Hey, UK English teachers…you don’t need to settle. Move on.

I used to work 60-70 hours a week. It made me absolutely miserable.

I was an English teacher in England teaching English to students who hated English. Every six weeks they had to do a ‘controlled assessment’, which was an essay exam with strict perameters, and over my week off for the half term I had to mark the papers.

It took days to get through 120 papers; it was no way to live. My British colleagues would take a few days off then spend the rest of their days half marking, half enjoying their families and loved ones…hating their lives, dreaming of retirement, staving off or taking personal leave for recovery.

They were burned out or on their way to becoming burned out. 

I looked into the situation. While writing papers for my master’s degree in business management, I did some research and discovered that 60 teachers a year kill themselves in the UK.

As a volunteer in suicide prevention, I found this highly disturbing. This terrible fact became my new mantra for change.

“60 teachers a year kill themselves in the UK. In 2015, 50,000 left the profession, leaving the system in crisis.” I announced, disturbed and determined that people should think about it.

What could be learned from this?

I learned that I could not change the system. Every time I tried to be an individual in an English department in the UK, it backfired. The kids loved the classes but some resisted heartily. It was too strange to them, too demanding for some – writing a one-page letter in an hour was too much to expect from one Year 7 class. I’ll never forget it. I had too little time to exact change and my competence was questioned.

It just wasn’t going to work. The system wasn’t conducive. My passion was being drained dry.

I loved being Head of English for 11 years in Saudi Arabia at an American international school where I could and did teach an array of creative and academic skills pertaining to the subject – creative writing, filmmaking, essay writing, presenting, debating, literary analysis and response to literature using multiple modes of communication including technology based deliveries.

My students in Canada and Saudi wrote 50-page family histories in their last years with me, kept journals, wrote letters, wrote persuasive and analytical papers and walked away equipped for university, self employment and more. They work today in tech companies like Texas Instruments and Microsoft inventing things. They are doctors and scientists, artists and humanitarians. One works for the UN with refugees in Jordan. One is a philosopher. Another works with unwed teen mothers. My students of English in Saudi Arabia achieved top grades in American SAT exams, and today they are teachers and more.

Teaching English in the UK…in a non-project based system where I had absolutely little to no freedom to develop my own classes…drove me nuts.

I also learned…

I need to be able to create as a teacher, not merely deliver a ‘canned’ curriculum. Pre-written units in full that could not be deviated from were problematic.

Sometimes they were not well written or inspired. No wonder the kids hated the study of English.

I needed to return to my passion. My first love was drama and theatre and I am an artist at the core. My passion is and has always been the arts because of the great power of artistic expression and the freedom of interpretation in these subjects.

So, I quit my job with a supply teaching (substitute) agency that kept me barely employed (you cannot live on supply teaching in the UK). Long term contracts weren’t paying off; no one was giving me a permanent job.

I was being used by administrators who wanted to hire the next top gun to come out of university…for literally two-thirds of my salary. The system makes teachers sick, literally, and I wasn’t in the position to take sick leave (as an ancestry visa holder and immigrant).

My British English teaching friends watched as I went to London one weekend with Search Associates, got myself a top-paying job teaching theatre in a top-tier school in the Middle East – and KAPOW! Instant happiness.

I love them for their fortitude (and obvious – I believe – passion for teaching their subject). They watch as I have grown my drama program exponentially since arriving in the desert to ramp up things in my school.

I teach full time drama and theatre as part of a fine arts team I love, I am district leader for fine arts innovation in our school district (7 schools).

I put on three or more shows a year with my students. Meanwhile, I sadly hear from colleagues in the UK that their administrators are cutting back time for the arts while I get to teach drama and theatre for 70 minutes, three times a week.

Takeaway: don’t bang your head against a brick wall. Life is too short. Take a page from this and either protest the working conditions in the UK. Or move on.

Sir Michael Wilshaw: Teachers leaving for classrooms abroad is “brain drain” on talent

There are great jobs everywhere but possibly not where you live. If you’re afraid to get moving, don’t be. Take a risk, get a job somewhere else, aligned with your passion.

Make sure the company’s values are aligned with yours, too.

And fly.

If you need help sorting out  your plan, I’m here for you. Get in touch. I coach professionals ready for change.

PS. Seems nothing has changed since 2015. Another teacher shortage is projected for 2017 in the UK. Meanwhile, my best friend’s son in Canada was almost recruited to go to London. I told him: don’t bother unless you’re armed and ready for the conditions. He found himself a job he loves in Canada.

My Spiritual Mentor: Dr. Sue Rubin

My spiritual mentor, Dr. Sue Rubin

My spiritual mentor, the wonderful and effervescent Sue Rubin – Dr. Sue Rubin – of Truth Tidbits (her website and a nod to the most remarkable stories of people she meets at Starbucks and the lessons to be taken from these encounters, now shared on Facebook) has just turned 89. She is a beautiful soul, still going strong. As I look at her in this recent video, the thought “ageless, timeless” comes to mind.

Our Sue (as they say in the UK, where ‘home’ is when I am not in Saudi or Canada) is as she always was: curious, vibrant, wise, a master storyteller, respectful of all faiths, compassionate, uplifting, glamorous, dignified, down to earth, self-disciplined (to an unbelievable degree), generous with her time and so much more. People flock to her for good reason.  Continue reading My Spiritual Mentor: Dr. Sue Rubin

Suicide

It is with the heaviest of hearts that I write today: a friend took his life this week. It left me reeling and so concerned for his partner and their children. How…why…what…?

Though I have worked in suicide prevention as a ‘listener’ for the past three years, nothing makes this easier…really. It’s the saddest, most shocking thing. Then you talk to people and find out how many people have lost someone to depression. It makes me want to write about it here.

Some general understandings about suicide…

Men are more likely than women to end their lives, because they suppress their pain, hide it and act decisively. Women eventually communicate sooner…what is going on…and can be helped. It is amazing what a confidential, trusted listener can do to help you figure out solutions…it is amazing. But people must reach out first.

One thing no one likes to talk about is this: if someone has reached the point of wanting to take their lives, that person will, and there is nothing you can do to stop this. That’s probably the most damaging thought for the loved ones left behind. You can try and prevent this final deed, and though we do try and it is our mission at Samaritans.org, we know that this can sometimes fail. There is a certain respect we hold for a person in that much pain, and it doesn’t diminish our sadness, but we remain aware of the truth – our lives are fundamentally in our own hands.

Samaritans do all that we can to raise awareness about the factors that cause a person to ultimately give up on living, and we offer 24/7 services to support anyone in need. Samaritans even has an international email address for this purpose. If you need help, please reach out. The service is 100% anonymous, I can assure you. Your phones and email address are not tracked at all. Please reach out for help.

Continue reading Suicide

Ask for help. Watch what happens.

It’s interesting. Building a business. Teaching students. There’s an illusion that we should present ourselves as the experts, as if we know it all, or people will not have faith in us.

But then there is another school of thought that recognises we are all on a learning curve, and asking for help is, in fact, an act of bravery. 

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I’ve waffled back and forth between these two views, and suddenly had an epiphany. It was a moment of truth that came after watching a friend die this summer.

:'(

Life’s too short. 

Let me explain. Continue reading Ask for help. Watch what happens.

Filipino Jeepney Art – Soon to be Extinct?

I have a fascination with these share taxis called ‘jeepneys’ in the Philippines. They’re leftover jeeps that have been sold to the Filipinos and decorated and dressed up by the owners and drivers. No smog protection, but cozy.

Warmups – Breaking the Ice

I am attending a drama teachers’ professional development conference – part of the EARCOS Teachers Conference in Manila, Philippines. Incredible way to end the day. Gives a whole new meaning to ‘reach out and touch someone’.

On Paris and Beirut

The news in Paris is grotesque and unfathomable. My heart goes out to that nation and to those directly affected by the terrorist attacks where at least 8 suicide bombers shot and then 7 blew themselves up in densely populated areas of the city on a buzzing Friday night. And where the story of this, the events, are still unfolding. This is not over. The world we live in…I cannot begin to finish that sentence. It is too big. It is much too big.

:/

The news has not reached the world in the same way, but there was a Da’esh (ISIS) terrorist attack yesterday in Beirut, Lebanon also Continue reading On Paris and Beirut

Instrumental Guitar Music ▶ Meditation, Relaxation, Yoga, Work, Sleep, Stress, Mind by OCB Relax Music

A lot of instrumental music purports to relax the mind and body. Not much of it delivers. This does.

Note: serious events transpired to prompt this post.

So, I’m working on curriculum design for my drama classes. It is report card time. And the horror of world-breaking news and events around me takes a toll in ways I sometimes can’t quite sense but know it is there, if nearly intangible.

ie. There has been yet another deadly bombing in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, 45 minutes from where I live, yesterday. Embassy alerts will come tomorrow morning. You understand. Tragic. My heart hurts.

I’ll borrow a quote from my good friend Shane, the photographer who took the portraits for my first album Endless Contradictions now: “If this world doesn’t drive you to your knees, you don’t live in it.”

One must not bury one’s head in the sand of life, but one must take care…turn off the ‘noise’ of the mind, the news, the worries, the propensity to obsess. Life happens as we go about our business. We cannot control everything.

Time out. It is important to switch off.

Music is healing. We should not forget this. My choice of streaming music is Spotify. But YouTube plays a not-so-distant second. A friend sent me this today. Enjoy. Take care of you.

Be the change you want to see in the world. 

PS. An extra: a co-write between a friend and I. Love song to a terrorist. No, really. ‘My Heart Goes Out to You’

Tuk Tuk Taxi Dash – My kind of computer game

I’m soon about to start travelling again. Ahhhh…the tuk tuk life.

Click on the image to play the Tuk Tuk Taxi Dash game…’cause life shouldn’t be all work and no play!

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Success with highly distractable students

Teaching is a noble profession, an artform, a talent, a honed talent, a compilation of skills, attitudes and aptitudes that take years to acquire. Masterful teaching is an ongoing learning process. When you’ve had a success, celebrate and keep learning.

Today, I taught a Year 11 class and the co-teacher, their regular teacher, was out for the day. My students sometimes look like this:

A supply teacher came in and quickly I noticed that students had played musical chairs. Of course. It’s a supply teacher day. I herded them back to their regular seats, and they realised I would be teaching the lesson. I was intent to seize the opportunity to fill in the mental gaps from the last lesson: these lads and lasses did not know how to analyse the language of a passage on a Mongolian woman in the rugged wilderness. I loved the literature, but they were disconnected from it.

We had a go at pulling out six quotes: three on the land and three on the woman. Then came the choice between analysing the more obscure reference in one line on her cheekbones, which were thick and spread out, signifying her race but also her strength, her masculinity, her independence (bravo to the student who so capably articulated this)…and the weathered wrinkles on her face, signifying her long life in the outdoors, and what she has ‘weathered’ and survived – the elements, the hardships of a rural, nomadic lifestyle with little but her animals and the land. The debate over which example to choose engaged most students, I’m pleased to say. They actually understood, finally, at that point, what I had harped on about: choose the quote first, after reading the question. Know what you’re being asked to do, find the evidence, then work out your paragraphs and key points. It’s hard to know what to say, if you don’t understand the passage enough. Getting these kids curious about the writing is a bit…tricky. Dive right into the words, I say. The sooner the better.

So, hooked. One part of a seemingly mammoth task for this group…done. Next, PEEL paragraphing. Point. Evidence. Explanation. Link (back to the question). There are enough YouTube tutorials out there to allow me not to say more than this, but with regard to the students I was teaching today, and three or four of the boys like to talk through the entire class, I’ve noticed (but NOT through mine, for I’m not having it, and when one lad could not simmer down he was given the option to leave and speak with me outside – the situation resolved fast). I just don’t waffle with behaviour. Somehow, high expectations work for me. No doubts. Participate. Focus. Engage. We’re talking. We’re doing. We’re thinking. Give back. I’m giving. Take it. Give to each other. Help one another. But get in the ‘game’.

It wasn’t long before I had a class full of unruly-ish (but actually very nice) Year 11 students who are ‘sick’ of revision for their March final GCSE exams fully engaged in the task, writing. The last class, they mucked about, the whole class, some of them when faced with – sadly by my colleague who is surely just delivering what she has been given in terms of instructions and curriculum – death by PowerPoint lessons, copious wordage!!!, notes and notes and notes of LECTURES. Even I was hard pressed to stifle my yawns. Less is more. Teach an example, and work through one with a class. Then they can run with it. And today they did. I’m proud of them. It’s made me realise, it might be time to offer up some workshops on this. I have the perfect name for it, too: Last Chance – Kick in the Pants – GCSE Revision for Dummies (not).  Tongue in cheek, of course.

I always say to my students who, all too often, call themselves ‘stupid’: anybody can get an A. And I still and always will believe it. With enough support, patience, time, practice, guidance and motivation – anyone can.

How the class ended? One of my students packed up and said, “Miss, this is the first lesson I have ever had a supply teacher (ie. substitute teacher) in and learned. Wow. Word.

everything you want is on the other side of fear. jfdi. live to love. lead as you would follow. shoot for the stars.