Learning: Taking The Plunge

diving in

Every week the folks at WordPress set a weekly challenge. I’ve not taken up the challenge before, but this one inspired me. It is to write about a time I learned something new.

In January 2015, aged 58 and a half, I learned to swim.

Now teaching and learning is something close to my heart. I was a primary school teacher for 36 years and I met all sorts of reluctant or struggling pupils. It’s easy to teach someone who’s ready to learn, who’s receptive to what you’re showing them. However, it’s not so easy to coax someone’s who’s afraid to even give it a try, who has decided in advance they’re not capable of learning. But I thrived on such challenges and persisted and tried everything I could think of to persuade reluctant pupils to just give it a go.

Then, nearly eighteen months ago, the tables were turned. I was now the reluctant learner, the one of was afraid, who didn’t believe myself capable. I had never learned to swim. But I’d set myself some personal challenges when I retired from teaching and top of the list was ‘get in the water and swim, woman!” An additional motivation, on top of the personal challenge, was that I wanted to be able to swim with my grandchildren on a family holiday to Cyprus later in the year.

So I booked a one to one hour long session with the swimming teacher at my local pool.

Now, I should say I’m not afraid of water. I’ve always liked bobbing about in the (warm) sea and when my children were wee, I’d always go in the pool with them when we were away on our annual holiday. I made sure they learned to swim – by delegating the task to my husband.

So, no, not afraid of water. It was just I believed I was the only human being in the history of our species who couldn’t float.

But I was wrong. With the confidence building teaching of my wonderful teacher, Yvonne, during that one hour in the pool I eventually took my feet off the bottom of the pool and with a few feeble and styleless strokes I swam. I swam a couple of widths. I went out of my depth and I treaded water. Me! the least buoyant human ever – could both float and swim.

I walked home through the January snow, oblivious to the cold, wrapped in a coat of smugness and pride. An Olympic medallist couldn’t have felt more proud.

I’ll never be a water baby, but yes, I swam with my grandchildren last summer.

I did it. I took the plunge and learned something new. And boy, did it feel good.

New signage needed outside schools

Traffic sign "elderly people", Melfo...
Image via Wikipedia

They’ll have to add the ‘elderly people’ traffic sign to the ‘children crossing’ one outside schools…

I have a day off work tomorrow. A midweek day to myself – very rare. I should be rejoicing. But I’m not. It’s not a holiday. I will be on strike. Along with thousands of other public sector workers I’m withdrawing my labour. I’m taking a stand. I haven’t taken the decision lightly, but I felt I had to stand up for myself and others. I hate that it’s being portrayed as private versus public sector – each sector needs the other – we all need both. Didn’t someone say, ‘we’re all in this together’ ?

I voted for the (at least two-year) pay freeze in my own profession. I believe we should take some of the pain. But, to be told I must double my pension contributions – for a smaller return – and that I must work longer wasn’t something I felt I could go along with.

I’m a teacher. I love my job. I’ve done it for more than thirty years. The pay is adequate, the holidays are great, the children make it very special. I find it much more tiring than I did ten years ago and have to pace myself more. But I keep up to date, keep attending training courses, use laptops, a smartboard, MP3 players, blogging, school friendly social media, etc, etc – to meet the needs of my 21st century pupils. I’m fifty-five –  but not a dinosaur.

However, I did get a wee wake up call recently from one of the seven-year-olds I teach. She said ‘I like you Mrs Stormont.’ ‘Oh, that’s nice,’ I replied, feeling proud and gratified. ‘ You’re just like my granny,’ she added. I was a tad deflated.

But there is a serious aspect to the above anecdote. The government wants teachers to work until they’re sixty-eight. Crikey, if I’m still at it then, I’ll probably drop dead in harness after a P.E. lesson –  or a particularly strenuous long-division session. And, I must say I don’t really want my grandchildren taught by (almost) septuagenarians. I don’t mean any disrespect to elderly people, but it seems to me that the requirements of the job are such that one has to be very fit, energetic and have loads of stamina. Yes, some seventy year olds have all these things, but they are exceptional. A sixty-eight-year-old teacher will be older than the primary schoolchild’s grandparents.

As it stands, my pension, which I was hoping to get at sixty, will be about £10000 – even after all these years – but that’s fine. I’ll live accordingly. I’ll bow out of teaching – I’ll be sad to leave my pupils – but happy to hand over to a new generation of eager young teachers. And, I’ll be happy to be a grandparent on the other side of the school gate.

So, tomorrow I strike. We ARE all in this together. We owe it to ourselves, to each other and especially to future generations to do this right thing.

International Literacy Day

UNESCO International Literacy Day
Image via Wikipedia

I suppose it sounds a bit of a grand and pompous claim, but I think I’m justified in saying I’ve devoted my working life to helping children become literate. After all I am in my thirty third year of being a primary school teacher.  Ten years ago I did a Masters degree in education and my thesis was on the topic of literacy. And for the last few years I’ve been a teacher of children with special needs such as dyslexia. Added to that I’m also a writer – and writers need readers.  So all in all literacy is a bit of an obsession of mine.

Today was International Literacy Day – hence my even higher than normal level of interest. Being literate is something most people take for granted. But across the world there still remain many barriers to people’s acquisition of literacy.

As part of my Masters degree I studied the role of education in sustainable development and through that I got the chance to go and teach in some township schools in Cape Town.

  There were classes of 60 or more children with few, or sometimes, no books. But the children were incredibly eager to learn. When I got home to Scotland I contacted my employer, The City of Edinburgh Council, and they agreed to send out the Edinburgh Literacy programme with all its resources and reading books to the schools I’d worked in. I hope my time there and my employer’s support may have, at least in a small way, improved some lives.

But there’s still so much to be done. ‘Knowledge is power’ according to the saying. And it is literacy that gives access to much of our knowledge. Check out UNESCO UK’s website http://www.unesco.org.uk/international_literacy_day   There you can read (amongst other things) about projects in the developing world to empower women through literacy. In the words of Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, ‘When a woman is literate she can make choices to dramatically change her life for the better.’ And presumably the lives of her children will be improved too. See also the website of  Room to Read http://www.roomtoread.org This wonderful organisation does much to create and distribute books to children in the developing world. 

On the same website there is information about the forthcoming Knowledge and Innovations Network for Literacy where literacy researchers and practitioners can share knowledge and debate literacy topics.

Education and communication in our globally networked world depend more than ever on the ability to read and type. But literacy is not yet a universal right. So, even if you just read your kids a bedtime story, do your bit to extend that right.

Berries, Storms and a Happy New Year

Storm clouds over Skye

The season’s changing – the weather is distinctly autumnal. According to the BBC, autumn will be late this year – I beg to differ. This year summer never really got started in Skye  and I think we’ve missed that particular window. The dark is deep enough now for the stars to be visible again and Venus  is shining brightly once more in the eastern night sky – as the planet that’s first up and last to bed, it’s both the evening and morning ‘star’. There have been berries on the rowan trees in the garden for several weeks now – much earlier than normal.

Rowan berries

And of course school’s now back. There’s also a severe weather warning in place for the Hebrides  this evening and overnight. All ferry sailings are cancelled as a force eight blows out in the Minches and gusts of up to 70mph are expected. The wind is roaring down the chimneys and the rain is battering at the windows. The lights are flickering and I hope the power stays on – at least long enough for me to finish this post. We expect this sort of weather in the winter –  but in August??

For me the start of a new school year always emphasises that summer’s over. As a teacher my life is marked out in school terms – so I’m always very aware of the passing of the year and it’s seasons. August is my New Year – more so than January. It’s been a hectic first week back – lots of meetings and planning and preparation. I’ve made my new year resolutions to stay on top of the paper work and not to get stressed – we’ll see.

 It’s been good to catch up with colleagues and exchange holiday stories. It’s also been great to see the children again. They all seem to have grown and are pleased to be on the next rung of the primary school ladder. The children in the Primary One class have settled in already and are so sparky and enthusiastic – real bright wee buttons. At the other end of the school, the new Primary Sevens are very pleased and proud to be the top dogs and they all appear just that bit more mature than they did in June. And it seems strange without our ‘graduated’ – last years Primary Sevens who’re now at high school. There’s a real buzz and energy about the place as my 33rd – OMG! – year in teaching gets underway.

Every class has a new teacher – so there’s a lot of ‘getting to know you’ stuff going on. As a learning support teacher, I work with children from Primary One to Primary Seven in both the English and Gaelic streams of the school – so I have a good overview of the pupils and am called on as the ‘continuity’ person as teachers and new classes get acquainted. we also have a new curriculum to get acquainted with – Scotland now has a ‘Curriculum for Excellence‘ – I don’t know what that means we had before – and it remains to be seen just how excellent this new one is. Our schools are facing a lot of changes so it’s probably fitting that the new year begins with a whirlwind…