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.