Friday, 23 November 2012

Oh, I am so unemployable.

I didn't want to have to work full-time, or even part-time until daughter and son were both safely past Year 1 and the phonics that lie therein. But the Cameron Led Armageddong that is the triple dip We Don't Care We're Alright has left me high and dry on the shores of the financially bleak. From being a comfortable family we have slumped to a not very comfy at all family. Husbands employers have cut his hours to 2 days a week. I need to work.

Now, let's see. Can I claim any benefits to help? Apparently not. Despite our annual income being 18K now, I am not entitled to contribution based Job Seekers Allowance because I haven't paid in to NI for the last two years. Apparently, my paying in aged 18 to 36 means nothing. I can't get a bean. No help with anything, in fact. We may, possibly get Tax credits, but probably not,as husband also has registered a self employed sole trader business that he was intending, over a period to build up. Well, he better chuffing do it, because being a sole trader for the Tax Credits demons sets their alarm bells ringing and we won't get a bean until they've investigated. Probably for years. Likewise, with no JSA or benefits, school meals and the like are unobtainable.

I am the squashed middle. Me.

I rang the employment agencies. I can do supply, I said. I was wrong. I can't do supply. Not only have I not taught for 6 years which makes me virtually sea slug on the intellect level, but I have no car, and neither does husband, as it was a company car, so I can't really do that "get called at 7am and be out of the house by 7.10 bunging the kids in handily prepared childcare and zipping off in my car to teach" thing. Neither can I do full-time. Partly this is a from a feeling that to do so would short change my kids, never have I seen such wind blown husks of children than at breakfast club and after-school club. But it's also monetary. If i'm working, and then paying for pre-and-after school care, i'm working for a pittance, and my children have less joy. If I can work part-time, my kids see me work, they do a bit of childcare, but they also get some genuine parent time. So I looked for part-time work that would fit round, maybe, me either doing school pick up OR drop off. I'd prefer pick up, as i know that the walk home is where it all comes out, who hit who, what they got the sticker for, what so-an-so did and why they love science, why pink should be called stink,  and so on. Plus I get to read with them, do two sets of spelling, two sets of homework, two teas. And two keeping on track. That time after school is vital: I can reach out to the teacher, they can grab me, we can connect, immediately, about any problem and nip it in the bud. I don't want to miss that. So I search. Nothing.

So I look for shift work. Maybe I can do that. There is some. I can work 6-12pm, or 12-6am. I could do that, if pushed, couldn't I? I could. Maybe cleaning work. Home care work.

Here I am. Overeducated and underemployed., and most definately underfinanced. I'm not precious. I'd gladly take grunt work in school hours and have time with my family over the long hours of teaching and missing my kids. I just need it to pay. I am now applying for home help work. If you know of an elderly lady or gent who might be in need of a good home help, and the odd bit of banter, point them my way.

Friday, 9 November 2012

All the naughty boys get stars, Mum.

Now I have two kids in school, it's been interesting for me to observe how differently their personalities have adapted to the factory like reward and progression of Reception and Year 1. Son is an open faced little chap, eager to please and do as he is told. He loves gettinga  house point, ignores the "naughty boys" and concentrates on getting thr work done so he can have his Lego "golden time" come Friday afternoon. Every parents evening is a joy: he tries hard, he does well, the teacher never has to tell him.

And this sets my alarm bells ringing.

Contrast to daughter. Daughter needs to be told EXACTLY what to do. Here is a command a teacher might issue to her, that she will ignore.
"Stella, can you put your things away and come to the mat?"
Stella hears: "Stella, can you pop over to the mat at some point, maybe, once you've put your stuff away?" and therefore does not put her stuff away, yet, nor traipse over to the mat. She does not like the mat, she sits next to a boy who shall be nameless, who has a constantly dribbling nose, which he licks. So she does not go to the mat. She has to be told again. And given the instruction she should have been given in the first place: "can you put your things away now and come to the mat instantly, with no dithering?" She then proceeds to pay no attention to phonics, because the songs are not the Jolly Phonics ones and she doesn't think they are very good, and instead concentrates on watching Nameless lick his snot, and pick at the baubles on her shoes. She knows all the phonemes anyway, but won't tell them to the teacher, because then she "would only get got more work", and actually reduced the poor teacher to spying on her to get enough info for parents evening. At which point Stella would move behind another child and sneak off.

And this sets my alarm bells ringing. Because who do you suppose has the heaviest, weightiest Housepoint card? Well behaved son, who has tried his guts out all term thus far? Or naughty Miss who couldn't give a toss about stickers and housepoints? Yes, you guessed it, Madam. Who had, by week 3 in Reception, informed me that all the naughty boys get stickers for just sitting down. This has not, needless to say, passed Miss Observant by. Poor son, who agreed with this, sits in the no-mans land of not being a genius but not being naughty. He gets the odd sticker when the teacher actually sees him and remembers who he is.

I know it's hard: i've been there as a teacher. But the reward system just doesn't work. I would inevitably be told by some hardlined little shit that "Miss so-and-so gives me stickers/housepoints" and  verily, their books would be aglow with shiny stickers. But no, I refised to give a bauble for doing WHAT THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN DOING ANYWAY. I introduced s syatem whereby every forgotten pen/book/swearing episode resulted in a fine of 5p. I put all the money in a jar. I purchased a book of raffle tickets. Evey piece of good behaviour, or good work, got a ticket stuck into their book. At the end of the term, the child with the most tickets stood the best chancde of winning the fines jar. It worked like a dream: all kids, bad, middling, good, want hard cash. And all kids have  a sense of innate justice. It isn't fair if a naughty kids effectively gets rewarded for it. Kids demand punishment: if ever there were an age group behind capital punishment it would be the 4-11's. Make them miss playtimes. Make them stay in at lunch, and stand up to the parents who whine about it.

Of course, Reception might not respond to this (although Madam probably would, given how she scrabbles round pavements for dropped 2ps), but something needs to be done with the current rewards system in primary schools, because it plays into the hands of the devious, and the don't cares, and ignores the well behaved middlers. I have stopped asking son if he got a housepoint, and started looking at his work every day myself, and awarding my own. I did ask Madam if she would care to earn some stickers for her "at home" reward chart, but her reply was "I get enough at school, and anyway, i've got all of Hannah's housepoint stickers". I know I should have asked how, but I just didn't.

Friday, 26 October 2012

A month without facebook, and no kids either.

I haven't been blogging, because i've been filling the vacuum left by the schooling of the kids with cleaning, library visits, and volunteering. In fact, 6 hours vanishes pretty quickly, and I've found that the days are, if not exactly flying by, at least dawdling fairly quickly. 2 mornings reading with the kids classes, 2 afternoons reading with readers who need extra help, 1 day cleaning, 1 afternoon in the library. Plus, i've picked up a child to tutor ( for real cash!) on a weekend, so a couple of afternoons preparation for that. The odd cuppa with a friend. Leaves precious little fiddling around time, really. But what time there is does tend to stretch ahead of me. I've lost the baility to sit and do nothing, to sit and relax. Instead i'll bake cakes, clean the chicken coop, batch cook for the freezer, anything to avoid daytime TV. I get the jobs done, so that the time I actually have with the kids is time well spent, and not spent flinging fishfingers under the grill.

And they do need that time. Son has homework twice a week, and reading every night. Some of it quite time consuming, not least because I have to look up what a cuboid is. Daughter has pretend books. She, according to the teacher, cannot read, so she still has books with no words in. This is astoninshing to me, as at home she can pretty much read anything you put in front of her, without even sounding out. On approaching madam about this, she merely told me she didn't like reading to the teacher, so she wouldn't. the teacher said she couldn't move up a level till she DID read to her. Madam still won't read to the teacher and is happy that she isn't being given any taxing work, and said that the teacher could just spy on her to see if she understood, as that's what she did with maths. Which is actually true, the teacher DID have to spy on her to get anything to say at parents evening, as madam just blanked her everytime she saw her and stopped what she was doing. So I read with madam, every night instead, and am pondering how best to secretly video her reading the ruddy Biff and Kipper books fluently so I can prove the teacher wrong and stop being patronised. I also secretly admire her gall though: she's right, it is the teachers job to make her want to read. I strongly suspect the teacher hasn't come up against such a Machiavellian 4 year old before.If I had to lay bets on who would win, it wouldn't be her.

One thing I have cut out of "free" time is Facebook. I've cut contact, broken it off, spurned it. I found that I was becoming overwhlemed with drivel. I simply don't want to know who is breaking up with who, what peoples' overwheeningly dull opinions on X-Factor are, who has fallen in love, what they're having for lunch. Similarly, I do not care to spend time being bombarded with ads that appear to think me old, fat and unemployed. Neither do I enjoy being told happy news that is apparently important to me as a friend alongside 455 other "friends". I don't enjoy the way people facebook instead of call, and change arrangements on facebook instead of calling, as if everyone were connected to the damn thing by invitrous facebook chip. Just as I found that mobile phones made people ruder, facebook has taken that rudeness and made it normal. As a keen to get pissed up student, I was not only mobile phoneless ( I was not a millionaire, and probably couldn't have carried one then anyway, such were their great size), but house phoneless too. If I wanted to meet my mates at a certain York Brewhouse, i'd have to (gasp!) telephone them from a call box, or actually speak to them and arrange it. We'd say something like "I'll see you are the Brewhouse at 8pm". And (even bigger gasp), we HAD TO TURN UP. We couldn't text or facebook some pathetic excuse, safe in the knowledge that we wouldn't have to speak to the disappointed person face to face. Facebook has, I feel increased that rudeness to the point of normalcy. Now it's ok to not turn up and just facebook it, even if you're not sure the person is a 100% connected to the damn thing as you are.

Furthermore, facebook has denigrated actual contact with real people. I have friends who don't actually even talk to me. They walk past me at the school gate and even I say "Hi!", they don't. I have friend requests from people i've never even met. I have people knowing my business via facebook friends. I have people who will chat on facebook, but won't in real life. I have people who are happy to parade their racist/ misogynist crap around on a public forum and who get cross at the school gate when I defriend them. I have, in short, about 5 real friends who actually bother to phone and visit. And i'm just as guilty. Recently, i've found myself asking friends if they fancy a coffee on it, when I could have just rung them. Why? It's much nicer to have a chat. Why am I allowing myself to be sucked in?

(It should be said that I exclude my far flung real friends from this: there is a real joy in being able to contact my old friends who now live abroad, and too distantly for me to visit. It is not at them this rant is aimed, but the village of people who actually live with me but apparently don't live in the real world).

And, what is most annoying, is how much time it saps. Why not turn the damn thing off a for a bit and see what happens? I'm off grid on facebook till December, and I will be most interested to see which of my 4 gazillion friends bothers to chase me up for a chat.

So, expect the next post to be of a facebook withdrawl symptom mania, with a video of my daughter refusing to read.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Normal service will resume, only more so.

I've been quiet. Too quiet.

It's because I spent the Summer Holidays soaking up every minute of the kids, and now they've gone, both of them, to school. I shall write some posts about that, and what it's done to me, later, but for now, here's a photo of them on their first day and first day back. Note how joyfully he's poking his sister in the eye. I shall now have time enough to blog regularly, and lots of time to fill while I locate that elusive school hours job, and clean the toilet a lot, weeping at being made aparentally redundant by school. At least I got weeping from son, and was made to feel wanted. Daughter just said "See ya!" and buggered off. She has transferred alliegence to her new teacher, who has long hair and wears proper shoes.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Eggbox frenzy in the damp: treasure hunting for kids

I can't claim the idea was mine. Eggbox treasure hunts are a well used idea. But I can claim that, for an easy hour sipping tea while the kids rip flower heads off of your garden plants, this is it.

Take as many egg boxes as there are kids. Paint the egg holes different colours. Type a list of things to find. You can make out mine in a picture. Let them loose, with the instructions to avoid nettles, not rip the entire plant out, and, for the older ones, to get as close to the hue in the eggbox as possible. I left out a book with different types of wild flowers in it for the older ones, so they could label their finds afterwards. Kit yourself out with a jar for the snails, if you are crazy enough to put them on your list. For me this was a no brainer, as the sodding things are eating ALL my spinach, and I have the added bonus of introducing the concept of life (death) cycles to kids via getting them to fling the snack snails at the hens.  Do not put the jar in the kitchen, as I did, and forget about it for 24 hours, to wake in the morning to silvery trails. Get one magnifying glass.

Send them out into the wild. Let them get the stuff, run riot, argue over what is orange and what is yellow. Then, because I am mean, make them draw a picture of a close up, using the magnifying glass, of a snail, or whatever more sensible object you get them to put in the jar, and write a sentence about it. Education over. Feed them with sandwiches and the Haribo as prizes.

The real genius of this is that it kept 9 kids utterly occupied for nigh on 2 hours, and we mums could have a chat.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Things I made my kids do this week: 1 in a Summer series

I am a fully paid up member of the club that suggests that kids need to be bored once in a while to force their imaginations to work. I live in a DS, Nintendo, computer game free world at the mo, and the TV is strictly regulated. I fling them into the garden with buckets and waterproofs and leave them to it while I wash up. I deny them Pokemon on TV and hurl jigsaws at them. I refuse the advance of the DS and crack out the playdough. I open the doors to the kids on the street and let them all in, on the proviso they stay OUTSIDE and leave the chickens alone. But I can't leave them to fester in their own juices for the entire time, not least because as an ex-teacher I am entirely meddlesome and don't want them to forget the last years worth of learning. And so I am sly.

In the first week, we  nipped on the bus to the Ely Wilkinsons and stocked up on paint, glue and scrapbooks. I then force the kids to write a journal every other day about what their exploits, illustrate it, and stick in any treasures. This will be given to the teacher for a few weeks to see how their new pupil is rated on the levels, and then stored in my "Mum" box for me to weep over when they are 18. "I went to the beach and I sor some motorbikes. There was a Hyabusa". I love how he ignores the time spent in rockpools, the spelling of "saw", and his parents and sibling entirely, but details the best motorbike, and spells it correctly.

And then, I organise. I convened a meeting at the end of term of willing mums and invited kids to weekly activities. Yes, I know it's crazy to invite 12 kids into your house, but hey. This week was junk modelling. We spent an hour sticking and gluing in pairs, ate lunch, then an hour painting, then a few minutes describing our models on paper, to win sweets. And here they are. A Robot with 2 guns and big eyes, an alien dog, a fire engine, a car and a Hulk. They worked together, I bunged in some maths ( identifying shapes and comparing cylinders), they wrote about their creations, and ate a LOT. And then all the mums sneaked off and left me with the masterpices. No,wait, come back!

Next week is Treasure hunt week. Even if it rains.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Dealing with doctors and nurses and anger in a 5 year old.

Oh, it's like having a mini-teenager in the house. He's 5. Going on 15. I know he's tired from a long school term, and every morning we have the same conversation about how many more weeks before holiday. I know he's had enough of bloody Kipper and Biff (what sort of name is that for a girl anyway?), and would rather read his motorbike encyclopaedia, as would I, and I never thought i'd write THAT.  I know he's probably having a hormone surge and has come over all weird about some things. (I'm allowed to wipe his bum if it's a particular type of poo, but nobody must see him on the toilet, EVER). He's suddenly aware of being naked, he's suddenly cross about everything. He's had enough of of the little git that bullies him and wants to thump him. (I must concur with him here: a bloodied nose might stop him more effectively than a term being sat on the bench for five minutes at playtime does). He playfights and is a spy. He's not going to marry me anymore, it is going to be Harriet. Or Phoebe. His temper flares up erratically, he shouts, he stomps up each individual stair and yells downstairs that he doesn't CARE! He puts on CD's loudly and lies on his bed, muttering. He's 15. He's 5. He doesn't realise that it's highly amusing to me that he's put on Louis Armstrong, and is being cross to "Blueberry Hill". He hates me, he hates the tea, he wants a Nintendo DS like everyone else, he wants guns (he's 5!)

A lot of this is school. He's mixing with kids who have different boundaries, older siblings. He's mixing with little shits, some of the time. I can't control what he's seeing or hearing come playtime. Some of it is hormone surges, that commonly happen between ages 4-6 for periods lasting months at a time, leaving your previsouly placid boy a raging loony who wants to playfight all the time and look at things on YouTube he shouldn't. (In son's case, a rather alarming Lego re-enaction of "Saving Private Ryan". Er, no). Hence we have the situation where his sister dobbed him in for wanting to see a girls "minny". Much weeping, much wailing, after he finally admitted it, although the object of fascination herself had wandered off unharmed or un-looked at and was eating a packet of  haribo. Much low key discussion about privacy and right and wrong, and a quick description of a diagram I have a half remembered version of in my head, and me left wondering if I handled that properly or he'll be a serial killer blaming me in twenty years.Or if the girls mum now thinks i'm harbouring a pervert.

Worst of all though, after he's had a stomp off and is silent on his bed, he'll say he doesn't mean to be naughty, he just can't help it sometimes, it's his head getting bigger and wanting to know more stuff. And I flashforward to doing the same thing when he's 15. Only hopefully without a pregnant girlfriend.