Monthly Archives: January 2013

Bursting at the seams

Like most teachers out there, I’ve spent today getting organised for the return to school this week. As always the calendar for the school year is looking pretty full and for me the challenge of working at school and at university means I’m going to need to be super organised! I’ve always been a diary fan and whether it is a black bound diary for uni or a blue school chronicle I always seem to push them to their limits, stuffing them full of treasures, notes, plans, until their poor spines bend and then, finally, break. This happened earlier than usual last  year and I spent the last couple of months of the year carting around a diary that had bright orange ‘FRAGILE’ packing tape down the spine of it. It may have been a literal cry for help from both me and the diary – I’m not sure.

I hold Winona Ryder responsible for this as ever since I saw her with an overstuffed filofax in Reality Bites I have basically assumed that this is social acceptance of an overstuffed diary. This year I’m going to try and limit the stuffing though and have taken to a digital calendar for the first time in my life. Now I’m sure this sounds mad – you’re probably thinking “How can she only be moving to a digital calendar now?”. To be honest, I’m not quite sure. I’ve accepted appointments in digital format for a while, but I never actually used the digital calendar, just carefully translated the diary dates to my hard copy and off I went.

This year though, I’ve started as I mean to go on. I’ve got a colour coded calendar system happening and now that I’ve moved to the Apple dark side and I have my laptop, phone and tablet all on the one system I’m loving the ease of syncing my calendars and planning my weeks. So let’s see how I go in this digital shift. I’ve still got a hard copy diary and a hard copy chronicle as old habits die hard. I might just be bursting across three types of seams now…

So as I set sail for school tomorrow there’s only one thing left to try and organise.  I just need to find a program to ease the slight nausea that occurs when I look at the calendar and all I need to do ;P


Why I’m heading back to the classroom- muscle memory

Now that I’m heading back to the classroom and combining my work as a teacher educator with working in a high school classroom, some people are asking me why I want to combine the two. This is a piece of writing I scribbled out last May when I started thinking about becoming a hybrid teacher/ teacher educator. I think it explains my reasons pretty well.

Muscle memory

People say that when you lose a limb you can continue to feel it- the phantom limb that can ache and feel ever present. Since leaving classroom teaching in a school to become a teacher educator I have felt like I’ve lost a limb, that a key part of me has been chopped off and I’m still grieving for it.

The act of teaching and my identity as a teacher are imprinted on my muscle memory. I know how I move, feel, think, act, breathe as a teacher. It is a part of my being and all I can say is I miss it. The push and pull of classroom life calls to me, and the call resonates throughout every aspect of my being.

There are things I’d grown tired of when I was teaching and I can remember them all too well for they lived in the body. There was the bone aching tiredness that descended at the end of term after 10 weeks of investing all I had in my classes and my students. I recall the rivers of frustration that would curse through my veins when things went awry, when colleagues worked at cross purposes or when those in positions of leadership made sweeping changes without recognising the human impact and when government implemented reforms that lessened our autonomy. I remember the tension that would build in my forehead and inch across my scalp when I had disagreeable encounters with students or on the days when I was keenly aware of not having done a good enough job. All this, and more, I remember.

Why miss this then? Why miss the physical markers of pain and frustration? The tension, the stress, the sometimes overwhelming sense of responsibility that you are a key player in the development of a young person?

Why? For one reason – because to teach really is to touch the future. Yes, the responsibility is great, but the rewards can be greater and these too resonate in the body. The spread of joy that comes when students experience ‘the light bulb coming on’ as they grasp a concept; the smile that engulfs me when a shy, autistic child grows to say hello in passing; the sense of pride that fills my chest when seeing students met in year 7 graduate as young adults full of promise in year 12.

This is why I teach. The chance to go on a journey with others and to see them develop, explore, question, challenge, experiment, grow.  They are verbs every single one, and this reflects the fact that teaching is an act of doing, an emotional, physical, intellectual and social endeavour. It is both a challenge and a privilege. Once I was ashamed to say I was a teacher, worn down by an endless media critique that characterised teachers as lazy, unprofessional and poorly skilled. In the face of this I thought my voice was too quiet to argue against the cacophony of critique. No longer. Now I reclaim the name. I am proud to stand and say that I am a teacher. Now that I work as a teacher educator I feel the pull of the classroom even more strongly. I stand before pre-service teachers ready to begin their own journey and I try to instil this same passion and commitment for teaching. I am jealous that I will not be taking this journey with them – the phantom limb itches and niggles and I wonder how long I can ignore it?



Carving up the beast

Today I’ve been reading and discussing the virtues of turning my PhD into a book. This is something that’s been burbling away in the back of my brain for some time and as the time since I completed the thesis is growing by the day I really need to get started on what to do next. While working on my PhD my supervisor would say ‘Leave that bit for your book, it doesn’t go in the thesis’.  At the time I thought she was mad as I could barely see past the end of my page let alone consider that I may turn my PhD into a book at some point in the future. Now that the dust has settled though, I’m realising how important it is to do something with this creature that I’ve both loved and loathed for 2.5 years of my life.

I’ve read and talked a lot with colleagues about the merits of carving my thesis up into journal articles and when I finished I began by sketching out a publication plan and thinking of which journals would be best for each aspect of the thesis. I didn’t get far as I took on my first full-time job in academia, got caught up in a couple of new projects working on journal articles for them and writing a chapter for an edited book. Meanwhile, my PhD was sitting on the shelf, the red cover seeming to pulsate with life and with a reminder of the need to turn back to it and not let it languish there alone and unloved forever.  I went back to the publication plan and looked at it, carving up something I loved seemed so mercenary – I felt like an academic butcher looking for ways I could take in the whole beast and then pare away the ripest cuts for publication. I put it aside again and kept working on other things – academic life means at least there is always something else to distract yourself with.

Yet, still my thesis calls to me and the idea of a book has been nagging at me for some time now. So today, armed with a new focus and after a conversation with a colleague who turned her thesis into a book, I’ve hatched out a plan on how to proceed. I’m starting with the dreaded book proposal, seeing for myself how I might structure my beast into something that still resembles the whole, but in ways that make it easier for consumption. I’m not convinced I’ll get there, but I figure this is an important step in my journey. Wish me luck.

Not sure this is what Csikszentmihalyi had in mind…

Having started my 0.5 academic life and seeing as school isn’t back for another couple of weeks I’ve had 0.5 leisure time since work went back. I’ve been enjoying the leisure part by getting stuck into some house renovation – for the last couple of days I’ve been tradie shaz (or as rohan calls me t.s) clad in cargos and paint splattered t-shirts scraping down outside weatherboards and painting them (and now I want a brick house as I’ve realised how much work it is owning a weatherboard). Rohan thinks I’m getting into being t.s a bit too much, I’ve taken to drinking a beer at the end of the day and making inappropriate jokes. Thankfully I’ll be putting t.s away this week and instead channelling music festival shaz in Hobart.

While being t.s I’ve discovered that you can take the academic out of her office but you can’t take the academic out of the girl. After reading a few people’s posts on twitter about Dan Pink’s book “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us” I thought I would check it out so thanks to the joys of Kindle it was on my iPad in no time and on my rotation playlist of current reading.

I’d been reading Pink’s section on Csikszentmihalyi and ‘flow’, a concept I’d done a bit of reading about before when teaching undergrads about positive psych as part of a unit on the adolescent in the school, but I was a bit more entrenched in my reading this time round. Csikszentmihalyi’s words came back to me as I stood outside in sun so hot it was almost drying paint on the brush – and in particular his observation that painters were almost in a trance – now I’m sure he was talking about artists rather than your garden variety house renovator, but there’s something in that for all of us I reckon. Painting a house allows me to enter a relaxed, almost meditative state, just me and the brush strokes (except my mind wanders slightly to the Karate Kid and the wax on, wax off line), but it is in this moment that I can become lost in what I’m doing. And for that period of time I am simply happy, doing a task that is immediate and achievable (if somewhat painful after a few hours of stretching to reach the high boards).

So painting made me think of Csikszentmihalyi, which made me think of flow, which made me think of the other moments of life where I experience that same feeling of happiness and of being caught in the moment or as Auden describes it ‘forgetting themselves in a function’ (quoted in Pink, 2011, p. 114). For me, those moments of flow happen when writing, spending hours trying to capture ideas in words, and tossing around the right word to use to convey those ideas. It also happens when teaching – I get caught up in the interplay and exchange of ideas, concepts, emotions, relationships that happen in a classroom.
And you see why you can take the academic out of her office, but even when painting weatherboards she can find a way back into her work … maybe that’s flow too.

Welcome to 2013! Time to shut up and write….

The first day of work for 2013 is upon me and I’m tackling it head on with a cup of freshly brewed coffee and much enthusiasm about what lies ahead.

This year sees me kicking off my pilot project as an embedded academic in a school working with staff, students and pre-service teachers and I’m really looking forward to the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead. I’m going to be teaching year 7 English and year 7 French (gulp- it’s a while since I’ve taught this!) so I’ve spent some of the pre-xmas holiday break getting stuck into reading some young adult fiction and watching the French news on SBS. I’m passionate about reading and sharing stories of my reading with the students I teach and so I like to be able to discuss the books they are enjoying as well – stay tuned for a couple of blog posts about some young adult fiction books I’ve been loving! Meanwhile at uni I’ll be teaching in the Grad Dip Ed (Sec) program and the Bachelor of Ed – and I’ve been filling my notebook with ideas for my courses this year.

Today though I’m loving this idea! one of the greatest challenges we face as academics is finding some time for writing without distraction. At the same time locking yourself away and trying to write can be isolating and frustrating. I’ve been really enjoying the collaborative process of writing with Maryann and Robyn as we always make sure that we block out time for writing in our diaries, meet somewhere other than our offices if possible and have a goal set for our writing sessions. Often we start our collaborative writing with a coffee and a chat and then it’s down to business! I think the ‘Shut up and write’ idea is a perfect for one of our Better Pedagogies meetings early this year as so many of us will be trying to finish off papers that have been sitting on our to-do list since last year. So today – I’m going to set up a Shut up and write session for sometime in Jan and we’ll see who turns up – and more importantly, how much writing we accomplish!