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Archive for September, 2009


Fifteen years ago or thereabouts, my Mom found a lump in her breast.  Tests showed that the lump itself was nothing to worry about, but there were breast cancer cells in her lymph nodes.  It took several months for the tiny cancer to grow into something big enough to be detected, then Mom went through the lumpectomy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy which to all intents and purposes cured her.  It was an awful time for her and for all of us, but she took great comfort from the kindness and care of the Macmillan Team.  Mom’s story is not one I want to tell here in any more detail, at least not now, but I do want to thank those people again for everything they did. Sadly, having fought the cancer she died of a stroke, but when I have the opportunity to raise money for Macmillan I do it in her memory, and in honour of all those other women who have battled this awful disease including my cousin whose treatment has been within the last year.

If you feel like donating, you can do so here. Thank you x


Church and stuff

Hmmm… controversial?  Some of the things I say here may be, but I don’t intend to offend or upset.  This is a rambling in the truest sense; I’m starting without knowing exactly where it’s going.

Background first.  I was, like many, Christened when I was a baby.  My parents weren’t regular Church-goers but it was important to them that I took this rite of passage, and besides, they intended me to go to the local Church school, because it was the best, in their opinion, in the area.  This came to pass and I spent four happy years at St James The Great C of E Junior School, attending Church most Sundays and going on to become a Sunday School leader.  I liked the Vicar, Father Whelan, and he liked kids; his services reflected that and youngsters were made welcome.  I attended confirmation classes and took Holy Communion in what was in many ways a traditional Church, with many of the rituals that my Roman Catholic friends think belong to them and them alone. I believed, because I’d been told this, that the Church was not the building we worshipped in, but the people who went there to share in worship.  I felt special.

By the time I reached secondary school church-going was a habit, and if I’m honest, it was routine rather than belief that kept me going.  The ethos of the services was changing and Father Whelan moved on, and my visits became less and less regular as I discovered boys and makeup and shoes and alcohol.  If I was an important member of the Church, why was I ignored, not even worth a passing ‘hello’, by the older people I’d  worshipped alongside for the last six or seven years?  Why didn’t I have a role any more?  By the time I left secondary education, I think I’d pretty much stopped attending altogether.

At this time, I read a lot.  I read things which made me question the church and its attitudes.  I particularly questioned its attitude to me as a young woman, because while I’d been taught to believe that God loved me,  the Church’s history proved that there were times when women (and other groups of course) had been treated very cruelly in the name of Christianity. I began to feel (as I still do) that the face of Christianity in Britain was one with a significant amount of egg on; I felt embarrassed that beliefs much older than Christianity were being passed off as the teachings of Jesus and for me the rituals that were part of my life lost their significance when I realised how pagan ceremonies had been manipulated to fit what was by comparison the ‘new’ religion.  I could also see by looking at the news (Ireland, The Gulf, etc) that religion was the cause of much suffering, and I could not reconcile the beliefs of any crusading Christian with my understanding that all gods are in essence the same, only the names are changed.

Over the last five years I’ve described myself as an ‘interested sceptic’.  I’m fascinated by what makes people believe and I’m intrigued by religion.  I believe that a person can have morals without following a religion, and I don’t believe any loving, forgiving god would punish a person who’d lived a ‘good’ life because they had not followed a traditional belief system.  I have however felt slightly envious of the faith that some people have; it must be a remarkable comfort.

I think I have come to realise that it’s not God I don’t believe in, it’s religion.  Father Whelan, the vicar of my childhood at St James, told my mom, when she fretted about being busy on a Sunday and not attending worship, that if God wanted her, he knew to find her in her kitchen. That stayed with me.  I also believe in Jesus.  I believe he existed, that he was a teacher of remarkable skill, and that he was a loving and compassionate man whose example we should follow. Whether he was the Messiah, the promised Saviour, I don’t know, but I am confused as to how his tenet of forgiveness and patience can be in keeping of the angry God of the Old Testament.

Today, I attended the Christening of my friend Julie’s second child.  Julie would not mind me saying that she has had her share of troubles over the last few years, and she’s as taunted by demons as any Christian prophet doing penance in the desert, but today, God was with her and with her family. She was smiling and happy, and her little family unit was demonstrably a tight and loving one.   Jesus, my Jesus, the one I believe in, would have approved, and would have been proud of her strength.

He would also, I am sure, have approved of the service at the Church of Digbeth-in-the-Field, where we were made so welcome, and made to feel so comfortable.  The hymns were uplifting and greetings sincere.  The sermon didn’t beat around the bush; reflecting on the reading from Amos the Reverend reminded us that worship was futile if we didn’t live every day in the way Jesus wanted us to, and that being in Church for appearance sake or out of a sense of duty was not worthwhile.  But for the first time in about twenty years I shared in Holy Communion and felt as if I could, if I wanted to, be part of the community there.  While I consider whether that is what I want, I intend to try to be a little more patient and a little more forgiving.  Whatever the outcome, that can’t do any harm.

All work and no play…

I feel like a very dull girl this week.  I know we teachers shouldn’t grumble about the return to work after six weeks off, but there are a few things I need to point out.  Firstly, it’s not really six weeks.  The first is spent in an exhausted coma (if you’re not the mug who volunteers for summer school), the second is spent catching up with housework that you last touched at Easter, the third is spent apologising and making it up to families and friends whom you’ve neglected for the last seven weeks, and at some point you want to get a few days away. Then there’s several days of school work, two days collecting exam results, a day shopping for new shoes/bag/pencil case and three days of panicking about the impending return to the chalkface.  By my reckoning, that leaves two days. Hurrah for long breaks.

Seriously, one of my biggest gripes is people who grumble about teachers’ hours.  It’s a great job, and it has its perks, but it’s damned hard work, emotionally, intellectually and sometimes physically.  The hardest job is that done by the mainscale teacher with no extra responsibility – they have the fullest timetable and, in many cases, almost the least experience.  This means they’re probably planning everything from scratch for every lesson; over a few years the bank of resources you gather becomes your crutch.

Some years ago I worked out approximately how many hours I worked over a year.  It was something like this:

I arrive at school at 7.30 and leave at 4.15. I have a break of 15 minutes and lunch of about half an hour, so ‘working’ hours in school are 8 hours. I generally do an hour or two in the evenings and 2-3 hours on a Sunday afternoon, so my weekly hours would be 47-ish. That’s for 39 weeks as we have 13 weeks holiday, making it 1833 hours a year. I have previously worked it out that I spend roughly 1/3 of the holidays working. If I’m honest that’s probably 4 hours a day, and that works out at 87 hours a year. I can also do up to six 2 hour parents evenings, three 1 hour presentation evenings and two 3 hour open evenings each year. Altogether that’s 1941 hours a year, so an average over 52 weeks of just over 37.

If that was to be worked out over 47 weeks, taking into consideration something more like the average 20 days hol + bank holidays, it’s just over 41.

Some teachers will tell you we work our fingers to the bone, and some non-teachers will tell you we’re lazy bums who twiddle our thumbs for a living and moan about having to do that, but our working hours aren’t really longer or shorter than most, they’re just different. If you don’t agree, and still think it’s easy, go for it – train, and join us – we’re desperate for mugs just like you!

(And if you’re offended by that, grab yourself a pinch of salt to have with it. Teaching is often the best job in the world, for all its challenges, and I wouldn’t swap it for the world.)

I am now going to offer you a musical interlude by planting an earworm.  Here are The Bangles, with their Manic Monday (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) which I dedicate to all my school-based colleagues.

Corny?  Sorry, I really am too tired to try any harder.

Too tired to blog…

I haven’t been here for a few days.  Back to work yesterday after six weeks off, and I’m exhausted.  Will be back over the weekend with a proper entry.

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