What I’m Doing With My “6 weeks off”

I think we can all agree that I’m not great at winding down. So if anything I’ve geared up this summer with some exciting stuff.

I’m rebuilding my website & moving the whole thing to WordPress which is a whole learning curve in itself (you can check out it’s progress at www.TeachAllAboutIT.school).

I’ve been interviewing people for a blog series that has now launched on the site called Paths To Success. It’s been really fun recording a tonne of interviews & developing them as blog / podcast episodes. If you have a career story you’d like featured get in touch!! Seriously – this series is just fascinating & I’d love to hear from you 🙂

I’ve been recording more of the awesome audio series Dark Dice with Fool & Scholar Productions. It’s an absolute honour to be working with these absolute dudes (even if the time difference does mean I end up with Jet Lag without leaving home!). If you haven’t listened to their current stuff, I can’t recommend it enough!

And to top it all off I got a message out of the blue last week from a producer at the BBC asking of I’d write some sections for the Computer Science Bitesize section… Two days & one interview later and I’m writig the whole AQA section! For the flipping BBC!!

We’re only a week in… So next time someone asks what teachers do with their holidays, here’s a list 😉

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Why I’m Quiet

Hey guys. I know quite a few of you pop in here regularly to say hi (I’m still bemused by the ongoing stats!).

I’m not actually being completely silent, but instead have been flat out classroom teaching, tutoring, and blogging with my professional hat on!

If you fancy seeing what I’ve been up to, I’m in full glorious Technicolor over at www.TeachAllAboutIT.uk

It’s been a total whirlwind this year & I’ve just popped on to say whoooo! My tutoring business had it’s 1st birthday this week. How very exciting!

That, and I promise to write something not to do with teaching soon…

Don’t Strive for Perfectionism

I wrote a truly exciting blog earlier on my rather more professional site about whether revision is worth the hassle, I even did a video to go with it. I spend most of my professional life advising kids to chip away at tasks to make them seem less daunting. My tutor duties are definately skewed more towards skills and confidence than knowledge – often kids arrive knowing the end point, but have no idea how to transition from rabbit in the headlights to practical students. Much of my advice centres around doing your best and rewarding yourself for progress.

I am of course The Actual Worst when it comes to taking on too much and demanding perfection of myself. I don’t think I’m alone here – in fact, I’d put money on the vast majority of teachers being massive perfectionists who tie themselves in knots over the slightest thing.

Take for instance my tutoring rating. I currently sit at 94% (it’s like a centile, 6% are rated higher). Now, do I see me higher than 93% of tutors and celebrate? Noooo. I work out how to outdo the 6%.

Similarly, of my 294 lessons (IKR! How did that happen?!), 2 have been rated 4/5 which has ruined my perfect score.

This haunts me.

This really does haunt me. I even have a tattoo to remind me & bring me back to reality. 3 hours of scraping needles & ink into my skin to have a permanent reminder etched on me that I’m “Good Enough”.

This attitude is celebrated in many schools as having Highest Expectations or Always Learning. Except this is a huge mistake. Fostering a love of learning yield far greater results than scaring them into retaining facts. Fretting about missing that 0.02 is an indicator of serious anxiety issues. Encouraging this behaviour in kids is plain wrong.

We are currently raising a binary generation of people like me and people checking out entirely. The sheer volume of kids with anxiety shold be ringing alarm bells so loud that you can’t hear the lunch bell. I saw an insight of this when my girls did their SATS over the past few years

– Beanpole worked hard and chased down every mark. This was a 10 year old who knew how to interrogate a past paper. Extra lessons were attended, lunchtimes missed in lieu of revision. She acted like a 16 year old with GCSEs and would heed none of our advice to relax.

– TinyPants made herself physically sick worrying over the marks that she struggled with. She was awared no extra time despite the aching joints of Ehlers Danlos rearing their ugly head. In the end, after 6 months of revision stress she wrote “I DON’T CARE” in 3 inch letters across her exam paper. Her summer school report was a simple “Not High School Ready”. She died her hair pink & left primary school making some interesting hand gestures.

In both cases, we have been exceedingly lucky with their high school who took the pressure down and have given them a breather. TinyPants still refuses point blank to read anything for pleasure and “you just haven’t found the right book” is met with stubborn refusal. Why? Because she was forced to pick apart texts for a year, identifying modal fucking verbs instead of fanning her creative spark with literature. I will never forgive Gove for stamping out a love of reading for so many kids.

But I digress. My point was that we are teaching kids that nothing short of perfection will do all the way through life and that extreme stress just means you’re working hard enough – complain about it & you’re a snowflake (spend 10 minutes on twitter to confirm this). Despite wrapping it up in the “keep failing until you get it right” posters, nothing they are taught backs up this theory – don’t fail your SATS or you’re not High School Ready, pass your GCSES or you can’t get into College, get AAB in your A Levels or you can’t get into University… Ad infinitum.

Fast forward to the 38 year old & it’s still going. Pass your job probation, ace the appraisal observation, get the highest tutor rating, the only disability is a bad attitude! (barf), what do you mean you can’t work and parent and sort the house whist on a constant slow release of morphine that you forget to take on time because the neuro drugs have melted the intelligent part of your brain??? Brain fog is no excuse for stopping. Keep up. No-one is irreplaceable.

My unique state is part nature, part nuture. My adrenal dysfunction likes to fool me into thinking that the harmless lesson observation, or coffee with a friend is on a par with being eaten by a tiger. Nuture wise my wonderful, but ultimately messed up mother spent my entire childhood comparing me to fictional kids who were way more intelligent than me and who grew up and married very rich doctors (Go Feminism!). In short, I’m constantly terrified that I’m actually no good at the thing I’ve trained over a decade to do and get high ratings in.

Eventually, I’ll end up in a cave as a hermit where I might make friends with the tiger that’s probably less scary than leaving the house. Until then, welcome to my mind palace.

Sleep is For The Weak

I watched an interesting and yet terrifying documentary on Netflix today called Take Your Pills. If you’ve not watched it, please do. It’s a worrying window into how kids cope with the academic pressures ladled onto them. There were also so many ambitious adults on there who are taking Adderall to stop burnout. Some had progressed to taking low doses of LSD, with stories of people in their 30s having exhaustion induced seizures and being called / emailed at the hospital for work they hadn’t finished.

(For point of reference Adderall is an ADHD drug similar to ritalin – both are amphetamines, but adderall is closer to methamphetamine)

Ironically, here was me watching this in bed in my pyjamas at 10am on a Wednesday morning. I’ve worked every day for the past 14 days and by Tuesday morning found myself wrapped in a blanket at 7am staring into my mirror instead of getting ready for work, after another “fun 4 hour sleep” unable to put makeup on because I was so tired & woozy. Technically I should have called then, but I felt too guilty to call in sick. My pain levels exhaust me, but I don’t want to “use them as an excuse” – the internalised ableism is almost audible around me at times like this.

As my workload went up, so did my pain levels amd my ability to cope dropped – I already have a heafty painkiller routine, but the morphine levels have risen recently. I had a bit of a stark awakening when just before a stream on Monday my shoulder popped out (fully dislocated with a torn muscle). Mr Geek returned the joint to it’s rightful place & I asked for “some morphine please”. This sparked much hilarity from my friends on camera who witnessed a totally calm woman politely request strong narcotics. From most people I’d get upset, except I know they intrinsically get this pain threshold thing – I don’t scream & wail because I’m not scared. It hurts like a motherfucker & still does, but I know why and how to solve it, and precisely how bad it will get. Staying calm stops my muscles going into spasm & helps the joint back in. Much love to Jo & her meditation techniques for this.

Anyway, knackered lots of pain etc. so in bed on my “day off” before tutoring starts. It occured to me that I was utterly confused by the concept of not being able to focus – these people wanted to push through the tired & work faster, longer, better. And were using amphetamines to do it. They are literally taking drugs to have the unpleasant side effect of my adrenal dysfunction. WTH?!

I made a list of things I’ve achieved over the past 7 days to show the effects of skidding through life in constant fight or flight:

7 days of stuff I’ve done

Learnt how to code with basic Unity & Cardboard VR

Made & released a simulation App for my department’s charity den (go look & download to raise money for our local homeless shelter!)

Written a draft short campaign for the roleplaying group I play with (3000 words & counting) based around Tudor / Medieval Sussex folklore.

Created ink drawings for a couple of characters.

Scruffy witch with long teeth stands holding a fish

Ginny Greenteeth – river hag, notorious for dragging people into water.

Joined in 2 roleplaying streams totalling a collective 6 hours (no regrets!)

They’re not on YouTube yet, here’s one we made earlier!

https://youtu.be/YcDgJos28sE

Created an ink drawing of one of the characters from our game stream.

Drawibg of a Young man in a long coat running with a flaming torch in one hand and a dagger in the other

Lamb the SaltGypsy from our Salt & Thirst Campaign with BloodThirsty Puppets

Worked at my teaching job for 32 hours + a few evenings of marking

12 hours of online tutoring

And a blog post.

….

Now in a list, I looked at that and thought “wow! I’m a fucking superhero!”. No brain, you are not. You are skimming years off of your life by not slowing down even when limbs are literally falling off and you’re crying from being tired. What my brain is failing to mention is:

The sketching is done at 1am when I can’t sleep because my CRPS is playing up & my leg feels like its on fire

Much of the middle of the night suddenly awake cold swears stuff is due to panic dreams where I can’t escape from a fire. Subconsciously I know this is because the alarms broke on Friday & we’re just waiting for an engineer & there’s a plan in place, but I don’t like feeling vunerable & not in control. Being nervous = extra adrenalin.

The streaming is my socialising. I do this from bed because sitting in a chair is too painful after work. I’d rather cut a boob off than not join in.

Same goes for tutoring. Big pile of pillows in bed. I enjoy it & it’s paying for the holiday which the girls & Mr Geek deserve so much after giving up life to accomodate me all year.

I loved creating the app, but the all consuming fear that I’d let people down if it wasn’t done meant that by Sunday morning I was covered in hives (I still argue that it was worth it)

……………………………

So the brain & I had a serious talk having been placed into a salted bath by Mr Geek who now just looks at me like a concerned pet owner does at a cat that keeps pulling it’s fur out.

I can’t keep going where the adrenalin rush pushes me. I can’t shrug off every conversation where Mr Geek tells me to rest more and stop working, or at least saying yes to more work. I can’t survive on less than 25 hours sleep per week.

Something has to give, and with a leaky heart valve we’d rather it wasn’t that. Also, that’s not a very rock & roll way to go.

The brain needs to stop flooding me with adrenalin and I need to be sensible and take a few days off. I’ve cleared my diary for the whole 4 day Easter Weekend, much to the dismay of my tutees (downside of self-employed tutoring is they genuinely believe I’m on 24 hour call).

  • Even if it snows, we are going to a National Trust garden.
  • I’m going to sit in Mr Geek’s lap, tangled up together with all the tech off and read for pleasure
  • I’m going to paint with TinyPants on a hill.
  • I’m going to watch sharknado with beanpole

I’m writing this downas a line in the sand. As a very loud, but wise man who never followed his own advice once told me: 49% work / 51% family.

– work emails are no longer on my personal device

– My tutoring books are closed

– Working on a Sunday is now emergencies only

– Anything past 7pm needs to be completed from bed

That seems like a reasonable step towards not breaking my head.

Working 9 to 5… and 6, and 7

Teaching is less of a job than a calling. It’s in our bones. We just can’t help ourselves.

This year I made the momentous decision to join the other 50’000 UK teachers who left in 2015 in stepping down as a full time secondary school teacher. Over the past two years, I’ve done that job on wheels and through a lot of painkillers, but in the end it wasn’t my crappy health that sealed the deal. 

I’m not actually leaving teaching. Instead, I’m moving to pastures new where the only grazers are sixth form students, retaining a very part time role in my current place, and offering online private tuition. It may seem bizarre to leave one full time sensible job to combine part time roles, but hear me out:

  • My sixth form teaching is the highlight of my day. But my subject is niche & in its infancy at my new college so whilst I build my little empire of nerds, hours are reduced. A Level Computer Science students challenge me mentally and I love seeing them fan the first flickers of a flame that grows to so many of them ending up in the industry, or at Uni studying the subject I love.
  • Leaving my current school is bittersweet. Here, I have friends, comrades, family. There are many things that try my patience to the bitter end, but parting was such sweet sorrow that I couldn’t leave completely. 
  • Private tuition brings a whole new dynamic to my teaching skills. In some respects it’s much easier than classroom teaching as there’s no rushing around dividing your time, or dealing with behaviour issues, and you get to develop a strong working relationship with tutees that is difficult in large classes. On the other hand, it’s much harder as you are giving constant input – there’s no quiet purposeful practice when “on the clock”, and many students who come to you as a tutor are there because they’re not keeping up for one reason or another. The stakes are high, but the rewards are enormous.

So that leaves me in a bit of a pickle for now. I’m winding down my full time role, whilst also not winding down at all as there’s still 7 weeks left to go, I’m preparing for my new role in September, and I’m already knee deep in online tutees in the evenings and weekends so I can hit the ground running (or wheeling) in September.

I’m exhausted. But therun up to the big jump to a new Lilly pad is an awful lot of fun.

So, for now you can find me here: www.TeachAllAboutIT.uk doing my thing & quite literally teaching Computer Science to the world!

I’m Unlikely to Be Making Anyone a Sammich

Over the past few weeks I’ve been following a story relating to the continued threats made to Anita Sarkeesian. These have ranged from the standard troll comments to detailed death and rape threats, and now to a threat against a university if they allowed her to speak. (Link here)

This woman must be about to unleash some awfully sensitive or dangerous information… oh. Hold on. No. She made a series of videos and blogs about feminism in gaming.

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I don’t particularly agree with some of the things she says. Having played games on various devices since I was tiny, I don’t think the games industry is trying to put women off. Those games that have become more and more misogynistic… I don’t buy them. Nor would I buy them for my kids.

I am a massive advocate for parents actually clueing themselves up on what a PEGI rating is and why buying an 18 rated game for a 10 year old is basically damaging.

I’ve gone off on a tangent…

My point is that I spend a large percentage of my life trying to show young people that anyone can enjoy tech, that being a geek is awesome (just try telling my kids that cryptography is boring – they have been getting encrypted messages from Dr X all week :p ), that girls can code just as well as boys, and developer creative hissy fits are a well recognised phenomenon.

Then I read the news.

Then I dwell on the dark corners of the world I’m encouraging these kids into.

With every living breath I try to pass on the absolute love I feel for Computer Science. But there’s that nagging doubt that it’s going to be tough for the outspoken.

What do I do? I keep going of course. If a pair of breasts close to a keyboard is such a threat, then that is not the fault of the breast-owner. That suggests some deep Freudian insecurity on the parts of these keyboard warriors.

Tim Berners-Lee created the internet to be a vast network of shared thoughts and ideas. By trying to silence one woman, they made her message go global in the national news. It seems the internet bit them back.

There’s Something About Sunday… It’s the Yorkshire puddings.

There really is something about Sunday that makes it realistically essential to my sanity. This stems from a mixture of time to sort out my life & food.

I got up late this morning after LSH let me lay in until 9.30 (bliss!) as I’d been up half the night coughing like a plague victim. I needed sleep. I needed my body to just get on and heal itself.

So at 9.30 I dragged myself downstairs to drink the final cup of coffee from the machine and commence on the standard Sunday morning homework marathon (them doing it, me marking it!). I find this quite relaxing now as they know Sunday is homework day – there’s no arguments, just get on with it. And now beanpole likes her teacher, she’s throwing herself into her tasks!

LSH took the girls over to his mum & dads at around 11, leaving me at home due to the evil germs that I really don’t want to share around. So, I carried on with various prep & marking bits until 2 then put away some laundry until they got home.

Our afternoon was spent with TinyPants drawing, making dens and playing strange computer games whilst Beanpole and I made a start on her take home task (like homework, but long term) which she’s chosen to do on dinosaurs (huge surprise)… The task is to chose a time and place in history that you would like to travel back to & make a scrapbook about what went on there. She’s throwing herself into this one!

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The best bit about Sundays is that we have time to cook. Traditionally, it’s a roast, and today we’ve got roast chicken with all the bits. Especially Yorkshire puddings.

These are my domain & today’s are sage & onions yorkshires.

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They start off looking a bit weird, but then I sit in front of the oven threatening to maim anyone who dares to open the oven as they start to rise….

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Wow, my oven needs cleaning… Well that’s on the list!

After this stage, it’s basically witchcraft to get them to this stage….

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Cue one big family dinner, bath time all round and ready for another week at school 🙂

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