I’m going to change myself by challenging myself. Are you with me?

I am a busy person. As most people are. But what am I busy with that I don’t have enough time to look after myself?

1. I am a teacher. My job is my life and my life is my job. I chose that path, and sometimes I love it, other times I hate it. I will not do it forever, just as it has not been my only job.

2. I put pressure on myself. I take on things that will take time. And a lot of my heart. I am generally, a yes woman. I have dreams and I hate the feeling of wasting time. I want to be a writer, but I have no time to write. I want to play music more, but I can’t seem to find the time to play. I run a charity and I place high expectations on myself to do this well, when I am hardly qualified to do so many things without finding others to help me.

3. Social media.

4. I am lucky to have family and friends who I try to see, but still don’t see enough. I am not good at making time to see people, because actually, I like being alone, just with my partner, in my garden, resting, taking it easy from the busy mid-week. I don’t enjoy being out in places where there are a lot of people. But that’s just me. But then the fact that I haven’t seen family or friends builds a sort of stress on my mind. (I tend to feel ‘busy’ with pressure. Do you?)

Anyway. It’s been a busy last year. I got engaged, moved house, planned a fantastically enjoyable and very DIY wedding in 6 months, and just had my honeymoon. My partner and I work hard, and our evenings are pretty much spent sitting on the couch doing work on our laptops. We are not overly active. We aren’t one of those couples who DO THINGS on the weekends. We have even got food delivered the last few months so we didn’t have to go shopping! We hit a bit of a food rut and so Hello Fresh provided us with recipes that were healthy (I am vego/pretty vegan and my partner is obligingly so, most nights) and the surprise of new and exciting meals each week spiced up our diet a bit.

(Sorry, I feel terribly selfish whinging about being busy – I don’t even have kids – HOW DO PEOPLE DO THAT? But you know, I think it’s a different busy when you don’t have to prioritise offspring.)

So – we decided we want to try to have children. Pretty much now. And there’s not really any better incentive, than wanting to make your womb a nice place, to get healthy.

But who knows what’s going on inside your body (or your partner’s)? We don’t know. Noone knows. And I have seen the pain on the faces of people I love when it did not work the way they planned. Sometimes it happens – sometimes it doesn’t. What a cruel fact of life.

SO, at 31 and having no idea what sort of state my reproductive organs are in – it is time to make some changes just to try to be sure. I want to be healthy, happy, calm and full of LIFE! Would you like to join me? I am taking the #30daystoabetterme challenge. OK, I just thought this up today, but the term is TOTALLY all over the internet. I have not coined this phrase it seems. (Not like ‘jawlking’ – I fully coined that – jogging/walking, in case you were wondering.)

It’s happening. And it’s happening tomorrow. Stay tuned.

*I AM kinda healthy now. And happy. But I drink. I don’t sleep a lot. I don’t exercise. I drink a lot of coffee, with sugar. I buy food from the school canteen when I have not planned lunch. I don’t drink enough water and don’t eat enough fruit. But I don’t eat meat, hardly any dairy. I eat a lot of veggies and right now, am in a good state of mind.

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An Education in What We Take for Granted

It was very hard to not picture my three nephews and my niece (all under 5 years old) in the classrooms that I visited in the remote Nepalese countryside last week. I imagined them sitting at the old-fashioned bench and table settings, with their feet on the dusty, clay floor. With the rusty nails sticking out everywhere and the planks of wood piled up in the corner of the tiny, tiny classroom.

I pictured them sitting in a classroom that was barely 4 metres squared filled with 45 students, and pulling out their book and their pen to take down notes and to rote learn. There was certainly no room for games or movement.

There was no colour.

There was little light.

The floors were bumpy and rocky. The walls were mouldy. There were holes in the roof sometimes and gaps around the door frames.

There were no posters and no work displayed. There were no classroom materials to be seen except for the square of wood that was being used as a blackboard.

One of the rooms had the benches, half and half, facing away from each other because the teacher had to teach two classes at the same time and so he just put a blackboard at each end and ran back and forth during the lesson.

Primary schools in classroom, Okhaldhunga

 

I met with school committee members, principals, teachers – even some students. I heard their hopes, dreams and plans to improve the lives of their students and the condition of their schools. It was more than just classroom infrastructure that they wanted to change. Teacher training. Better classroom materials for learning. Colour, charts, and activities and games that would make learning more fun, differentiated and along the lines of modern pedagogy and our knowledge of different types of learners and multiple intelligences.

The concern is not just the immediate impact of unsafe or sub standard teaching. The wider problem that all limitations of teaching lead into in Nepal, is the trend for families to migrate to the bigger cities, or send their students to boarding schools with greater quality resources and teachers. This is a huge problem for small communities, as students and families who migrate, and fail to return, take their potential contribution away from their home community and all too often perpetuate the problem of educated youth leaving for jobs overseas.

Better education at the primary school level can absolutely change this trend. And what can help these leaders in their quest for better education is government support, building materials, teacher training, and ultimately – money at their disposal.

The reason I’m telling you this is because I believe that if anyone I know or have ever met (in the circles of my privileged upbringing – being born an Australian in the 80s, never experienced war and never wanted for anything) would share the great sadness that I felt when I saw these classrooms. These classrooms were prison-like and provoked outrage inside my heart.

Nepal is a beautiful country. One filled with beautiful places and beautiful people. But it is a country that has experienced conflict very recently, and is currently struggling to find political stability, establish their constitution and rebuild local governance systems that could change the way such schools that I visited are resourced and governed.

If you would like to help do something to change this –

Primary school classroom, Okhaldhunga

and this –

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into something like this –

 

ECD classroom after improvements - safer, educational, FUN!

then please visit friendsofvinaus.com.au for information about our Year 1 Classroom Project, Okhaldhunga Nepal or donate at our donation site here:

https://www.ammado.com/nonprofit/149753

Each classroom needs only $1000 to be transformed into a haven for students – youngsters who deserve a quality education in a safe and stimulating environment – something I have certainly always taken for granted.

 

Too many “justs” make the whole thing unjust

How many times have you heard someone say – or even said yourself:

“I might just become a teacher.”

“‘I’ll do my Arts course, and if nothing comes up straight away in [insert particular field], I can always just do my Dip. Ed, and become a teacher.”

“If my daughter doesn’t enjoy being a scientist, at least she can always just become a teacher.”

“At least you can always just do teaching.”

It is a common term used amongst Arts graduates, but also amongst scholars in specific fields of studies. There is the general assumption that, failing finding work or vocation in a particular field, one with a degree in anything (as long as it, or a version of it, is taught generally in schools) can be comfortable in the thought that teaching is an option.

A one year Diploma of Education, full-time, will see you trained and qualified to teach the next generation. Perfect! A great little ‘fall back on’ option, a brilliant little Plan B.

Right?

Wrong!

No one just teaches. Teaching should not be a PLAN B. Doing the most important job in the world should not be considered a BACK UP ITINERARY. Teaching is not science’s understudy and education is not second-rate to working in a company.

Was there not a time in the past when teachers were the most revered in society? Great scholars were teachers like Aristotle and Socrates, and knowledge was what gave one power. Study was a lifelong quest for the great minds, and institutions that had money, like the church, would use this to nurture intellect and breed dynamic thinkers.

If you could read and write, speak languages, recite poetry, create art, read the stars, do mathematical formulas or recognise varieties of plants, you were considered great. Great minds like this would take on apprentices, and create further masterminds through their proteges.

Where is this respect for knowledge now?

Perhaps it still remains in the respect we show for holders of Doctorates and Masters Degrees, writers of books and receivers of awards – but why not the humble school teacher?

Moreover, someone teaching in a tertiary institution gets paid packets more than those teaching the little ruffians in primary and secondary schools. Yes, they are specialists in their field, and yes tertiary education is, I guess, a higher level of education… But… school teachers are not just teaching content to our young minds.

Teachers (good teachers) morph at any point of the school day into parent or guardian,  counsellor or confidant, personal tutor or study guide etc, etc, taking on any number of roles, ranging from sorting out bullying issues, to teaching a child how to tie their shoe laces. Good teachers might be aware of which girls are skipping lunch, which families of students are feuding, which students are living at two different homes during the week,  and which students need a bit of self-esteem boost because they are mentally not very strong.

Some teachers are achieving massive academic feats with their students: helping their students to leap ahead in their results – so important for VCE students needing that extra push to obtain the score they need to enter the course they desire.

These teachers are working hard, putting their students first, being creative in their study plans, giving up their lunchtimes and giving much-needed support and positive influence.

But what about a teacher in a less elite school, with  students in less stable home environments, in a less affluent suburb, perhaps students who have struggled to cope with mainstream schooling? What about a teacher who also works hard, also puts these students first and gives up their precious time to provide support and guidance, but whose major success with these students is getting them to come to school, even bring their books? What about that teacher who spends her lunchtimes patrolling the yard, wondering if the toilet block is going to be set on fire again?

There is not an easy way to revolutionise teachers’ pay. But there is certainly some ways that are WRONG.

Clearly (as demonstrated in the above comparison) – merit pay based on academic performance cannot be just. (Not if the aim of teaching is to keep students in school, provide support, and teach content as much as if possible – all relative to students’ and schools in which teachers work.)

Good teachers spend their day helping students learn, and providing support, as a role model that is positive.

Great teachers help students learn – differentiating for their abilities and personalities, putting in their lunchtimes, after-school time and sometimes holidays and weekends and are supportive, positive role models in students’ lives.

Put Mr Baillieu (and quite frankly, anyone else in the world who thinks that teaching is playing with kids 8:30-3:30 and having holidays all the time – corrections anyone?) in a few different schools over a few different weeks, and let them see what teaching is really about.

Send the Premier around to one teacher’s lessons all week, let him sit with them at lunchtime whilst students knock at their door, let them go together to meetings and spend some time doing reports in the library after school. Let them go home together and do some planning, let them spend some of their Sunday night preparing lesson tools for the week.

Let him do this in the most elite schools, as well as the most challenging schools. Let him do this at private and public schools all over the state. Let him see teachers who have been teaching for twenty years, and newbies who have only just begun.

Let politicians and critics really see what just being a teacher is really like.

Then everyone can sit down together, and have a chat.

P.S. Even if this exercise doesn’t open Baillieu’s eyes to the work of teachers, perhaps it will make him rethink his own work ethic… and question whether he himself would be eligible for any ‘merit pay’ on results achieved…

Wanting others to fail, and feeling guilty (immediately) after.

I watched this guy do the Rubik’s cube in front of me. Like really, he DID the Rubik’s cube, got all the colours lined up, made it all pretty and co-ordinated. He was a genius. Amazing. I had been trying for so long. But couldn’t do it. I felt some elation, some pride, some great admiration for this man, taking on this challenge, and absolutely smashing it.

But inside, I felt a little spark of jealousy spring forth, a little dash of anger at myself – why couldn’t I complete this task? Why couldn’t I be successful? Why couldn’t I succeed at this THING that I had put my mind to?

And then the revulsion at my feelings; why can’t I be happy for other people’s success? Why do I want to hear that other people have failed where I have also failed?

The above never really happened. I made that up. Sorry. But I was trying to simplify something that has long bothered me: teaching. I struggled at being a teacher. It was hard. It was taxing. It mentally bruised me, it tired me out.

In my first years, and now, I listen to people who have begun teaching tell of their stress-free transition, their joy, their EASE at their new profession, and I ask myself, WHY? WHY couldn’t I find it easy? Why couldn’t I be a GOOD teacher? WHY couldn’t I be one of those people?! Why was it hard for me – and what was wrong with me?

And when I try to explain – people say “maybe it’s not the job for you, maybe it’s not your thing” and that makes me feel even worse. Because, hey – I think it IS my thing, I think I’m meant to be a teacher. I think it’s what I’m meant to do in this world, or one of the things I really CAN do… And obviously I can’t blame people for trying to make me feel better about my struggle with teaching. Of course they’re going to try to make me feel as though there’s something better for me to do out there.

And what was so hard about it, I hear you say? Well, everyone’s experience is different – but I completed my Dip Ed. while I taught, I wrote essays and studied, whilst being thrown into the deep end, teaching full time, for the first time – I hadn’t had any placement, I hadn’t had any training. But you know what? That was okay, I learnt every day, but noone came in and watched me, noone supervised my classes. I needed support, and yet I was too proud to seek it. I hate criticism, and that is a clear downfall in my character. I thought, I can do anything that anyone else can do – I’ll just work hard, and I’ll get through this, without letting on that I’m struggling.

There’s a lot of pressure in teaching, and if you really care, there’s even more. I put in the hours, I put in the love, I put in my heart. And over three years, I got a LOT better, but it was the hardest three years of my life.

My life became very darkened. I felt like shit, and I didn’t realise anything was wrong until I came out the other side of this dark tunnel, and realised that I had been walking along without the lights on. “Oh!” I said, “I remember what it’s like to be happy.” That’s not necessary teaching, that was just me, in a situation that needed a lot of time, a lot of organisation, and a lot of care for all those souls that you were touching every day.

So anyway, last night, I talked to a new teacher. And I’m sure he will be fine. Not everyone fails, not everyone struggles like I did. But isn’t it sad that I like to hear people say “You know what? Teaching was hard, I really struggled.” I like to think that there are other people sailing me with me in this boat, not just me. Isn’t it sad that some people who actually really care, and love the impact they can make in the classroom, burn out in a few years, or burn out later after ten, or twenty years?

Someone attempting a Rubik’s Cube should be positive – they should believe that they can achieve the ultimate goal of lining up those colours. But realistically – they may struggle, they may need time, they may need help. I definitely don’t really want anyone to fail… I want to know that any new teacher will get the support they need and good working conditions while they get their head around this very important job, and find their feet – always looking after those they teach, but importantly, looking after themselves.