Category Archives: life in the slow lane

A Teacher’s Silver Anniversary or ‘I did it my Way’!

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I am celebrating my silver anniversary as a teacher – 25 years since I qualified on my PGCE at Sussex University back in 1988, when hair was huge and lips were painted darkest red, and that was not necessarily just the females. My student ID card makes me look like the 5th member of the Cure – they were from Crawley where I did my teaching practice so I suppose I thought I was just accommodating in fashion-terms!
But so busy have these first weeks of the new academic year been that it only dawned on me recently that it really has been this long! That I have been teaching for the majority of my life, longer than I’ve been married, longer than I’ve known most of my friends – it is the adult that I am, and the person that I am, there’s no denying.
And because that last point is true, this year has seen a pretty radical stripping back in my current post, which had become like an unpruned tree, with branches sagging with apples – increasingly fly-blown and rotting, because nobody had had the time or the care to pick them. My enthusiasm and reasonable competence when I started the job was met with one request, then another, then another to take on this little role, then that slightly bigger role, until I’d become a multi- headed monster, leading a team, the teaching and learning Lead for Equality and Diversity, an Advanced Practitioner involved in staff development and mentoring across a college of 600+ staff – while still maintaining the teaching and tutoring role that I’d always had. Out there in the ‘real’ world, several people would have been doing my job (rather tellingly, they now are) but last year it finally broke me.
Six weeks off with stress left me fearing that I could not teach, that I could not even step back into a classroom. The place that was my sanctuary, my creative hub, my other ‘home’ , had become part of a place of torture and only a crazy person would return willingly to that – many of us in the staffroom would joke about Stockholm syndrome, but there is something in that with teaching, I fear.
Whatever it was that got me back – a desire not to leave with a sense of failure, the need to prove to myself that I could still teach but could also choose not to, the money to pay the bills, I don’t know – I am glad I did. It didn’t take long for me to realise that of course, after 25 years, I could still teach but, more importantly, that I could enjoy my job. The best bit for me has always been being with the students in the classroom, doing sometimes slightly eccentric activities to encourage their creativity and a leftfield way of thinking, while sharing with them my deep love of literature and all its cultural cousins in the arts and humanities. I may be a’grandee’ of the Faculty now but while my fate publicly displayed the dangers of a job where you can never do enough, I hope now that I am showing that it is possible to keep your experience where it is most enjoyed – in the classroom – and feel valued for that, instead of believing that you have to take the alternative management route which most young teachers I meet today see as all that is on offer. Granted, you don’t get the pay rise or perhaps the status, but then I get to spend the majority of time with the people that matter most, not with the ‘suits’ who use spreadsheets where I still use conversation and laughter.
To mark this moment in my life, I am going to start the blog I have been planning to start for the last couple of years and use it to keep a ( no doubt erratic and irregular) journal of the teaching and learning, the thinking and conversations that will go on in my classroom with students studying A’Level English Literature, and it may yet become the space I’ve imagined new and old students may come to to share their ideas and meanderings. It will be called BeMused – watch this space!

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Filed under 3 Good Things, life in the slow lane, Teaching, Uncategorized

A Bureau of My Own

“It is much more important to be oneself than anything else. Do not dream of influencing other people…Think of things in themselves.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

I blame it all on Kirsty Allsop dominating the TV at dinner time, but last week I found myself elbow-deep in an upcycling project, to bring beauty to a writing bureau hidden at the back of a furniture warehouse. £45 of birthday money, and it was mine!
For ages I have craved a space I can call my own. Somewhere to write, read, make, think. Here it was. But the dour brown oak was heavy and outdated, and I’ve seen enough fix it programmes and read enough vintage craft books to know that a lick of paint could transform it into something spectacular.

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Usually, I dither and fret about colour combinations and cost to the point where nothing is done. Knowing myself too well, I decided to take inspiration from Google images, search ‘upcycled writing bureaus’ and see which colour combos worked best. I’d already imagined a French grey and, sure enough, there it was with the pen holder in cream. Huzzah! I had my colours.
After some more research on how to paint old furniture, I sugarsoaped it clean, then primed and undercoated the pen holder – this was to be painted in ecru eggshell that I had left over from painting the skirting boards in our house, and I just diluted it one part water to 4 parts paint to make it more like a wash.

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Quite by chance, I’d discovered chalk paint by Annie Sloan in a shop in Totnes. It looked perfect, and – again, after researching the net – it seemed too good to be true! No priming or undercoating; one coat and an hour to dry. As a woman who likes speedy results, I decided to see if it really did do what it says on the tin.

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It isn’t cheap, this paint, and clearly has a bit of a cult following with blog after blog dedicated to Annie Sloan products (and, usefully, cheaper substitutes!). I coughed up, knowing that I’ve got a LOT of boring pine in the house that needs freshening up so it wouldn’t go to waste.
At first, I felt a bit sick as the paint ‘chalked’ up with the brushstrokes and I began to regret covering over the beautiful markings of the oak. But I’d read that it’s best to paint with longer-than-usual brushstrokes in one direction, and with a paintbrush whose tips are just ‘kissed’ with water. Great advice and the paint began to glide on.
What I hadn’t really noticed until I started painting the bureau was that the wood was differently-textured in different places, and this affected how the paint covered the different surfaces. Depending on how ‘distressed’ a look I wanted determined whether I went with a second coat or not. I enjoyed getting to know my bureau like this. How often do we pore over such detail, and make such responsive decisions? It was an incredibly absorbing process, almost like a form of meditation.

I hummed and haa-ed over whether to spend another mini-fortune on Annie Sloan wax but by this point I felt I was in for a penny, in for a pound. I did experiment on a small area of the desk with an alternative – Luberon’s clear wax paste – but the Annie Sloan does bring out both the paint and the wood markings quite noticeably, and I do think it was worth it.

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I still want to cover the desk surface with more attractive material, but I already have a beautiful bureau I can now call my own.

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www.anniesloan.co.uk
www.thelilypadcottage.com
Great tips for using chalk paint

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Filed under 3 Good Things, Book-ish, craft, life in the slow lane, Uncategorized

On not being perfect

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If ever there was proof that teachers need their 6 week holiday in the summer, this must be it. We spend the rest of the year encouraging and convincing our students to try new things, learn new skills, just have a go, never say ‘I can’t.’ But how often do we put this into practice ourselves?
So far this summer, I have crocheted and lined a little bag, crafted a birthday card, made a cool necklace using pages from an old book –

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I have even started writing a novel, and now I have managed to upcycle an old oak writing bureau that I bought for £45 in a secondhand furniture shop.
I have this terrible condition which I think must be a symptom of a warped kind of perfectionism where I am so fearful of making a hash of anything I try to do that I just don’t do it. I come up with the idea, I research it for hours, I may even then embark on it, but the house just ends up full of unfinished projects. I think it’s because I know that they won’t live up to my expectations so it’s a way of delaying failure. The best thing that has happened to me this year is my acceptance that things don’t have to be perfect. That there is pleasure just in the doing, but I need to acknowledge that concluding and signing off are also critical. Applying that to the novel will be interesting!

A post on how I went about upcycling the writing bureau will follow soon with links to sites that I gleaned helpful information as well as inspiration from!
This is how it started – check in in a couple of days to see how it has ended up!

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Filed under 3 Good Things, craft, life in the slow lane