In terms of world events, it’s been crazy, as we all know. Bowie and Joanna Cox both had me pulling the car over to gather myself. I woke up twice to ‘pull up the duvet and pretend it’s not happening’ texts from my journalist husband. I learned the hard way that the world isn’t – and probably never will be – run by my Twitter feed, though I continue to hope.
On a personal level, though, it’s been a Good Year, and I have many blessings to count and breakthroughs to celebrate. Nelson gets to sum up the key theme from this year, for me.
1. Becoming Dr Kell
This time last year, I experienced a bout of determination previously unknown to me and comparable only to the survival of labour. There are many other childbirth comparisons that can be (and have been) been made. (Now officially an English teacher, I revel happily and shamelessly in a hotch-potch of metaphors.) Writing over 80 pages in the course of the Christmas holidays, I managed to get a full draft of my EdD thesis in by the end of January and, four months later, to survive my viva, with my final version being declared as ‘pass’ at the end of the summer holidays. I effectively ‘wrote my life’ of the previous five years as I explored the joys and challenges of balancing being a teacher and being a parent.
Many kind people said many lovely things, but I confess that most of them were way off-track. I’m still a slattern who loves my sleep and I still almost never do work (of any kind) on a Saturday. I wrote a bit about how I did (and didn’t’) do it here.
It offered to open some doors and I explored options in academic and teacher training, speaking to some really inspirational people. I then pinched myself and realised that I want to stay in the classroom and the corridors of an actual school with as much, if not more, passion than I have every had before. I wrote about this decision here.
2. Finding a match
Those who nagged me when I was down, challenged me when I was negative or absent and urged me to keep driving forward, keep looking, and not lose hope of finding a match get the biggest ever ‘I told you so’. That’s you, Jill Berry, Julie Clarke, Iesha Small and the many wonderful folk of WomenEd. I met a bunch of you the day I got this job and felt a little frisson of certainty when I told you I had a very good feeling about this one. I’m very happy in my current role, in which I get to straddle my first specialism (MFL) and my new one (English), to lead a wonderful team and to be trusted and valued. And, this time, I’ve no intention of saying goodbye any time soon.
3. Writing a book
This is still one of those things that doesn’t seem quite real, but you’d have to have been living on planet Zog not to be aware of this one. My PLN has come together in its thousands to share their stories of their lives in teaching, from the triumphant to the tragic, the bitter to the sublime. More importantly, you continue to share your ideas – practical, meaningful and almost always positive – as to how we as a profession can – and will – move beyond this teaching crisis. It is a huge privilege to represent your voices. It’s a bit scary when I think about it too much. But I am diligently taking myself off to the cafe where I wrote my thesis five days a week during the holiday and every Sunday between 10 and 2 to get it written. And it’s getting there
4. Having a break
I had a proper summer holiday. Same friends and famlies as usual, but this time, I completely forgot to remove my laptop from my suitcase. It was marvelous. We’ve just booked similar for this year.
4. My family
Even those of us who’ve spent five years writing about how being a parent and a teacher is not just possible but thrivable (I am claiming copyright on this made-up word) worry sometimes. Actually, we worry quite a lot. ‘Mummy, you were the only one who didn’t come to our assembly’. That one never fails to hurt. But my husband and children seem to quite like the fact that I’m happy, and that I have funny and positive stories to tell before being able to switch off a bit of an evening. They’ve even visited, so when I describe my day, they can picture where I was and who I was with.
As they get older, their own school experiences get closer to the ones I’m dealing with daily. I must admit to a dose of cynicism when we moved to a small village. How could they possibly experience anything close to the quality education and the richness and diversity of a London school? Full-time for the first time in three years, I went to parents’ evening with some trepidation. Before any allusion to their progress or their grades, both of their teachers talked about them. The growing resilience of our hitherto somewhat-sensitive eldest and her 8 attempts to use a protractor before she got it right. Her increasing ability to cope with being the butt of a joke and her close friendships. Her activities as playground monitor and how she looks out for those who might be struggling. Her increased proficiency at Makaton, which the school has brought in so that students can communicate with two of their younger students with more profound learning needs. And our youngest? Well, all three teachers simultaneously agreed that she had to be cast as ‘excited angel’. She goes about everything with such energy and such glee, said the teacher. I left feeling like a million dollars.
One of the warning bells from my research was that having two of your with demanding careers is very difficult – and quite uncommon. This year, we seem to have found a balance. He’s great at his job and has done brilliantly – we’re used to the travelling and I know him well enough to urge him to the latest breaking news because, if he doesn’t, he’ll be pacing all night in front of the TV like a caged thing. Despite the writing schedule, there has been much sofa-surfing and board-game playing and giggling with this crazy lot.
Other members of my close family have experienced some health scares, and this has highlighted the value of the simple act of spending time with them – something I plan to do more of.
5. I stopped biting my nails. Completely! For the first time in 30 years. See, some wonders never cease. I don’t have a clue about nail varnish, but my nine-year-old takes care of that department, scolding me sternly when I attempt to go it alone and end up with lumpy bits.
So, onto 2017. This is less about change and newness and more about carrying on with some of the more positive things that have begun. From Nelson to a rather less impressive duck for this bit.
I don’t have many enemies in life, but I made one on an online talkboard in the early days of parenting. She took right against me. I’m still not entirely sure why (and she was very mean), but I suppose I can be quite full-on. Not in my head – in my head, I’m still a slightly retiring thirteen year old, but I fear, in real life. With age comes self-awareness, I suppose. My tantrums about housework and sleep deprivation annoyed the hell out of her. She didn’t want to hear about my struggles with breastfeeding or my loathing of wiping another rejected meal off the floor. I re-joined the talkboard a few years later to do some research for my doctorate. When I explained why I was there, she wrote: ‘no less high-octane, I see’.
So perhaps my intentions for 2017 are about being a little less OTT. I don’t want anything new or dramatic.
1. I want to bed in at my current school – keep learning the names of the students and teachers and become part of the furniture. I haven’t given up on ambitions for new things, but I don’t necessarily have to do them this year. For once, I’m not in a crazy rush for something different.
2. I want (need) to finish the book. This is going to involve some real hard graft. As Sue Cowley reminded me, writing a book isn’t nearly as glamorous as it may sound. For every creative lightbulb moments, there are hours and hours of honing and proofreading to be done. I’d like to do more writing afterwards – maybe make my thesis into something a little more accessible so that it doesn’t gather dust.
3. In recent months, I haven’t been as ‘present’ online or at conferences than previously, and this is quite likely to continue for a while at least. Lovely as it is to be asked to present, I’ve consciously limited the number of Saturdays I’m away from home – Saturdays are my non-work, non-study day and are important, especially now I’m full-time again.
4. I’ve learned a lot about humility and confidentiality. Not everything has to be shared or said out loud. Sometimes staying quiet is the best way forward. The way I feel about my profession and my research will remain an open book, but the details of my current job are something separate – and, after my family, are my priority.
5. Similarly, lovely as it is to have sociable friends, I’ve started to say ‘no’ a bit more often. If an evening on the sofa in pyjamas is preferable to the local karaoke (which I’m assured will be ‘a laugh’), then I’m less shy of saying so. Just because I can go out, doesn’t mean I have to. I love London, but it doesn’t mean I have to travel down the M1 every weekend as well as every weekday.
6. It galls me to say it, as I pride of myself on my active non-conformity, but the one new thing I have to do is start looking after my diet a bit. In jobs where I’ve been rushed off my feet, there’s been little time to eat, but the regular treats in my current lifestyle have started to take their toll and I can no longer ignore the stretching waist bands. I may even allow myself to be inspired by the new runners amongst you. So, I will start to get excited about white fish and fizzy mineral water.
So, from my sofa, and in my once-baggy PJs, I raise a glass or three to you (my last in a while…) and thank you for your inspiration, your courage, your kindness and your support. Happy New Year.