Ten Fingers, No Frostbite

One week on, and I am again sitting here cursing the cold as we again have tradies here who “need” all the doors wide open. Despite my complaints, no fingers have actually frozen and broken off in that time.

This week, it’s the tilers. Now this is massive progress and has been the cause of much jubilation in our household. You see, we stopped using the ensuite quite some time ago, because we had leaks into the wall, the floor, the bedroom carpet; and from the shower, the vanity, the drainpipes; and just to make sure we had the whole set of malfunction, the toilet had a busted seal so would randomly start –and almost immediately stop–the flushing process several hundred times a day. And night. In the end I turned the water off to it and we moved out.

So we and the builder were anticipating some massive plumbing rectification works might need to be added to his otherwise reasonable quote.

Imagine our excitement when the main cause of the issues turned out to be just a small missing bit of waterproofing at the site of the leak, no bigger than a twenty cent piece! And when the drain problem turned out to be silt and gunk that had built up – much of it, apparently, from the last time we unexpectedly had to rectify waterproofing problems in there, just after we moved in thirteen years ago. Because obviously, shoving it into a pipe that is required for drainage makes more sense than sweeping it up and binning it.

(Well, I was excited. My husband is mostly cranky at the dudes from last time. Since I can’t even remember their names, I figure that ship has well and truly sailed).

So the upshot of this is that everything is progressing faster than expected, and the tilers did the floor yesterday and are moving onto the walls today. This is about a week ahead of schedule. Which is good, because I’m just beginning to struggle with the juggle.

Our tilers are what you might call “traditional” tradies. I’ve been having flashbacks to when my dad used to bring people in to “help” on our ever-changing and ever-growing family home. Think playing the radio from the car, lots of smoko breaks, beanies and flannos. Which is fine most of the time, but sometimes challenging when you’re working from home just on the other side of the open door.

For example, I’m having no problems listen to Outkast second hand while typing this. Yesterday’s Dua Lipa while trying to take notes from an academic journal article, however, was a bit trickier. And Zoom calls with the Boss while tiles are being cut are very interesting indeed.

Subtle background noise

I am sure I can deal with it for a few more hours. I’m hopeful the tiling will be done today. The floors are dry enough for them to walk on, so it’s all systems go. And the builder says he’s not coming back until Friday to start the reinstall, which gives me an opportunity tomorrow to sneak in some painting before the fittings go in.

We have a floor! Which looks exactly like our old floor, because in addition to not actually waterproofing 100% of the floor last time, dudes miscalculated the number of tiles required, so we had another ten plus sq m in the laundry cupboard. Surprise!

These days, my idea of bliss is being able to put a painting platform right up against a wall, rather than trying to suspend myself over the top of a toilet or perch atop a vanity.

It’s the little things.

New Leaves

This is the third week in a row that I’ve actually blogged during my dedicated blogging time. I think that might be a record.

This is just one of a number of renewals going on around here. First and foremost, I am sitting here wrapped in a blanket and cursing my lack of foresight because I have been so desperate to be able to use our completely non-functional ensuite again one day, that I inadvertently agreed to have it torn out in what is the coldest week of the Australian winter, each and every year. I know it is the coldest week of the year because where I grew up, it snowed about one day per year, and that day was always just before mid-July. So while my husband is happily reading his book in a gas-heated room, I’m in the room near the wide-open front door, watching my fingers turn blue as I type, because this is where the computer monitors are.

Because I’m apparently incapable of this “taking it easy” thing of which I hear people speak, I decided that I really “needed” to “finish” the interior painting before this all took place. Following on from painting the peeling bedroom as a coronovirus project back in late March, I’ve been slowly but surely deconstructing, painting and then reconstructing the rest of the house. (There was a forced break in there in May, when I took a tumble while trying to peel off masking tape, and smashed my leg up pretty well). So this past weekend I took a couple of extra days, inveigled my long-suffering daughter to give up her extra days, and we did another three rooms, just in time to still be putting one back together this morning when the builders arrived to tear the ensuite out.

This will leave me with the two kids’ bedrooms, the ensuite and the master to deal with post-renovation, and then we will be done. As in, I’m too old to suit up for this task again. Save pennies and pay someone next time. Done.

We also hit a bit of a milestone in my quest for backyard contentment and moves towards self-sufficiency. During the bushfire crisis earlier this year, we had to evacuate to our kids’ flat in Wollongong and bunker down for close to a fortnight. We took the cats with us, but our nine feathered babies had to be boarded out with a friend of a friend (now an actual, first-degree friend) in Corrimal. Jane and her family took beautiful care of our girls, who all came home mid-January.

Unfortunately, we had a number of horrendously hot days after that, and lost the bulk of our flock to the heat. One particularly horrendous morning we lost five girls by mid-morning. Our response was to bring the survivors into the air-conditioned loungeroom and hope for the best.

Poor girls were confused, as were our (indoor) cats. But it worked. And the three companions have been doing OK ever since, but me – notsomuch. “Three is not a flock” has become something of a mantra around here.

And so on Sunday, Jamie and I took a break from painting and headed out to adopt our newest companions; Ruth, Romana and Leela. All three are quite cuddly personalities so far, and have found themselves a spot as far away from the olders girls as they could possibly manage within the confines of our coop. All three have taken up residence inside my late Pop’s mower catcher. It’s pretty snug.

We dusted everyone for mites and gave all six pedicures (ie an oil coating on their legs, which both moisturises and repels nasties). They are all in the coop and run for today with all the activity going on around here, but once the builders go, I’ll let them free range during whatever sunlight is left.

So that’s the home front. But to circle back to the writing stuff, I do have a call for abstracts out. So if you are a fan of The Vampire Diaries, The Originals and/or Legacies, I have an opportunity for you.

You can read the Call for Abstracts here – which is the also a new project. Presenting my website, https://www.kimberleymcmahoncoleman.com/. Essentially, this is a landing page out to the three blogs, and also a spot to list for sale the books Ros and I have published; together, alone, or with others. Hopefully in 2021, Critically Reading The Vampire Diaries will be listed there, too.

It’s A Small World

One of the first signs that things were bad on the COVID-front, for me, was the news that Disneyland was closing. And it has now been closed for months.

I’ve written before about how I love Disneyland, despite an awareness of how Disney changes/whitewashes history, as well as significant discomfort with unreconstructed gender roles in the Princess films (although there does seem to be some progress in more recent iterations). My current visit count is Tokyo Disneyland (twice), Paris Disneyland, Disneyland Resort/California Adventure (five times, I think?) and Disney World. During various trips to the US and Canada, I’ve learned that I can cope with jetlag relatively well if I land on the West Coast, but if I head straight over to the East Coast, my body just can’t cope. At all. So my last couple of trips, we’ve flown to LA and stayed in Anaheim a few days to recover before heading off to see our family on the other side of the country.

A quick explainer about how I have family in the US: about a million years ago when I was a teenager, I went on student exchange to Japan through an organisation called AFS (hence the first Tokyo Disney trip – number one on my Tokyo Disney card). Then when my kids were little (as in infants/toddlers), I got re-involved in the organisation as a way to meet people in my new home of Nowra. And on three separate occasions, I was asked to support some incoming students. The first of these was my daughter Ellyn. I didn’t see Ellyn again until we went to the US on a dance trip. She flew across the country to see us, and must have decided we were OK, because she came out to visit and stayed with us not long afterwards.

Reunited. One of my all-time favourite photos, I have this one hanging on a wall in our home.
The days before Zoom – ten years ago, possibly to the day if Facebook memories are to be believed.

The last couple of trips where I enacted the Anaheim plan were with my son to see Ellyn marry David, and later, with my daughter to meet their daughter, Emma. I had hoped to get over there this year to meet her newest addition, wee Carter, but that has been delayed indefinitely.

One of the coolest of the many cool things about Ellyn is that she comes as part of a package deal with her large and loving family. We’ve hung out with her parents, siblings, in-laws and niblings in various locales across the States. Her sister-in-law, Erynn, and I used to joke that the universe might implode if we were ever in the same place, because we share so many interests (I am happy to report that it did not). She’s interested in popular culture and special education, so has actually read a lot of my stuff. Voluntarily.

So when Erynn put out the call via social media for some help to keep the Disney magic alive, of course I offered to assist.

The network of global parks has meant that for a great many years, the most famous earworm of them all, Small World, has played somewhere every hour of every day. So with the parks closed, we decided a network of people playing it in their homes would just have to do, for now. I picked a time that was early evening here, to save our Stateside folks from being up at a most inhumane hour.

Every night during the evening news, my phone plays the song.

Suffice to say, my family are very much looking forward to the parks’ scheduled reopenings over the next week or two.

Small World DLR Xmas Overlay, November 2017

50/50 of 2020

Today I’m celebrating that 2020 is half over. It’s been an accursed year, starting with bushfires, and traversing coronavirus, race-based violence overseas and closer to home, an international recession, and massive challenges in the higher education sector. And here in Australia we’ve only just passed midwinter, so the weather feels as bleak as the nightly news. It makes it hard to want to get out of bed and do the voluntary stuff that you know makes you feel better–going for a walk, writing. So it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. “WordPress Wednesday” time is blocked out on my calendar each week. And each week, I move it down, around, and eventually delete it in favour of other projects.

This is life in the time or corona. Plans are not things that are easily followed. Every Facebook memory reminds you of happy times, travelling and visiting people. Incidentally, this time of year is usually PopCAANZ season, so there are a lot of (academic) travel memories at the moment!

Since I last posted, a few things have happened. I spoke to the local St John’s Ambulance division about working with patients on the Autism spectrum. Which I probably should have written about on our autism blog. I’ve been working from home, and working on the home, and stressing over looming changes in the higher education sector, which might have been good fodder for this blog, a la my previous post that included musings on painting and productivity. And the book Ros and I have been working on for ages went through its final corrections and was published, which we’ll no doubt soon mention over on our shared blog.

Gratuitous Plug

Which prompted me to reconsider the messiness of my writing life, such as it is, up until now.

Earlier in the year I was visiting friends in Victoria (back when we could do that without fear of being quarantined or fined). I was chatting with a tech-savvy teen and wishing I could somehow link all the blogs, without having to move them. And we came to the conclusion that it might not be as big a deal as it felt in my Gen-X mind.

So this week, I ponied up and set up a new website, which will serve as a launch pad for all three blogs, as well as housing an online shop where you can purchase any of my publications, as well as Ros’ first book. (I’ve been “fostering” her copies since she up and left the country!)

It kind of feels like turning over a new leaf for the new financial year.

Here’s to a less messy second half of the year. We could all use the restart.

#isolyf

Like the thug life, the iso life chooses you.

Strictly speaking, I’m not in isolation, and I’m certainly not in quarantine. I am, however, practising social distancing. Extreme social distancing, in fact. Since March 20, I’ve left the house just three times: to go to the chemist and top up the petrol tank; to mail some employment contracts to the HR department; and then last Saturday I went to the University campus when I knew no one would be there, so that I could print a long document I needed to edit.

You’ll hear more about that long document in due course, probably over at our Shapeshifters blog.

MH cover
Here’s a pretty big clue as to what Ros & I are editing … now available for preorder!

I’ll probably make a similar sneak trip sometime in the next couple of days, because I have another long document to read and critique: my PhD student’s complete draft. These are good tasks for long days spent sitting at your dining room table, and provide a welcome alternative to seemingly endless Zoom and Webex meetings.

My other big academic task is watching The Originals and later, Legacies, for another book project that’s a bit further behind in the queue. I’ve been trying to watch and take notes on episodes as my almost-last-task of the day, when my brain is sluggish but I’m not quite ready to start packing up/getting ready for the next day.

theoriginals
Another supernatural show with one token human.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that it would take me until July to even get up to Legacies. So I’ll be spending some of my weekends trying to turbo-charge these efforts.

As I write this, the Prime Minister is giving a speech about COVID-19 and its impact. Already this morning, the state premier has given a presser. It’s only a little after 10am. No wonder we are all exhausted. This feels like the daily updates during the bushfire crisis–which was, after all, only a couple of months ago. Students who lost everything in January are now transitioning to an online study environment, virtually overnight.

It’s tough.

There are other, less obvious ways in which university life is being impacted. Students are not able to lie on the lawn and plan the kinds of social activities that we all think of being pretty representative of that season of life. And then there are the really big milestones in the academic lives of some students. Graduations postponed, indefinitely, for one. And the international experiences are missing, almost in their entirety. Most of our expected international students are not here. And our own, who had planned to be studying overseas, are not.

My daughter was supposed to go on exchange this semester. Her high school bestie and she were both heading to Liverpool. I was well advanced in my plotting of potential leave dates so that we could go and visit her over Easter, and indulge in our greatest Beatles-fan fantasies.

Strawberry_Fields_History_from_1800's_to_Today

She couldn’t get credit for some of her subjects, so it would have extended her degree. And despite my protests that six months or even a year was very little in the course of a lifetime, especially when compared with traipsing around Europe with a dear friend, she withdrew.

I am a huge advocate of student exchange, having been both an exchange student to Japan in senior high school, and having done a short stay as part of my own university studies. One of my isolation tasks has been cleaning up and renovating the spare bedroom, which unearthed my long-forgotten travel diary and even photos from the latter trip. I’ve also been a support mum to incoming students, leading to our South American adventures last year, and multiple trips to the USA, usually in April, which is causing some bittersweet Facebook memories right about now. Jamie is herself no stranger to the benefits, having already completed a high school program to Italy and a short program in Argentina as part of her university studies last year.

It has only been in the last three weeks or so that I have thanked all that is good and shiny that she made what I had first deemed to be a bad call. My anxiety would have been in overdrive.

Her lovely friend Sky still went. Sky was recalled by our University a little over fourteen days ago. She had planned to spend her 21st birthday in Paris. Instead, she spent it quarantined; isolated even from her family, confined to her bedroom in Wollongong, with her family picnicking in the hall, and her friends video-calling her.

You can read Sky’s story, in her own words, here.

brisky
Hard to separate since Year 10 … Brianna, our Jamie, and Sky.

Clayton’s Lockdown

Our Prime Minister says we’re not in lockdown, and cautions against using such “alarmist” language. But we are only supposed to be leaving home to work or study (when that can’t be done from home), to buy essentials, to assist others or to get necessary healthcare. Our state Premier has listed 16 legitimate excuses to be outside your home, including the above. You can cop a fine of up to $11 000 if you’re in breach. It feels pretty locked down, I have to say.

This is Day 8 of working from home, for me. If I could actually sleep at night meaning that more than two neurons fired at any given time, I think I’d be quite productive. In my non-work time, I’ve cleaned the oven racks (!), baked, made soup, and painted a room that was badly in need of it.

 

In addition to dealing with whatever new crises COVID-19 throws at us, I’m watching The Originals because being aware of the full gamut of the Vampire Diaries universe may come in very handy if a book proposal on TVD–of which I will be co-editor–is accepted by our preferred publisher. Taking notes is about the right speed in these times, I think. I do have a couple of other deadlines in the next week or two that will require me to write and organise some cogent thoughts. But for now I’m trying to follow all the advice about transitioning to working from home (and in the face of a pandemic, no less), and show myself a little bit of the grace I’m extending to others in our newly-more-distributed team.

co worker
This coworker hasn’t left my desk.

relaxed coworker
She’s right at home.

Things remain oddly surreal. I sold a dozen eggs this morning – the customer, a semi-regular, works in health. So she organised to drop off the money in a zip lock bag, and asked me to leave the eggs out the front. We waved through the front windows and had a conversation via Messenger. This is our new normal.

As you can see from the images of Scout above, my laptop which comes home daily anyway, has now been joined by the computer monitors and webcam from work. We won’t be eating at the dining room table anytime soon. Last week some colleagues called me while they were having a socially distant lunch, and we all sat outside –they in their location and me in mine–and caught up on each others’ lives.

My husband has started working from home, but is rostered to go to work one day a week. That day is today. It is eerily quiet and somehow lonelier without him here.

The sky is grey and it’s threatening to rain, so the whole “go for a walk outside for your mental health and some Vitamin D” advice is unlikely to be followed anytime soon.

Big corporations like Coles and Woolies have stopped their home delivery services in order to redeploy their delivery trucks to the elderly and disabled. I typically used them because crowded shops can trigger my anxiety, even at the best of times. A local wholesaler and a local fruit & veg market have both started a home delivery service in the last couple of days. I’ve placed my order. I’m not sure the conglomerates will have as much of a market share when this is all over.

Unlike Scout who has taken up residence under my monitors, her litter-mate Tinkerbell is freaked out by the humans being home as much as they are, and is making herself scarce. (Yes, the ex-English teacher gave the cats literary names). Tink did decide, however, to join me yesterday after work, to survey the newly completed room.

TinkSo, yes there are some definite advantages to this working from home gig. I leave on time, and my commute is from the dining room to a couch or a bed to listen to a podcast and quickly decompress. I’m saving on petrol. I’ve cut my coffee intake back by two-thirds.

And I do get to have my pets in the “office,” which is a first.

Of Chainsaws, Charities, COVID-19 and Catastrophising: an Update

Remember how we all couldn’t wait for 2020, because the end of 2019 was so horrifically awful? Yeah.

So about three weeks ago, I took out my trusty chainsaw and set to work on the dead tree in the front yard that had fallen over when we had the flooding that followed the fires. (Yes, for those playing along at home: we’ve had fire, flood and plague. Pestilence should be along any minute now).

A few weeks prior to that, Groundskeeper Troy had told me that he is very insistent on his younger relatives wearing full protective gear when using chainsaw, because he’s seen the injuries. I don’t own much in the way of protective gear.  Gloves. I wear gloves. And my usual eye glasses.

So to be fair, I had actually put the chainsaw down safely, when I had the brilliant idea to stomp on a long tree branch and break it in half. Which worked. But then the tree fought back, and flung upwards at a great rate of knots, tearing a cross shaped fairly deep cut in the bridge of my nose.

So I staggered inside, bleeding from the face, shocked eyes above the profusely bleeding wound, to where my husband was relaxing. And all I could think was, “Troy warned me about this!” It’s the chainsaw equivalent of, “Oh No! I had shot my eye out!”

 

ralphie
At least it wasn’t my eye.

Turning up at work the following Monday was pretty embarrassing. As he peered at my nose, Troy suddenly grinned and asked, “Do you reckon you’re the only member of the leadership team with an injury from chainsawing right now?”

The following week I went to a meeting of the leadership team, and I did indeed appear to be the only one with an injury to my face from clearing timber at home. The joys of regionality.

The regional areas in which our campuses are located are only just starting to think about the rebuild process, which is one step before the recovery process, after the fires. And now we have a virus with which to contend, too. People are already stressed and anxious, so there’s catastrophising happening, and it’s making tempers short. Like the rest of Australia, we’ve had our grocery store times truncated and deliveries suspended. And each day we are dealing with new movement, travel, and gathering restrictions. But as yet, no really big calls have been made. Schools remain open. Universities, including ours, haven’t been told to close, but are moving to online delivery post-haste. We did have to indefinitely postpone Graduation. This morning the PM gave us all a dressing down, giving us a classic daggy Dad bollocking regarding hoarding: “Stop it. Just stop it.” I half expected him to threaten to pull over the car.

virus
Pesky little thing, causing big, big problems.

In the midst of dealing with crises, mostly real but a few imaginary, I’ve also been volunteering behind the scenes organising a major community event for the NSW Cancer Council. To the surprise of no one, it obviously can’t go ahead as planned in a couple of weeks.

nowra relay off

Imagine trying to juggle a conference call with other volunteers, and an update on a local campus from the security firm, simultaneously. Or distressed staff members and a message from your kidult saying they have flu-like symptoms and asking what to do, all in one day.

That’s where we’re at. The tree was easier to deal with.

Still, things could be worse. I have toilet paper, and I have hand sanitiser, which arrived by post yesterday and shall be treated like liquid gold. My nose has healed up nicely, but the scar might be permanent.  And so we keep on keeping on.

 

 

 

Fires and Floods and Scholarships … Oh My!

It turns out this blog recently had its first birthday, and I missed it. To be real, I’ve missed a lot of things in the past few weeks and even months. My last post on here was pre-my daughter’s 21st birthday and Christmas. Jamie’s 21st was on a catastrophic fire day. We had most of the party inside, as planned, but headed outside for the formalities and cake-cutting because the Southerly had come through and dropped the temperature from the 46 degrees Celsius with which we started the party, down to a figure around half that.

With the Southerly came some pretty hectic ember attack behaviour from the Currowan fire, that blew embers 11km into town and started a new fire in Worrigee. That fire, in turn, started to blow burned leaves and ash into our backyard, about another 10 km away. Which was very festive. Always a nice moment when you have to suggest that the guest of honour change out of her flammable-looking outfit.

fireball speech
Speech time, under an orange sky and with thick smoke behind us. #nofilter

brisky
With high school besties Brianna and Sky. Again, no filter. This is the colour our world was.

 

After that, we of course had Christmas and it was pretty calm, all things considered. Santa came past on a fire truck, which was a relief, because I really though the truck would be otherwise engaged.

A couple of days after Christmas we had a community briefing where we were told that the fire was breaching all containment lines and would inevitably jump the Shoalhaven River. A day after that, the SES doorknocked our street and showed us the projected path of the fire on a map. On both occasions, we were told that properties would not be defended. This was not the kind of thing you could put people in front of, even if there were enough appliances.

So we decamped to the kids’ place in Wollongong on December 30. I naively thought it would be for two days, and didn’t take any work clothes. We were away for almost two weeks.

In the interim, fires came within a few kilometres of our campuses at the Southern Highlands, Batemans Bay and Bega, as well as in the Shoalhaven. Some staff and students lost everything. UOW Bega became a place for students and staff to shelter. Batemans Bay campus become an overflow evacuation centre. On New Year’s Eve, our Admin Assistant Nicky Bath wound up hosting a slumber party for 300 people, most of whom were strangers and very frightened. She did such a great job that a local retirement village and the Disaster Welfare team organised for her to host their evacuated residents a few nights later.

nicky
UOW Batemans Bay: ready for anything.

Since then, we’ve had torrential rain, and even had to close a campus owing to flooding in the area. It has put the fires out. The clean up phase has begun, but rebuilding is a while off yet. Our communities are hurting. But they are resilient. Our impacted students have re-enrolled, which is remarkable.  We’re offering them what support we can, be it financial (emergency grants), emotional (through counsellors, student support advisors, campus managers and a welfare calling campaign), or practical (replacing lost uniforms or textbooks, loaning out laptops).

And to finish on a very positive note: we also have available scholarships for students who are new to UOW and intending to study at a regional campus. Destination Australian scholarships provide $15 000 per year for the duration of a new student’s degree. This is a great opportunity for people who want to study, and want to stay local. We have five available at each regional campus (Batemans Bay, Bega, Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands) for domestic students. Applications close this Friday – click on green hyperlink above for details.

 

 

‘Tis the Season

As we near the end of the year, people often cheerfully ask me if things are winding down. In truth, I am not sure I’ve ever been more wound up!

Last week we had Graduation celebrations for our students in the Southern Highlands, Batemans Bay and Bega. And because the week wasn’t busy enough, Shoalhaven hosted a two-day event for Indigenous students. And, just to add to the degree of difficulty, the massive Currowan fire between the Shoalhaven and Batemans Bay closed pretty much every road into the area, and put celebrations in jeopardy.

Image result for currowan fire image
Not the best driving conditions for graduands or staff …

The week started off in Moss Vale, which was pretty smokey, as you can see in the pictures.

with Ros

The guest speaker who gave the Occasional Address was none other than my friend and long-time collaborator, Dr Roslyn Weaver. Ros’ parents still live in Moss Vale and we all have a lovely catch-up when she makes her annual pilgrimage home each December. She’s currently using her research and writing skills while working in Vancouver. A UOW alumn and former tutor at the campus, she was a great choice to congratulate the students and inspire them that the skills and confidence acquired during their studies are very transferable. There is one graduate, however, we don’t want to go anywhere any time soon! Erin Acton is our Admin Assistant at UOW-Southern Highlands, who graduated with her BA.

with Sammi and Erin
With Regional Outreach Officer Sammi, and Erin. We did not consciously co-ordinate; we are just that sympatico. #teamregional

I then spent two days with Indigenous students from the Shoalhaven. They undertook art and dance classes on campus, and then we all went on a Bush Tucker walk at Booderee the next day. I learned so much on that one hour walk!

Graduations at Bega and Batemans Bay also went off without a hitch. We even made front page news in Bega!

For at least a week beforehand, there were many urgent communiques about whether or not the celebrations in Batemans Bay might not be able to proceed. We created Plans B & C, which we thankfully didn’t need. In true enterprising regional style, however, I later discovered that the eight graduands who live north of the Princes Highway closure had developed their own Plan B, costing out a charter boat!

skipper
What could go wrong?

 

 

Since then, I have pretty much been in recovery mode, frantically trying to finish off a whole bunch of work stuff before I start my annual leave this afternoon. We have had HSC results and ATARs released; we are waiting on information about some very cool incentives to study at regional campuses–watch this space if you are thinking about studying at UOW-Shoalhaven, UOW-Southern Highlands, UOW-Bega or UOW-Batemans Bay from next year–there are some new scholarships in the pipeline. We had two finalists in the University’s Pod Decorating competition, an Info night at Shoalhaven Campus, and there are more info sessions and drop-in days to come.

bushfire sun
Bushfire sunset over UOW-Shoalhaven Info night.

Away from work, things are also busy. In addition to the usual festive activities and ever-increasing to-do lists that abound at this time of year, our eldest is turning 21 on December 21. We are in the middle of a record-breaking heatwave and half the country is on fire, so we’ve been hastily shifting her vision of a cute outdoor grazing platter and glasses of Pimms to something which still has those elements but hopefully without our guests contracting heatstroke and salmonella. (This may also feature lots of Zooper Doopers).

Jamie
Can  confirm she will be looking way more glamorous than me on Saturday … Zooper Doopers notwithstanding.

So from our regional team and my regional family, our very best wishes to you and yours for the holiday season. Stay safe, stay hydrated, and most of all:

festive-black-banner-merry-christmas-greetings-vector-16840710

Another week, another funeral .. and some free advice for new teachers

As we sat in the chapel, my friend and former colleague leaned over and asked, “How’s your health? Are you feeling OK?”

Gallows humour, but it seemed apt. We’ve been to a lot of funerals this year.

We had headed back to Goulburn, which is always a bit like revisiting the scene of the crime: the site of my first official teaching post, and the place where I met, dated, and became engaged to my husband. The gentleman whose life we were honouring, Bob, had been my husband’s mentor when he was a beginning teacher. Bob had done the reading at our wedding. His widow had painted our anniversary candle, which had been made by the guy with the black humour sitting beside me. In the pew in front was my former boss, and in the one ahead of that was a couple who’d attended our wedding (keep in mind we had fewer than thirty people there – to have five of us in the same room is statistically significant), and in the row in front of that my friend and bonus-Mum who’d come with me to select my wedding dress.

The story my husband tells over and over about Bob is that when regaled with stories about Tony’s early teaching exploits, Bob would ask, “But who was learning? Them, or you?”

railway
Goulburn Railway Station in Sloane St. My Pop, a railway man, was born in Sloane St. I lived in a railway worker’s cottage, also on Sloane St.

After the service we hung out with our former colleagues, and it was easy. I miss these people. As a staff, we had been united, and those bonds remain.

Goulburn

At the club afterwards, one of my colleagues was updating me on his three sons. The eldest I had met earlier that afternoon; the youngest wasn’t there; and I was asking him where his middle child was. Many years ago, as a first year out teacher, I had taught that young man. When I say “taught,” I don’t know that I actually did. I clearly remember someone asking a question about teaching for the HSC of our Methods teacher during the Dip Ed, and she laughed and told us not to worry about it: no school would give an HSC class to a first year out.

Mine did.

Worse, they gave me Contemporary English. We had really only studied 2U and General.

Contemporary English was basically two topics. Total. So we spent six months on a topic about sport (those who know me will understand the irony), featuring David Williamson’s The Club, which is not a bad play, but it’s pretty hard to milk it for content for six months. The other text was Peter Skyzrynecki’s anthology, Joseph’s Coat, which I had studied at Uni. For a week. I think we covered almost everything in that anthology by the end of six months.

Add to that the fact that on Day 1 at that school, I had been called out of an all-staff meeting to answer an urgent call, telling me that my dearest friend from senior school had taken this own life. This Year 12 class was literally my first timetabled class in my new career. I walked in and the boys were seated on one side of the room, talking about hockey, and the girls were on the other, discussing their upcoming debutante ball. These patterns of behaviour were familiar to me, and I immediately started flashing back to my own senior years in Lithgow.

So there we were: I was consumed with grief, and my class were triggering it; I was teaching to the HSC when I was ridiculously inexperienced and arguably ill-qualified; and I was bored by the content. Add to that a class where many of the students resented being “made” to do English, and we were in for a fun time. Year 12 gave me the Amanda Woodward award that year, which was their way of calling me a prize bitch without having to utter that word on assembly. I  reckon I deserved it.

friendly
RBF

I’m not sure what they learned, but I learned a lot. In subsequent years, I would no longer be afraid of teaching HSC kids, and carved a career out of it, at Nowra Tutoring Solutions, in uni transition programs, and in HSC Marking. As much as I declared that that entire class hated me, I do recall one student (aged over 18) with whom I was actually quite close out of school, because of our shared exchange student experiences; another girl stayed after school twice a week while we lifted her literacy via free tutoring; and of course, there was my colleague’s son, who was quiet and polite, and kept himself to himself.

But then, there was Jim.

Jim was a fully-grown man, already 18,  who wanted to be out of school and on a worksite, and my recollection is that he gave me hell every lesson he was actually present. And one day after I had called him to stay back at yet another recess, I finally dropped my teacher guard and said something along the lines of, “this isn’t working – what’s your problem with me?”

So he told me.

Jim didn’t feel respected. He thought I was treating him like a child. So I thanked him for his honesty, told him I’d try to do better, and suggested a means by which he could let me know if he wasn’t happy–that didn’t involve interrupting the class. He acknowledged that he needed to show a bit more respect in the classroom, too. From then on, we treated each other quite differently, and class got easier.

(The texts didn’t get anymore interesting, though).

So that Middle Child of my colleague came in after he finished a work call, and he greeted me warmly. He updated me on his life and career. He’s polite and affable and clever, and doesn’t appear to hold any grudges against any former teachers for their cluelessness.

To any beginning teachers out there: take heart. It seems we don’t do lasting damage. And you will learn so much in those first few years, sometimes from unexpected quarters. Just do what you can to make sure the kids are learning, too.

MHS