This Week

By Vita Forest


This week I have been

WRITING Will you take the risk?

READING The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin

GOING back to school

LEARNING some interesting things about Gen Z and Gen Alpha (our current students) and Creative and Critical Thinking at some Professional Development sessions.

ENJOYING having my children back from their overseas holiday (except for the feral jet lagged fighting)

WATCHING Julie and Julia with Lucy

SKETCHING and enjoying the good company and warm sunshine at Carriageworks, Redfern.

Will you take the risk?

By Vita Forest

Lots of good things happened this week.  This is one of them.

Our final dress rehearsal before the audition for a big interschool production was scheduled for Thursday.  On Tuesday we discovered that one of the key players – the girl who was going to read the introduction explaining our piece to the audition panel, was away on holidays and would only arrive back at school next Monday – the day of the audition.  My teaching buddy and I discussed who we could get to fill in for this girl, someone who was in the performance and who hadn’t already got a “special job”.

I thought of Ivan, a Year 6 boy who I had watched run a Peer Support Group.  He had been friendly, firm and had handled the younger kids well.  (Besides this, he seemed to possess a strong, expressive voice that could be clearly heard across the room).  Neither my buddy or I particularly knew Ivan, but we knew he was a nice kid who always tried his best.  He seemed like a good place to start.

I approached Ivan on Tuesday lunchtime carrying the script in my hand, and asked if he would like the job of filling in for the absent girl, with the slight possibility of having to read it for the actual audition.

Ivan wasn’t sure.

I was a bit disconcerted.  I hadn’t expected this.

I explained that I thought he could do a really good job so why didn’t he take the script and look it over?  If he really didn’t want to do it, we would find someone else.  He reluctantly agreed.

The next day I mentioned this encounter to one of the Year 6 teachers.  She stared at me in alarm and told me a different story about Ivan.

Apparently he was prone to anxiety.

Apparently he was not very confident.

Apparently he could get a bit tearful sometimes.

Oh.  No.

Maybe we should have gone with one of the school leaders who speak at every assembly.  Perhaps we should have chosen someone on the Debating team.  But I had wanted to give someone different a chance.  Was this going to be a mistake?

Thursday was the day of the dress rehearsal.  Feeling increasingly worried that I had caused Ivan some major stress, I sought him out at recess time.

Was he ok to read the script in front of everyone?

Yes, he told me.  He had been practising.  He would do it.

After lunch, the kids changed into their costumes and got into their starting positions.  Ivan stepped forward with his script and…

Absolutely nailed it!

He spoke confidently, clearly and with excellent expression.  I gave him the thumbs up.

The principal went and got us “an audience” of five classes of various ages from across the school.  Ivan would now have to speak in front of over one hundred people.

Again he did a fantastic job.  We continued on with the rehearsal.

Later Ivan told me – public speaking really scares him as he sometimes stutters!

The next day I found his teacher and was telling him the story.  I was in the middle of the story -telling him how I had decided to choose Ivan and give him a go.  He too, like the other Year 6 teacher, immediately looked worried and started to tell me he didn’t know whether Ivan would be a good choice – he didn’t know it had already happened!  I told him how great Ivan had been.  I told him how I hadn’t known Ivan had a stutter.  His teacher was thrilled to hear of his success.

I love these times when a kid steps up, takes a risk and really shines.  I hope Ivan will always remember how brave he was that day.  I hope he will recall how despite feeling terrified, he was able to accomplish something wonderful.  I hope it gives him confidence.

Sometimes we go to school to teach the kids.  Sometimes we get taught by them.

 

This week

By Vita Forest

Banksias in the winter sunshine


This week I have been

READING The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

WRITING

  • School days
  • Programs for next term – big plans, big plans…

WATCHING The Honorable Woman (wow!)

RUGGING UP against some chilly winter weather

RECORDING results for the long jump at our school’s Athletics carnival

PAINTING our dancers’ faces for our dress rehearsal

EATING OUT

  • with the rest of the staff at an end of term dinner and
  • at a friend’s for book club

WALKING and TALKING with Saskia

LOOKING forward to the school holidays.

 

School days

By Vita Forest

 

I hear a child say he wished to die.  Saw no point in it and he was tired, tired, tired.  I know, said the woman with the water rubbing his hand, I know.

Another said she likes to hang out here, in my room, their room, our room, more real and familiar than that house they had just moved to.  They swing open the door with confidence, as if they own it, which they do, and march in to look at the schedule, to get their hat, to get their book, to have a chat.

I stand in the playground with the sun at my back and wave at my grinning girls as they skip through hoops and miss completely the boy brandishing his fist at another.  The victim tells his tale as the other stalks away.  The parties are gathered and talk tearfully in turn,

He said….  

He did….

I only wanted to…

I was just trying to… 

It wasn’t my fault.

Another day I do not miss the boy, morning meds forgotten, baring his teeth at his friends, lashing at the air, at a tree, at the curious Kindergarten boys who venture too close before I turn them away.  We watch and let him roam and calm and he creeps back again, more in this world than out.  Yes, his mother is told, the drugs do seem to make a difference.

After a final Peer Support meeting, the whole school frolics outside, playing Tip, playing Grandmother’s Footsteps, playing on the soggy muddy grass, shrieking in the cold wind.  One boy, one of my dancers, asks if I will hold the final treat, the bag of lollies for him – he needs both hands.  Only if you give us one later, shoots back another nearby teacher.  He grins and runs off and we compare notes on the ups and downs of children as we watch them play.  Later that week I will draw thick black smudges over the boy’s eyes and silver lightning bolts on his cheeks and spiralling scrolls on his chin.  It’s the first time I’ve worn makeup he tells me, looking at the eyeliner pencil in wonder.

In Assembly the boys point to their knees and I give the filthy, muddy, knobbly things the thumbs up.  It brings me joy to see such evidence of unabashed play.  And later that week, those boys who stand atop those strong, wiry legs collect ribbons for long jump, for high jump for hundred metre races.  See what playing in the dirt will do?

That day we go to the oval and the clouds hang low, but we make a start and how they run and jump and throw!  The parents provide free cups of hot drink for adults and on a break I clutch a tea in my cold hands and huddle into my parka.  I collect the lengths of long jumps on my clipboard, measured and sung out by high school boys, the same age as my faraway son.  In any gaps in the proceedings, they tear down the path themselves and hurl themselves into the sandpit.  Foul!  the other cries, but hardly ever mean it.  At the other end of the pit, the children who did not like to run pat sand into castles and fashion hills with their bare hands.  At lunch, the clouds come down and we find shelter where we can, but still the children run and still the children jump.  I go back to school early, standing swaying on a crowded bus with the children who have finished, who have lost interest, who are cold! whose breath turns the windows of the bus to fog.

In the crowded classroom, we turn on the heat and a movie, while the boys make a meticulous list of who would go on the computers, and in what order.  Enraged he had to wait, one boy from another class kicks his shoes in the air, slams the door, screams.  The others stare momentarily, used to his behaviour, then go back to their lunch.  I know him too, he hasn’t changed.  I ring the office, I let children go to the toilet, I accept drawings done on scrap paper, I time the time they have on the computer, I text my friend late back after their bus gets stuck on a tiny street, she has to stand in the rain and help direct it past an illegally parked car.

And the next day we show the school the dress rehearsal with costume, hair and makeup.  Eyes boring out from black scribbles smudged with finger tips, others peering out from itchy wigs in psychedelic colour.  An audience – it brings both excitement and intimidation as their classmates see them, watch them, judge them.  How much harder to stare into familiar eyes than into blank, unappraising space.

I walk back and forth through the week, carrying armfuls of paper, photos, reports in yellow envelopes, skipping ropes, jackets with silver collars and stage makeup.  Carrying list of things to do, people to talk to, staples, velcroze, stiff black cardboard, plans for the holidays and for next term.

We hold a party for the whole Year on the last afternoon to farewell my student, going overseas for years, to celebrate the end of term for all.  They bring out bags of food and one boy tells me he has never eaten such things before, his mother makes everything and will not buy this food wrapped in plastic.  He concedes her homemade cakes tastes better.  Another boy eats fruit, he is going away tomorrow, he explains, and doesn’t want to get sick in the car.  My girls present a card to their friend, make a speech, send her off.  The card-maker tells me she got all the girls to sign it but had to write some of the boys names herself because they would not cooperate, not be appropriate, not behave, she says severely.  (The boys are outraged at this assessment).  They all kick balls, throw balls, lounge around the picnic tables and shovel food into the mouths.  The ground is muddy still despite the sun and I am offered up more muddy knees for inspection.  The bell rings and my departing student hangs behind with her friends, not wanting to leave, looking around the classroom one last time.  She gets a marker and writes her class, her old class, a message for next term:

I will miss you – yes even the boys… it says.

This week

By Vita Forest

 

This week I have been

WRITING School saga

READING Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (I haven’t seen the mini-series yet, any good?  I will write more about this one soon).

WATCHING

  • Beginners (a gorgeous movie by Mike Mills)
  • Beauty and the Beast with Lucy and her friend (which other “Disney princess” could Emma Watson play but the book-reading Belle?)

HOLDING a class-worth of parent-teacher interviews (see School saga) phew!

MISSING my usual classes at the gym to hold the parent-teacher interviews and therefore

FEELING stiff and stressed.

PICNICKING near the river on Saturday on a rare sunny day.  We have had an extremely wet March, may April be drier…

 

School saga

By Vita Forest


(All names have been changed of course)

This week I met with the parents of the children with whom I spend my days.

I learned that some children look like their fathers, others get their mannerisms from their mothers.  Maria’s mother said school was her “happy place”, that they sometimes talked about moving but she was dead against it.  They couldn’t move, not yet, not now.  She needed to stay at this school.

I heard that Fiona’s Mum had discovered unsuspected ambitions of future leadership roles in her daughter, had discussed strategies for how to get there, plotted it out.  All at the age of nine.

I saw one mother for the fifth time this term.  Then the sixth – when she burst in unannounced at the end of another parent’s interview to accuse another child of bullying.  Another child who I know to be kind, funny and occasionally bratty.  Another child in the list of children she believes are bullying her daughter.  Again I repeated the steps we are taking, the way I and the other teachers are watching them all.  Something is not right there but I suspect it is to do with the mother not the daughter.  Until we can get to the bottom of it, this woman is sucking up my time.

I heard about kids who were happy, who couldn’t wait for school, who were spending their afternoons writing speeches and rehearsing, rehearsing, rehearsing them for their families.  I was told about kids who were in the lowest position in the sibling pecking order and therefore felt the need to flex their muscles at school.  I discussed with two mothers the fact that their kids sat side by side in class and constantly bickered and told on each other.  I have told them they needed to “work it out” to stop hiding each other’s scissors and “accidently” throwing each other’s pencils in the bin.  One of their mothers reported that the other kid had said to her kid that he hoped she had “the worst birthday ever!!” on the day she turned nine.  Nice.  But then on Friday, I watched as both kids were playing the same game, talking and joking together.

I met Fred’s Mum with her potty mouth, who tells her son his messy homework is “crap” and that he needs to rub it out and start again.  (Apparently she also told another parent who didn’t know much about me that I was “frickin’ awesome” – I taught Fred in Year 1 too).

I saw parents who pulled out notebooks with dot points to cover off, parents who took notes on what they could work on at home (times tables, reading analogue clocks) and parents who were laid back “all good” and “he’s happy”.  I waited for parents who didn’t show up.  I wonder if they do that for doctors too.

I met parents who are genuinely grateful for what we do at the school, for giving their children opportunities, for a well-timed compliment, for encouragement to try something new or do something better.

I heard about Harriet who plays at being a teacher at home – she even has a whiteboard.  From Malik’s Mum who has been anxiously asking me for a couple of weeks now about the entrance test for the prestigious, challenging and stressful O.C. class (Opportunity class for Gifted and Talented children) (-notes go out on Monday).  About how India’s mother wants her to sit the test too and how Nadia’s Mum doesn’t.  I pointed out their children’s artwork from amongst the menagerie of animals that we live amongst in the classroom at the moment.

I learned that some kids were the less smart siblings of high achievers, the less popular siblings of the life of the party, the last child in the family for whom their parents had little energy or time left to give to.  I heard about the lovely grandmother who used to bring her granddaughter to school each day, who I used to chat with, who used to be a teacher too, back in the day, who now has dementia and is living in a hospice.

I heard that Tahlia thought she was “dumb” and “bad”, I listened as Marvin’s parents reported that they thought he was “messy” and “lazy.” But the most heartbreaking of all was the tale of Quentin’s despair and self-loathing, the catastrophizing that lies behind his sulky demeanour and hot angry tears.  I got his parent’s permission for him to see the school counsellor and talked of other things we can start in the classroom immeidately.  Recognising the good things he can do, some strategies for controlling his emotions before they get away from him.  Poor kid.  (The next day he received praise for his kindness and helpfulness and I circled around him keeping an ear on the conversations he was involved in).

It’s been a rollercoaster of a week, pushing through the utter physical and mental exhaustion with information shared and received and a new protectiveness felt about certain children with their friendship issues, their dreams and their parental ambitions.

Thank goodness we can debrief in the staffroom.

 

 

Overheard… in the playground 

By Vita Forest


Eric: Ms F! Ms F! There’s a banana and a cockroach in the funeral.

Me: What?

Eric: There’s a banana and a cockroach in the funeral!

Me: I have no idea what you are talking about.

Eric: The funeral, you know – where you stand?

Me: Where you stand?

Eric: In the boys’ toilets…

Me: Ah the urinal.

Eric: Yeah, the funeral.

(Much laughing…)