’t considered this … !). I could be a really good Associate Lecturer, make it my career.
I could clean the house, have meals on the table when my wife comes home, sew, fix things, read for pleasure, play the piano, listen to music … and while we’re on the subject of music. Music is a rare pleasure for me, its like chocolate, the less I have it the more I enjoy it … and today I was looking for the lyrics for the blog post, and I actually listened to this … (yes I know, I should’ve been working, but today’s been a bit of an off-day) … and now I can’t get it out of my head
Darling you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
It’s always tease, tease, tease
You’re happy when I’m on my knees
One day it’s fine and next it’s black
So if you want me off your back
Well, come on and let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
This indecision’s bugging me (esta indecision me molesta)
If you don’t want me, set me free (si no me quieres, librame)
Exactly whom I’m supposed to be (digame que tengo ser)
Don’t you know which clothes even fit me? (no sabes que ropas me queda)
Come on and let me know (me tienes que decir)
Should I cool it or should I blow? (me debo ir o quedarme)
So there it is … I’m not even sure what I’d like readers to do now –
Tell me what to do?
Yes, if you like
Offer another factor that I may not have thought about?
Yes, please, that’d be good
Tell me I can do it, I’m a fighter, I’m amazing?
No, I know I can do it, and fighting doesn’t really float my boat these days
Just read it and wonder what my decision will be?
Yes, probably that too …

No Stressin’ … so far, so very good


naked wrist

Now I’m over half way through my ‘No Stressin” year, its time for an update. (And yes, I missed the ‘g’ off on purpose, its part of the slap dash theme for this year!)

In short, I’ve learned a lot about my running and that of others, and I’m feeling quite excited about the next few steps.

Quick recap – after committing all of last year to rehab and getting my knee back and my running back, only to DNF at Hull marathon at 11 miles last September, this year I decided just to rock up and run, run where I want, with whom I want, as fast and as far as I want and just see what happens. Therefore this year I have been ‘numberless running’ – no Garmin, no number crunching either before or after a run or a race, and no relentless obsession with average pace, PBs and that extra lap around the car park to round the mileage up. (Notice the naked running wrist … scary stuff, eh? 🙂 )

I have been liberated, truly – and whilst I should factor in that I have finished teaching now as well, I can recommend a ‘no stressing” year wholeheartedly. It doesn’t mean I’ve been lazy, because I really like running, and I miss it if I don’t get out several times a week – it just means that I am running to feel and not to a plan. Sometimes I feel like running really fast, or up hills, and at other times I just want to take it steady and focus on my form, or my breathing, or just, well, stuff.

So what have I done? A couple of 10ks and 1/2 maras, not for a time, but just to enjoy the atmosphere of race day – running through red traffic lights, taking over the road, seeing my pals, and seeing how my knee is, minus all the rehab that I’d been doing last year. I figured if a 10k went ok, then I’d turn up for the 1/2, and if that was still ok, then I’d go longer. And that’s what happened – each time I finished a distance, pain free, smiling and happy, then I’d decide to do the next one.

By July that meant I would have another go at 26 miles, but this time it was a Long Distance Walking Association event, so no fretting about times, and I could walk when I wanted, and eat cake along the way. This was wonderful – just a day out in the countryside, with a bit of running, chatting, eating, and even a sit and a rest at one or two of the checkpoints. I loved it.

In fact I’ve just done another LDWA event – along the canals in Birmingham. This way of running suits me wonderfully because I get to run in lovely places (no really, trust me on this, Birmingham’s canals are really pretty), meet new people, and not eat gels. I like Torq gels on a road marathon, but quite honestly, quiche, ginger cake and boiled eggs are way better, given the choice, and what road race offers baked potato with chorizo stew and a cup of tea at the end … for £15???

Being liberated from the Garmin has created a bit of head space for seeing where others are at with their running, too. First a caveat – we see what we want to see, so what follows is what I’ve seen through my own lens, and that doesn’t mean I’m right, so I’m happy to be challenged on this. I’ve seen the thrill of progress – watching people get PBs at Parkrun, and other distances, and I’ve seen people losing weight, getting faster, running further, and I’ve seen the praise they receive for that. I’ve also seen people plateau, performances drop, and the races that didn’t go according to plan. I’ve seen runners in tears when a race didn’t go well, or remark on a race being their ‘Personal Worst’, and I’ve seen runners prefer not to race at all in case others notice how slow they’ve become. I’ve become a bit of a philosopher and talked a lot about this – (which you can, at Parkrun, say, when you’re not busting a gut for a new PB) … about the focus, can I say ‘obsession’ (?) with progress. I have wondered whether we are a little bound up with progress in our society in general – public services, companies, employees  are judged on how much progress they can show they are making. As a society we expect  to see that things are getting better – we getting shorter waiting times, less crime, more Olympic medals, better rates of interest, upgraded phones and better customer service. Are we as a society never, in fact, ever satisfied? Has this tipped over into our running? Have we become so obsessed about running further, faster, with better trainers, and a better Garmin, on a better training plan that we’ve forgotten why we started running in the first place? There’s a fine path to tread here, because progress feels great, and its a great motivator, but it is finite as well. At some point a PB will be the last PB. Therefore I am interested to learn about other ways that runners can feel the love when progress stalls or stops.

To that end I’ve experimented a little this year with other ways to make an ‘event’ out of running without racing and timing. I’ve tried adding other rewards – like breakfast after Parkrun, so we can talk more. I’ve tried a version of geo-caching, by getting runners to follow a new route on an app, that takes them on different routes, at different paces, via a cake pick-up point to a café at the end. The latest version of this had some runners taking up mindfulness invitations along the way, while other runners took up ‘hard core episodes’ instead. No timings, except getting to the café in time to meet up with everyone else at the end. This was fun – time-consuming to prepare, but fun nevertheless. Cyclists have sportives, where you ride, you stop for cake, you finish, you eat … I wish running events could be a bit more like that without having to gate crash the walkers’ events.

I’ve also learned to listen really carefully to what I want. Its so easy to get caught up with what club mates are doing, and to go with the flow, but I’ve learned to step back and notice how I’m feeling first. It takes a while to ‘tune in’ to what really makes me happy … we’re so used to letting other people dictate our pleasures sometimes, aren’t we? Do I really want to spend 24 hours running around in circles, just because my friends say its fun? Do I really want to bust a gut trying to get ‘Good For Age’ – I am good, by my definition in any case? I’m good at pacing myself, at making new friends, at enjoying the whole race-day experience, at always having safety pins at the beginning, and Wet Wipes at the end … There’s a lot about running that I am good at, so this year I’m not placing a lot of faith in other definitions of ‘good’, other than my own, thank you very much.

But is ‘good’ good enough? For this year, yes, most definitely, I’ve been a very happy bod pottering around in my trainers and shorts this year. But I’ve also had the odd taste of ‘better’ (?) … further, harder, longer, more disciplines … and it has really got me thinking about whether more challenge is good, for me, anyway. And the point I’ve arrived at now is, well I’d like to find out, I think. I’m interested to know whether I’d enjoy ultra running more than marathon running, and whether I’d enjoy my little deviations on a bike and in a wetsuit more if it was harder, with a time limit and a medal at the end. The thing is I’ve done both, and I was really disciplined with my training and despite loads of challenges on race day, I did enjoy ironman triathlon and a 100k ultra. The difference between then and now, though, is that I had a different agenda then, as I was driven by all kinds of needs and motivations that I just don’t have now, so this time around I’d have to be driven purely by enjoyment. So to train for an ultra trail run I’d have to do back-to-back training runs in a really fatigued state because its enjoyable to feel fatigued … to run in all weathers because its enjoyable to get wet and cold … and so to push myself out of my comfort zone because its enjoyable to not be comfortable?

Really? that’s a bit incongruent, isn’t it? Well perhaps not – when I am on a run and am cold , wet, smelly, hungry, tired, aching, or fed up … I fixate upon how good it will be when I am warm, dry, clean, fed, rested, with my mojo back. In fact being in the first state makes the second state doubly enjoyable. So maybe ‘harder’ could equate to ‘more enjoyable’, if the the enjoyment takes the form of delayed gratification, for when the training stops, then I enjoy it? I’d like to explore that concept, I think.

So am I entering a load of challenging stuff next year? Well, I have one or two events in mind, and a couple of tabs open on my computer so I can watch how near they are to selling out, but my plan is to see how the rest of this year goes, and then, well – who knows? More of the same? Less? Lots more? … I’ll wait and see, but temptation is never too far away these days.




New year, new lessons …


Four weeks after finishing 25 years as a class teacher and time for some musings.

Its strange, in a way, because really its only two weeks into the school term, so in a sense I’ve only just started ‘my new life’ but its almost as if I don’t recognise myself.

In short I now have what I’ve learned is called a ‘portfolio career’, which just means I’m doing a bit of this and that. ‘This and that’ so far means working as an Open University associate lecturer, which I’ve done for some time, and really love, being a bank health care assistant in a care home for people with neurological difficulties, working as a bank physiotherapy assistant, which I’ve only just started this week, and at some point this year, if they’ll have me, becoming a recruit in the Army reserves, as a medic, again. (“Bank”, if you didn’t know, means a zero hours contract). Alongside earning money I am continuing to study human biology and applying to universities for the chance at some point to be a physiotherapy student.

Education to health? … one public service to another? … ‘frying pan’ and ‘fire’ comes to mind, yes, I’m well aware of that, but I’m currently in the ‘grass is greener’ phase, aren’t I, which means all is well. Well perhaps not ‘all’ …

So far I’ve learned that caring for someone who can do almost nothing for themselves is a real privilege, to be entrusted to such intimacies gives me a profound sense of responsibility, even though I’m working for the minimum wage. I’ve learned much about the rich inner world of someone who to many walking past the wheelchair would be perceived as only a broken, maybe empty shell of a person. The stories, the history, the tragedy, the joy of family, the relationships … I’ve learned about choice, capacity and liberty and about how very significant these matters are in such a setting. I’ve also learned that minimum wage does not mean minimum skill, and have been in awe of the ability of colleagues meeting the most complex of needs and yet creating a relationship of equal status and ease.

I’ve also learned that actually mistakes and failings are part of the job, and that’s fine. I won’t be placed under capability proceedings, I just made a mistake. I’ll probably make a whole load more, and you know what? That’s fine too, because you’ll learn from them, others will learn from them, and sometimes we can even just not do anything about them at all.

Not working all the time is a bit weird.

Why am I not working all the time if I’m only on minimum wage? Well, my Open University work isn’t minimum wage and being bank staff doesn’t mean I’m sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, it means I can say “no” to work as well. So this gives me the freedom to accept extra work from the OU to cover for other colleagues’ sickness absence for the next three weeks, and to decline offers of work from elsewhere. So I’m sitting pretty this month, although doubtless there’ll be other months much leaner than this.

(Cue blog post in 8 months’ time when the work has dried up and bills are piling up … well I’ll cross that bridge when it comes, if it comes, and we have saved a bit of a pot for emergencies as well … )

Not fretting about the work I’m doing is really weird.

Why am I not fretting if I’m new and don’t have a clue what I’m doing? This is where I’m starting not to recognise myself. I’ve become a little bit awkward and assertive, and this isn’t me. If I’m doing something wrong, then show me again, say it more clearly, present the guidance differently, cut me some slack – I’m new. I’m keen and intelligent, so my mistakes and omissions can be corrected, but they are nothing to fret about. I was asked to produce a certificate of all my inoculations and my GP surgery wanted to charge me for this, so I refused … and guess what … it was FINE!!! They worked around it. This really isn’t the me I know, assuming that folk can just find a way around stuff, that actually, if I think I’m being asked to do something that is unreasonable I’ll just not do it? That isn’t me at all!

And I’ve never fretted about working for the Open University, because competence is assumed, its a given. which means mistakes would have to be pretty dire before any black marks or “Requires improvement” labels loom on the horizon. After all this time, I still get a bit of a thrill from participating in appraisals that leave me full of enthusiasm and new ideas and plans. Refreshing, isn’t it?

Biology is, in fact, interesting

I know words like “tri-doththyronine” (and no, I didn’t look it up, this was from memory, honest … and just to prove it I’ll give you another one, like the “hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal gland axis” and yes, I can even tell you how it works!!). I’ve learned why runners use energy gels rather than butter during marathons, why people in Derbyshire used to get thick necks, that the pupil isn’t there, that emotional tears excrete toxins … I think I’ve been pushing my wife’s patience in sharing all these interesting facts with her, but yes, I’ve surprised myself that this might well be my thing … for now, anyway.

What’s with the photo, though?

So are you thinking I have no stress and life is wonderful? Well we’re living on a tight budget now, so the cat is having to make do with the cheapest cat litter, we’re hardly eating out now at all, and I’m not entering races left, right and centre … mmm … running … that’s for another post, I think. That side of things I can manage and for now the simpler life appeals. And while I may not be spending every night marking essays now I’m ironing uniform instead, but actually ironing, I’ve learned, is fine, too. The biggest stressor now is socks … these are my socks – I have 26 pairs altogether, but the NHS requires I wear black socks. How many black pairs can you spot among my treasured collection? So life isn’t all a bed of roses … off now to buy black socks.

“On track”


The interview suit has gone to the back of the wardrobe and let me tell you how happy I feel this evening … happy enough to shelve the marking, to finish a whole bottle on a school night, PLUS chocolate, and TWO Nespressos!!!

So yes, this is a bit of an inebriated post … and right now I can’t even say ‘inebriated’ – it doesn’t take much these days – half a bottle will do it, but today I can, because I have worth … its official … someone else believes my contribution is worth paying for, and that makes me feel WELL GOOD !

In short I have been offered two jobs – but the best one came through today … I will be a ‘Bank physiotherapist assistant’, but there’s also an offer of care assistant work. There’s the rub … I accepted one before being offered the other, but physiotherapy is the direction I want to go, and after consulting with some of my most trusted friends (sorry if you didn’t come into this category, but I’m sure you’ll understand) I decided it was ok to be a tad naughty by interviewing for another job after accepting the first. Even my dad said that was sort of ok, and I value his judgement the most, so I sort of did. I haven’t made the phone call yet …

I cannot stop smiling – is my self esteem so fickle that it is rocketed so much by my success, or is this normal? I haven’t applied for many jobs, and in teaching, there often isn’t a lot of competition, so its difficult to judge how much you are valued. This matters a lot to me, and I am really looking forward to learning a new job, a whole load of new skills, and terms, and protocols … from scratch … I love learning, so the combination of being able to learn from scratch coupled with the fact of someone rating me enough to be prepared to pay me to be part of their work is just so exciting and exhilarating, and yes, I will be posting me in uniform on Facebook at some point.

I seem to have somehow applied to re-enlist into the army reserves as well – back to the medics … I am a few steps further on towards that now, and wondering quite what my motivation is about there. Is it that I just like being a bit butch, strutting around in polished boots with a rifle, or is it that it’ll enrich my experience, by training as a medic in preparation for applying for a physiotherapy course, or do I just want to earn more money? I think part of the attraction is to be trained from scratch again … its been such a long time since I was an army medic that I’d be starting as a private again, and that appeals, because its another chance to learn, to get it right, and to make sure I’m ticking all the boxes.

As I’m writing this, I realise that in my current fragile, alcohol-affected state I’m exposing my frailties somewhat … yes, I do want to get everything right, so yes, I am a perfectionist, and yes, it probably is a need for approval, and yes it probably is left over from some childhood hang up. And that’s just fine, I’m ok with that … especially after a job offer, and wine and chocolate. Well I’m fine with that anyway, quite frankly.

But will I be perfect? Of course not, but it’ll be good to try for a bit, and as a newbie, it’ll be a while before I’ll realise all the things I should be doing and aren’t, so I might even think I am getting it right – ignorance has its benefits.

In the meantime, I’ve been so distracted by job applications, interviews, study, learning, reading that running has been left well and truly by the wayside, and is down to one Parkrun a week … so now I can leave my nightly trawls through ‘Indeed’ and writing one supporting statement after another, I might even take myself out for a little jaunt next week sometime … after all, there’ll be an Army fitness test at some point!

And finally – my lovely wife … egged me on … was the edgy, risk taker when I wanted to play it safe and pay the bills. Coupledom is great, isn’t it, when one compliments the other, and gives just that little prod that is needed to take a risk and try something else? Thank you so much, Carol, for giving me that little push …

Time to stop, I’m getting all mushy now after my two and a half glasses of wine … 🙂

Happy days!




Full steam ahead, part two

images-4So what happens next?

Its a bit scary even beginning to write this, because in short, I don’t know. I’m stepping into the dark here, and taking risks, especially financial risks, is not my forté at all.

Officially I finish teaching at the end of this term, in December and then I have no full time job, and neither will my wife.

We have downsized to a small house with solar panels, so hopefully our bills will be a bit lower. I have some money saved, but that won’t last forever, so I’m not retiring yet.

So what’s my dream job? Over months and months of deliberation, I realise that different sides of my personality appeal to different areas of work, so here are my criteria –

Meaningful – there has to be a point to my work, I’m a right-on lesbian who eats kale, therefore I can’t just make loads of money without caring about others, so CEO of Wonga is out.

Money – enough to pay the bills, so actually much less than now would be ok, but I would rather avoid threats of redundancy every year (out of the pan and all that).

Status – for me this is about competency rather than hierarchy. I want to be really good at my job and knowing that would tick the ‘status’ box. I’m not ambitious, so being in charge or moving up the ladder doesn’t interest me that much.

Interest – there are a lot of jobs that strike me as interesting, for different reasons. I’m an extravert so people work is good, but I like solitude, too. I’m a perfectionist so like to tick every box, if possible, and I absolutely love learning, so work with on-going developmental opportunities would be lovely. I like to think hard about the best way to do something, think on my feet sometimes, be organised and methodical, but now and again get the chance to be innovative as well.

My train of opportunity has visited a few stations already. I got to the interview stage for a place on a doctorate in educational psychology last year. This would’ve been a move up. I was unsuccessful, and on reflection, I really couldn’t see myself having a better answer about how to help a school help a young person with complex needs than a special needs coordinator who has been helping children like that for over twenty years. So money and status, but not competency, probably – I want to be good, really good as well, and I don’t think I’d be that good an educational psychologist.

The next station was trainee train driver. I am exceedingly proud to be able to say I beat 900 applicants to interview! This would’ve been a big move up, money wise, but I was unsuccessful. Learning the job would’ve been good, and the money would’ve been great, but me, driving trains? I couldn’t quite see it, quite honestly, and I guess the managers couldn’t either.

And my train is now approaching a junction … or it might run out of track (eeek!).

It might go towards Open University country. I love this university – from both sides of the desk. My undergraduate and postgraduate psychology degrees were both with the OU, and I have been privileged enough to work part-time as an Associate Lecturer for the past six years. I don’t earn enough to live off this, but maybe, just maybe, I might gradually get more contracts until its enough to pay the bills. So money, no, but status, yes, I’m good at it, and find it really rewarding work.

Or it might go towards the NHS – yes, I know, I know – from one poorly funded public service to another … but there are crucial differences here, and I absolutely get that this is purely conjecture, as I am not within this organisation, so I’m guessing here, BUT … I don’t think managers will think its my fault if a patient doesn’t attend their appointment, follow their medical advice / regime or get better. Yes, there won’t be enough time to do everything, but I won’t be bringing any patients home, or responding to emails from them at home either. The politics, the lack of funding and investment? Yes,  its certainly a challenging environment, but I survived twenty years in education, so I’m hoping I’d manage a similar length of service in the NHS.

Right now I’m thinking of physiotherapy – I’m not about to try and compete with those wonderfully experienced folk getting runners back out after injuries, but rather to be that one link in the chain that helps an immobile patient to cough so as to avoid getting a chest infection, or to help a child with cystic fibrosis spend less time on their ventilator, or help a stroke victim to sit up again. I reckon I’d be good at that …

Or something else entirely? I’ve interviewed to be a water quality sampler for Yorkshire Water, applied to be a part-time funeral director, and have an open mind every time I go on Indeed. I’ve also applied to go back to the Reserves as a medic as well – the Army wasn’t top of my list when I quit teaching, but it’ll bring in a bit of pocket money, if they’ll have me back.

So the next few weeks will consist of putting many feelers out to obtain some health care / work shadowing experience in order to be ready to apply for a physiotherapy course, alongside looking for any reasonable means to pay the bills … if the worst comes to the worst, then I guess it might have to be supply teaching … shudders at the thought …

Of course, this is only until the next hair brained idea comes along – I’m open to any suggestions? !


Full steam ahead


This post will be in two parts. First I will let off steam and then I can share with you where my train is heading.

First the rant. I’ve been a teacher for twenty years, and each year that the workload cranked up a little bit more from the year before, I sucked it up, employed all my creative juices, and found a way to at least make it look as if I’m encompassing the new expectations, the additional progress monitoring or the extra teaching element. I have loved teaching so very much, and never stopped seeing my role as the greatest privilege and the most profound responsibility, sending young people on their way into the adult world.

I get that managers live in mortal fear of the big bad Ofsted, and that all these new initiatives are just attempts to keep the Ofsted savagery at bay. I also get that not all managers have the quite the sensitivity towards staff morale as they could have.

I get all that, but I also have a limit to my ability to take criticism. I’m a sensitive soul, and, if I’m honest, have probably spent most of my life looking for approval from authority. Its very hard indeed to get that approval in teaching. I will explain, so now here comes the boring bit … either take a deep breath, or skip the next four paragraphs …

In my current role, gaining approval means teaching, marking and reporting – fine, its always been that, what’s the problem? Ok, so let’s start with the teaching bit, well, to pass a lesson observation these days generally takes me at about 8 hours of preparation – the assessment criteria is on an A3 sheet, there are too many boxes to tick they don’t fit onto A4. You have just 20-25 minutes to meet all these criteria, and you don’t know which 20 minutes of your lesson will be observed, so you have to plan to meet all these criteria repeatedly during your lesson.

The reality is, though, that really, teachers should be teaching lessons like this all the time. This is the standard that Ofsted has set, and the game is that when Ofsted or lesson observations come around, we all pretend that all of our teaching is like this. Sometimes the observer checks this out with the students in the class, and if you’re lucky, the students will assist in the game play as well.

Next the reporting bit – within the past half term I have had to report on over 120 students, commenting on their readiness for learning, their effort, the standard of their homework, their ability to learn independently, the grade they’re achieving at the moment, the grade they’re likely to get in 18 month’s time, the grade they got in their first two assessments, their attendance, their punctuality and the quality of their contributions in class. I then have to agree with a colleague on the grade we both think they’ll get in 18 months’ time. I don’t just predict an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ or a ‘C’, I have to predict either a ‘B1’, which means that they will probably get a B, but with a specific intervention from me they could get an A, or a B2, which means they’ll probably get a B, but without a specific intervention from me they might get a C, or a B3, which means without a specific intervention from me there’s a real danger they might get a C. I have to make these predictions of their performance on a new course that no one has actually taught before. I’ve just completed this cycle for the second time in seven weeks, because the first was called a ‘settling in check’ so didn’t count as an actual report, apparently.

The marking – yes, this is very important, and I regularly mark until past 11 o’clock at night. Every couple of weeks I have to mark in more detail, when the comments have to be printed onto blue paper, so that managers can find them easily when they conduct a work scrutiny. All these key marked pieces should have ‘What Went Well’ and ‘To Improve Further’ comments. This should then be followed by interventions, that are recorded into a file, along with the outcome, because all students who failed to meet their target grade are expected to be given some kind of intervention designed to raise their performance up their target grade standard. In addition to this, I have to find time in the following lesson to go through my feedback with the students, so that the students can all write down, in red pen, what their response to this feedback is going to be. In reality this means my students re-submit their assessment, so I have marked the work of about 50 of my students twice, with some of them submitting up to four pieces of work for marking a second time. I actually don’t mind this, and am thrilled when they are so motivated – this has been a labour of love, no really, it has.

In the summer term, after twenty years in the job, the feedback after a lesson observation was a ‘weak good’. It seems I should have named each student when I spoke to them to help the observer notice that every student was making progress. The printed copy of my marks sheet should have been colour coded (on Excel it was, but lacking access to a colour printer apparently I should have coloured all the boxes in with felt tip instead). I received this feedback in the same week that I had the nicest ever ‘Thank You’ card from a student. She’s going to train to be a teacher, and said that I was so dedicated, it was clear that teaching was not just a job to me, and that I had really inspired her to become a teacher herself. I was so touched by this, and wanted to share it with my appraiser, but he flatly refused to even look at it, saying it was not part of the appraisal process. Sadly, he’s right – the only thing that counts in management’s assessment of my contribution to the profession is the evidence I presented during those twenty minutes.

So the lesson observation counts, along with my exam results – these were the best the school had had for some time – during the year that the other psychology teacher was off on maternity and I had had to pick up some of her classes as well. The year that the time allocated to deliver the course was dropped from five hours a week to four. The year that the amount of content on the course increased from 15 pieces of research to 20. Despite all this, I am deemed a ‘Weak good’.

So what was I to do? Continue another twenty years of finding ways to make it look like I’m ticking all the boxes and work on my robustness, so I can shrug off a ‘weak good’ summation of my contribution to the profession, focusing instead on the many ‘Thank you’ cards and emails from students to feed my need for my positive strokes of approval?

The trouble is, I’m just so sensitive and such a perfectionist. I want to get everything right and tick all the boxes, for real. There’s no way any teacher can do that and still have a life outside of work. Its hard for me to be ok with all the things I’m failing to do because there just isn’t time to cover everything. The holidays allow time to rest and recuperate, but they don’t make up for the frustration of having left so much undone during term time.

When did our society become one that is obsessed with continual improvement? When did we start relentlessly demanding more and more output for less and less investment? When did we become so greedy and target driven? When did ‘satisfactory’ stop being good enough? I don’t think any political party sees this as a problem, so it isn’t going to change any time soon. However good we are, further improvement is still expected.

So I quit … I’m leaving at the end of this term. I have twenty years of work ahead of me, and I can’t face the feeling of having never quite reached the grade.

I was criticised again yesterday. A student was upset because my progress tracker (that is colour coded when its on a computer screen) showed her progress to be red, whilst everyone else’s was a healthy green or blue. Evidently it was my fault that she was almost the only student in the class that hadn’t re-submitted any of her assessments in order to make her progress colour change upwards. When I suggested we get together for me to give her one-to-one feedback, it was my fault that she had not chosen to do this. Oh yes, and the student was upset because I hadn’t given her ‘What Went Well’ feedback on her test. I considered asking for training on how to give positive feedback that doesn’t sound condescending when a student scores 1/20.

So I am well aware that I would be far better off just letting all this go and not fretting about it – life’s too short. Rumination is bad for the soul … but each little knock on top of the last little knock takes longer each time to bounce back from, and I know now that leaving the profession is right for my psychological health. So perhaps the positive take on all this is that each little knock will now actually be an affirmation that I’m doing the right thing to get out of the ring …

Hats off to all teachers – I salute your resilience – truly you’re made of stern stuff and I think that you’re all amazing.