On bagging teachers

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On bagging teachers

I work as a relief teacher. At seven in the morning, or if I’m lucky, at eight in the evening, the night before, I get a call from a surprisingly calm sounding woman who coordinates the relief teachers at one of the high schools nearby, and she asks me if I’m available to teach, and I usually say, ‘Yes, I’d love to. What time do you need me?’

So I show up at school (after all the regular teachers do) in time for period one, and find my instructions, left by whoever I’m stepping in for (because of illness, or sometimes a class trip, or professional development…). Then I find my class and introduce myself and they invariably try to swap names or convince me they’re ‘usually allowed to listen to music in class’, but we plod on with their work and at the end of it they go to the next class, and so do I.

At interval, I sit in a staff room and watch and listen, and damn it people, why do we, as a society, bag teachers? Why is it that we just assume the problems with education (and therefore with all of society…) can be traced back to rubbish teachers? Because honestly, I can remember one or two less-than-stellar teachers from my entire schooling career, but most of them were creative, articulate, could think on their feet, deliver inspirational speeches at the drop of a hat, make us do way more than we thought we were capable of… These people work ridiculous hours and pour their hearts and souls into helping kids through school, preparing them for life beyond, propping them up when they’re struggling, just generally, frankly, being everyday HEROES.

I get it, teachers are a convenient target for government and media when they want to point the finger, but the more time I spend around schools, the more fed up I am with the lazy rhetoric, the scapegoating.

There’s a thing we do – all of us – we assume we work harder than other people. We can’t step into their shoes and live their life, can’t see most of what they do, the hard parts of their jobs, the complexity. We see the rewards perhaps, we see the pay-off, we see the appearance of order and meaning, and it is so easy to imagine they have it just slightly (or a lot) easier than we do.

With teachers it’s too easy. We see school holidays and nine a.m. to three p.m.. We see them as glorified babysitters, perhaps. We imagine it’s not that hard to give lectures and detentions to a room full of smelly, disorganised, apathetic teenagers with smartphones under their desks. We think you’d have to be an idiot to sign up for that shit in the first place. We think they put on a movie any time they’re not feeling up to it.

And then our own kids (or our friends’ kids) come home, tired and hormonal, and talk smack about how rubbish their teachers are, how out of control their classes, how they outsmarted the fool in charge. Do we believe them? Do we accept the job-appraisal offered by a fifteen year old who would rather be mine-crafting than wrapping his head around the causes of World War II? The teacher took his phone off him and gave him homework, and we take his word on how competent she is at her job?


And the shit teachers have to deal with some days, the cruel fragile-ego-driven shit teenagers deal out (it’s a phase, perhaps, not to excuse it, but we can probably all remember being less than lovely to a teacher or two). Teachers take that stuff, laugh it off, and put on their armour and go back to work, because they’ve got a job to do. These kids need to learn this stuff, pass this test, gain this credit…

The money’s not crash hot. The holidays are mythical. And nine to three… hah!

You want to improve education? Pay them better, give them smaller classes and bigger budgets and support staff to do all the non-teaching stuff. Start with the assumption that teachers are in it for the kids (because why the hell else would they be in it?) Start with the admission that if they’re not the best teacher ever, that puts education on par with every other profession, full of every-day-heroes who aren’t the best-ever at their job, but do pretty damn well in the circumstances, given the resources at hand. And most teachers are great learners – comes with the territory – they’re upping their game constantly. In fact, it’s required for keeping your teaching registration.

There are those who tick the boxes, disparage students, do the bare minimum – I’m sure there are, somewhere. I assume so because there must be, right? In any profession.

But I go into schools, I watch, I listen, and I’ve not yet seen ONE.

What I have seen are so many dedicated, creative, generous souls, giving up their lunch hours to help a struggling kid, doing research on their phone while eating a soggy sandwich, looking up a more engaging way to introduce a seemingly-dull but important topic, or finding course information for a kid who’s ready to quit school, or shoulder-tapping another teacher to compare notes on a kid who is often upset and is there something going on at home?

Unfortunately we have people in government, even those in charge of education portfolios, who’ve hardly spent any time in schools at all. Being in real schools with real teachers would soon put an end to all the teacher-blaming, and then we could start to talk about how to actually improve education in this country.

Okay, rant done. This guy does it better, and it’s possible you haven’t seen this because it’s a few years old now…

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Apparently, that’s what re-entering the earth’s atmosphere looks like. In France they call the first few weeks of school the ‘rentrée’ and, yep, it’s a bit like that. Louis even had a fever at one point (he’s all better now) so there was burning – and the sausages I overcooked, I suppose. That’s the kind of thing I tend to do when there’s too much going on. I start forgetting things.

We got back from Italy on the Sunday night, thinking school might start the next day. It didn’t, fortunately, but Elena had her first session at the halte garderie.

first day at halte garderie

They start them off with ‘adaptation’…

Day 1: I go with her and we both stay and play for an hour.

Day 2: she does the second half hour by herself.

Day 3: a whole hour en seul.

Day 4: if all goes well (and it did) she does an hour and a half there on her own.

Day 5: two hours.

And then the next week she goes for her ordinary three half-days (3 hours), which will be the usual habit from now till next July… minus Christmas holidays and the like.

My lovely friend Erin watched Louis while Elena and I stayed at halte garderie for an hour, but the next day Louis sat in the salle de réunion (waiting room?) and played on my ipad for the first half hour. Then we went to the park, which he was happy about.

And Elena? She loves it. She has a thousand toys and two kind teachers, a few english-speaking (as much as any of them speak at 15 months) kids in her group, and cried only once – when Louis and I came to pick her up and waved through the window, then ‘disappeared’ to go in the door. She thought we’d gone. We were only on our way inside, but out of sight.

School for Louis started on Thursday. This information was on the noticeboard, on the fence, outside the school. I saw it on Monday afternoon, but we’d already figured out there wasn’t any school because the menu didn’t start till thursday. That’s right. We could find out on the internet what the kids were having for lunch, but we couldn’t find out when they started school.

A couple of days later we got the local magazine in the mail and on the back is the menu for the whole month:

menu at maternelle

Louis eats bread. I’d have thought he’d want the pasta, the deserts, the petit pois (peas) but no, apparently he only eats bread. This is what Louis tells me, so it’s possible he’s forgetting some delicious morsel of… no, probalby he’s just eating bread.

Je ne comprends pas.

He did just the morning the first day, coming home for lunch. On friday we thought he could try a full day. We want him to stay there for the lunches as we’ve heard it’s an environment which has helped many a stubborn un-adventurous eater to try new things, but he can’t stay for lunch unless he stays all afternoon. After lunch they have a two hour sleep and then the last ninety minutes of the day are free-time, easy play, or so it seems.

This week he’s done full days every day, with mixed success. He’s napping no problem, and has been dry about half the time (no nappies at nap time). He doesn’t eat much but that hardly makes for a dramatic change. He was upset on Tuesday morning. Luuk dropped him off before going on a work trip, so perhaps there was some added tension there.

first day of school, afternoon tea Afternoon tea at the park, after school. Comfort food and some big changes for the little man.

hot chocolate after school

On Tuesday it rained so I took Louis to Café de la Gare for a chocolat chaud. We have half an hour to kill between when he finishes school and when Elena finishes halte garderie, so if this wintry weather keeps up we will soon figure out where to get the best chocolat chaud in town.

Wednesday is a day off, every week, all year around, for French schools. Older kids have clubs and extra-curriculars. Little kids need the rest. It was grey and miserable, so we stayed home and baked muffins.

fig, banana and white chocolate muffins Banana, fresh fig and white chocolate muffins.
(Yes, Louis picks out the figs when he eats them.)

Louis and Elena watching fishWednesday’s outing: lots of errands and the fish pond!

School went a bit better on Thursday. I stayed for a while when we dropped him off in the morning. We did some painting and he was drawing happily until I told him I had to take Elena home for a sleep – and that he didn’t need one, because he’s a big boy, so he could stay at school and do all the fun things with the other kids.

He was not convinced. He cried. I felt a bit guilty all day. But at the end of it Louis’ teacher proudly informed me that he’d actually spoken to her! Progress! It’s all in French, of course, so he’s got a lot to adjust to.

This morning he was upset again, but more readily distracted with a truly impressive selection of those toys with beads on a wire.

wire bead toy

Comme ça.

So hopefully he’s doing okay. He should be asleep at school at the moment. Elena is too (here, at home) and I could nap, probably. I have succumbed to a cold. The kids had a bit of chesty cough last week but got better within a couple of days. Lucky things.

There’s a meeting for parents at Louis’ school tomorrow, but other than that the only thing on this weekend is Antony’s famous annual cheese and wine fair. It’s incredible. The whole neighbourhood is a-buzz with preparations today. The lights are strung up like christmas. There are roads closed, stalls set up all along the streets, the whole shebang.

Might have to find me some medicinal bordeaux after I’ve picked up Louis from school.

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teachable moments

I’m a teacher at heart, so of course I try to grab the teachable moments when they come but Luuk has a real talent for it. He will have a job he wants to do and he includes Louis beautifully. They wash the dishes together most mornings, and if a toy needs fixing then here come team Paulussen.

Luuk and Louis fixing the red toy car.

Louis refused to put on a nappy yesterday morning and so, for the first, time, he went to halte garderie in undies. I tried to explain to his teacher (in french) that he would probably say ‘poopoo’ or ‘potty’ when he felt the urge, rather than the french ‘pipi’ or ‘caca’. Perhaps he was busy and didn’t speak up, or perhaps he was misunderstood, but he came home in his extra change of clothes…

And then wet them through on the walk home.

So I’ve learned some things: Mondays, take the double pushchair and pick up the bread before french lesson so that I’m not late to pick up Louis, and so that we can go directly home (do not pass the boulangerie, do not create more dirty laundry…)

And from now on Louis will be in undies unless he’s sleeping. It is on.

Yesterday morning at french lesson I conjugated ‘decider’, to decide, in four different tenses. And I have decided – to commit to this potty training buisness.

J’ai decidé!

I also conjugated ‘devoir’ which means ‘to must’ or ‘to have to’, ie. I must do my homework. Confusingly, the word for homework is also ‘devoir’ – because you must do it.

Je dois faire mes devoirs.

Forgive me for educating. I used to do it for a job. At teachers college they talked about ‘teachable moments’ – perfect opportunities to teach someone something, often in an unexpected way.

Yesterday Elena got taught about playing roll/pass the ball. Unfortunately she got a few headers in. Fortunately the ball wasn’t going too fast. We sat on the rug for a happy half hour, Elena between my legs and Louis at the far end, and passed the ball (several of them actually) back and forth.

Which brings me to yesterday’s small stone:

bouncy orb of air
giving disproportionate
joy just by rolling 

And then there are the non-teachable moments. This morning Louis and I baked shortbread. He hates trying new foods but I though butter and sugar mixture a sure thing – I mean who doesn’t love butter and sugar??

So I forced it into his mouth.

And I was wrong: this was not a teachable moment. I’d be surprised if he eats one of the biscuits this afternoon at play group, but we’ll see (he didn’t, just picked off the lemon icing). I’m hosting, which is good because the weather is rubbish. But then again, rubbish weather might keep everyone home and it’ll be a long afternoon with too many bickies if no one shows up. (Loads of people came and there are just enough bickies left for dessert.)

lemon iced shortbread cookies

Speaking of Louis and stories and teachable moments – and in honour of yesterday being the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice:

And just to keep things even, here’s a gorgeous video of Elena getting to know her mirror-self.

She’s really moving and screeching now!

With or without the teachable moments the kids are constantly learning and growing. Which takes the pressure off because I do miss the teachable moments sometimes. 

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pants-less wonder

We are potty-training! This is all very new to me and I humbly searched the interweb for tips, read six of the top ten hits and was thoroughly disappointed. Other than a couple of lightbulb moments I thought it was all pretty obvious and I came away feeling hardly more prepared than I started.

We have the paraphernalia, and the lolly-stash for rewards/bribes, and wooden floors, so that’s something.

We are doing this gently because I’m not completely convinced my wee man (tehe, wee man) is really ready. So, we have these ‘pants-less sessions’ once or twice a day. We pull the rug up and put the potty centre-stage, and remind him every fifteen minutes or so…

We say things like, “What happens if you do wees in the potty Louis? You get a Lolly.”

To which Louis says things like, “Lolly! Lolly! Lolly!”

To which we say, “When you put something in the potty, darling. When you do the wees in the potty, then you get a Lolly.”

To which he says, “Lolly.”

(To which Luuk says something like, “He’s caught on to just one concept in that sentence.)

Anyway, so far pretty good. No serious messes, no tears, and only a little bit of frustration. He’s oh-so-cute running about with no pants on but I’m not going to share pictures. In fact, I’ve exercised much self control and not taken any. We have had as much success as not and Louis has discovered the joy that is marshmallows!

So, there it is, so far so good. And so far so good in another way – what do you think of my account of it all? I’m trying to be, ah, what’s the word? Delicate? There are enough over-sharing parents on the internet. If you want the full and gory details, google potty training and enjoy!

While Louis is running about in the semi-nick, I’ve been busy…

– doing lots of cooking (I have mastered the art of cream of mushroom soup)

– writing a novel (half way through: the bad guy is about to be revealed as mr.not-nice, and for the first time the heroine is about to consider the good guy as a potential match – oooh…)

– laundry. Lots and lots of laundry. Potty training has, surprisingly, added hardly a thing to this pile, but it’s a never-ending chore.

– planning Louis’ birthday party menu (may have spent just a few minutes/hours on pinterest)

– doing french homework. We are becoming better students again. We will have used up our paid-for lessons by Christmas, so we are trying to make the most of it. Add to that the motivation of an exam next week, and what do you know? We are doing homework more than once a week and not just the day before the lesson.

So that’s us. I’ve disobeyed my own advice for nanowrimo and taken on another project in the same month, but I’m not relying on doing much writing WHILE the kid runs around endangering the upholstery. On the other hand, while he’s sitting on the potty, with Elmo for company: prime writing time!