Education and The Election

Alright, I can’t help it. I wasn’t going to, and I have been staying resolutely quiet and off social media with it all but I’m too involved. I am a teacher, and a writer and a blogger and someone who has taught in the state sector, the private sector, failing schools and successful schools, schools with a poor demographic and schools with an affluent one. And (1) I have kids in school and my husband is a senior manager in a school.  So, honestly, I don’t want to upset anyone, or get into professional, awkward situations or even cause any arguments but it is kind of inevitable that I might have something to say. Education, and the Election.  There.  I’ve said it.  Only about five people will read it anyway, so that’s alright.

Teaching is a great job: its essential elements haven’t changed much in the twenty years I’ve been doing it, and it is still, at its heart, a stimulating, rewarding, varied and interesting career. It is perfect for those of us who love our subjects, but can’t quite breathe in the rarefied air of higher level Academia, with its lack of interaction and activity. So don’t let me put you off, if you were thinking about it. It’s just that politicians come and go, and like to leave their mark on us- but so often do not really understand the world with which they meddle.

Incidentally, whilst writing I found myself using so many parentheses that they became distracting rather than ‘quirky’ as I was hoping, so I’ve popped them all at the bottom of the page.

Let’s start with Leadership- and I’m mostly talking about state school Head Teachers:  I’m not sure how things are in the private sector. At my current independent school(2) there is a PA team, a Marketing team, a PR team and an Admissions team so things seem to be going OK there. Public Sector cuts not an issue.

So, Head Teachers in state funded schools then: the most recent statistic is that there was a 32% annual turnover of Head Teachers in secondary schools during 2013/14.  12% of schools lost their business manager. Now, if you happen to be a big shot in the City, I can well imagine that you may be shaking your head, wondering why such incompetent idiots, who can’t add up or withstand pressure are appointed and thinking that you could do it better: you might even be idly looking up the leadership salary scale and wondering if it’s worth jacking it all in to go and rescue your kids’ school.(3)  Imagine the kudos! But bear with me whilst I meander through a few other factors than over-promotion and incompetence. And if your kid’s Head Teacher has been in post more than four years, give them a pat on the back, or send them doughnuts on Monday morning.

A Head Teacher who takes over a school, particularly one that is ‘failing’ or ‘requires improvement’ has to demonstrate ‘improvement’ in quantifiable terms before the Academic year is out, and certainly over the next Academic few years. This improvement is quantified in terms of exam results and pupil progess.  ‘So what’?-  I hear you all ask, at your dinner parties, when the last course has been supped, and so has most of the wine.  ‘So what? I have to perform and show results in my Big City Job or I too will be sacked.’  ‘Yes, yes,’ I reply, pouring myself some coffee in an attempt to explain myself properly without spoiling it by slurring. ‘Yes, I understand that you Big City people have high pressure, high performing jobs. And we like our schools to be accountable too. But there are some differences.’

The first difference is that instead of the relatively predictable commodity of money to manage (although an HT obviously has to manage that as well), he or she is managing the most unpredictable variable on the earth: children. About 200 of them. They are unpredictable because, at any given moment in time they are experiencing something for the FIRST TIME and that makes them both weird and wonderful. So when you make your staff run intervention clinics for your C/D borderlines, confident that this will definitely add value to your product, or, at least, get you some marginal gains, it’s really hard to counter the fact that product X is spending their entire time out of school sat in a darkened room because their boyfriend called them fat and is now going out with their best mate. Or maybe it is their first encounter with grief.  Or perhaps they have had a relapse of an eating disorder.  Or they might be a Young Carer, whose mother has relapsed but doesn’t want to go into social care. Times that by 200 of these young people who are all experiencing virtually everything for the FIRST TIME and perhaps not getting the best of support at home, and you can see that there is an inherent level of challenge perhaps not present in when managing fiscal commodities. But under Cameron’s government, if you do not immediately meet this challenge the vultures will finish their circling and swoop, chanting FAILING FAILING FAILING until your ears bleed and you have to announce a personal crisis and quietly disappear. (That seems to be how it is done…) In short, all of society’s failings will be laid and your feet and you will have to pick them up and carry them on your back, claiming them as your own.

Moving on, the second difference is that you also have approximately 100 staff members for whom you are personally responsible.  You are responsible for their well being, but also their results and there is an uneasy tension existing between the two. If Mrs Y’s results are a bit dodgy this year because her husband died following a long illness, for which she was his sole carer and financial support then that is YOUR FAULT that the futures of thirty children have been laid to waste and you might find you need to sack her to show that you have a grip on the situation.  (or convince her that she must announce a personal crisis and disappear.) And when you need to replace Mrs Y, it will be tricky because she’s a maths teacher, and anyone with a good maths degree seems to prefer to be extraordinarily well paid in the City. So you hire what you can, and provide support and training, knowing that ultimately it is your fault if they can’t succeed. There might be Big City jobs where you are personally responsible for three hundred individual human lives, but I can’t think what they are. Doctors and pilots come the closest, I guess.

Last up is the financial element. Taking over a Headship might turn out to be the equivalent of inheriting the Treasury to find that hilarious document ‘I’m afraid there is no money.’ Whatever you try and do to fix the situation, it must not require any money. If you have taken over a school that has just begun the process of Academization then you will have a bit more money thrown at you, and a bit more leeway to spend it as you wish, but as soon as you become more successful this will stop.  I am about to start work in a lovely school from September, but even I was a bit thrown by the extent of the joy the school officer exhibited upon finding an unfranked stamp that could be reused. It also accounts for the school I worked at that had one staff toilet in a building of approximately thirty staff members. The toilet was directly off a heavily used pupil corridor, with no outer cloakroom and the thin door opened directly opposite a science classroom. One had to contend with gleefully shouted comments through the door like ‘Is it taking a long time to come out, Miss?’ or as you exited, ‘Phoar!  Miss! Open a window!’ You had to laugh. ‘Could we possibly have another toilet in the building?’ “I’m afraid there is no money.”  So, Mr or Ms Apple, Sky, MicroSoft, Google, Bank of Scotland, Price WaterHouse Cooper, Prudential…. How would you like that? Although, as the Head Teacher, you would probably get to sit on a much quieter, cleaner more refined toilet but you would be directly responsible for denying one to your staff…or giving them one and taking money away from the pupils. I guess another a toilet suite might cost the same as the classroom assistant you just hired.

So, those are the main three reasons why a Head Teacher’s job is not directly comparable with someone managing Hedge Funds, or fiscal accounts (whatever they are) or juggling property deals. It’s also not the same as overseeing teams of people who are drawing up divorce settlements or auditing businesses. It’s just not.

But what is the result of all this pressure to perform, and financial nothingness? Well, first off it can sometimes,sadly, breed a culture of bullying. Yes, I know that bullying may well be accepted and endemic in your Big City macho culture Job, but it has no place in schools, either amongst the pupils or the staff. A Head Teacher who is put under massive pressure to pull virtually impossible results out of the bag can easily stop caring about anything else.  Children are their products, results are their gross earnings and value added is their profit margin. If your staff just work a bit harder, give up a few more evenings and weekends run a few more clinics, see a few more kids at lunch times and after school and be available via email seven days a week round the clock, then you might just pull it off. If that NQT on £22,000 would just stop having a boyfriend and devote her weekend to her job and her marking, then that might help.  Makes me wince to think how easily this could happen to a person under pressure.

Another result is Compassion Deficit. When you are under huge amounts of financial and performance pressure, all you will think about is the inconvenience of someone’s terrible circumstance. You might face a member of staff across your big Head Teacher’s desk while they are asking for time off to attend their mother’s funeral, and you might actually wonder if you should ask  why they couldn’t have kept the body cold for long enough for it to be the in  Easter holiday. Otherwise you will have to pay for supply, or increase the cover allocation to a staff, who already have no time to dash to that poky little toilet on the science corridor.  When I explained to a Head Teacher that I would be delighted to accept a promotion to Head of Department, but that I ought to alert her to the fact that I had a date for a surgical procedure to rid me of my chronic tonsillitis, she responded simply: “ I’d love to tell you that you can’t have that time off, but if I did I suppose you’d only cost me more in sick days in the long term.” You can’t argue with that logic but I did feel she had been visited by a Dementor, who had sucked out her soul.

Do you want your child to be immersed in a culture like that? I thought not,  Mr or Ms Big City Job because you may be ruthless and lacking in mercy at your Big City Job, but your child is to you like a precious piece of fragile china.  They are obviously special and that is why you will probably be sending them to a private school anyway. There goes a whole demographic, who have educated, professional parents and will have your total support and do well academically. Imagine the difference if the students and parents of your children’s Independent school all turned up at the doors of your closest State funded school. What a PTA that would be! Chicken and egg, anyone?

And the final result of pressure on Head Teachers to improve results within a ridiculously short time frame, on a tight budget because of cuts, all in the circling eye line of  the Dementor-infested sky-line of Ofsted, who will suck out your soul is that NO ONE WANTS TO BE ONE. Few (and I won’t say none. Because there are always exceptional people) Senior Leaders in a school can be convinced to sacrifice their job security and stability in order to take on a job where you will be shuffled along for a billion different possible factors that are out of your control. Family men and women?  Too risky. Young, ambitious and fast-tracked? Where will you go after that? And what will happen to your cool social life? Who does that leave? Chancers, and a very few amazing, exceptional individuals- thank goodness!

And if you still need convincing, here is the history of my own Head Teachers:

No.1: Left to teach in a private school in the Far East.

No2: Had a nervous breakdown/mysterious illness and left.

No3: Disappeared with no word to the staff.

No4:  Left ‘for personal reasons’ after a ‘vote of no confidence’ from staff: Government changes had set up a sadly irresolvable tension.

No5:  Still in situ but having to endure an ‘executive headship’ from an Academy chain drafted in to rescue things.

No.6 Still in situ. (private school.)

A Deputy Head I know, who shall remain nameless, went to visit a school recently with a view to interview for a Headship. Whilst there, and chatting to staff he discovered that an old colleague, and excellent, well respected Deputy Head had been ‘moved on’ from his Headship because he didn’t pull the required results out of the bag quickly enough. The same had happened to another colleague, who had managed to secure another position.  In his current role, he frequently receives applications for ordinary teaching or middle management positions from ex-Head Teachers, who have been ‘moved on’ and are too young to retire and need to support a family. The current head and deputy of that school had also disappeared under mysterious circumstances and that was why the position was vacant. This school visit was followed by news  of  the ‘moving on’ of the successful applicant to job he nearly got just a couple of years ago.

What can we deduce from these Head Teacher obituaries? Should we infer that all these good people, who had outstanding track records up until the time of their employment as Head Teachers are incompetent? Should they be forced into academization, made to reapply for their own jobs and eventually ‘moved on?’ Or should we perhaps examine the system a little more carefully and try to work out why that system is, in fact, the one that is Incompetent. What do you think?

The deputy head teacher, who shall remain nameless,  is not going to go ahead and apply for the job.
(1) I have played fast and loose with the conjunction ‘and’ here, of which I have had a lively debate on social media. However I have also avoided ending that last sentence with a preposition, so it cancels it out.

(2)  about which I have little educational criticism apart from to say it is a shame I can’t afford to send my own daughter there- and following on from that, that it is a shame the word ‘afford’ needs to be attached to any educational scenario.

(3) (as a guide, a Head Teacher of a very large secondary academy in inner London might just about make six figures, but remember that there is no expense account business, or writing anything off to tax- possibly a tiny bit of salary sacrifice child care.  Most Head Teachers will earn £70,000- £80,000.  You can say goodbye to your evenings and weekends, and the perks of the holidays are definitely just for your staff.  A Head Teacher of a primary school might earn £60,000 in inner London, but most will earn less. You do sometimes hear about ‘Super Heads’ earning preposterous money, but I don’t know much about them. They are normally overseeing several different schools, and offering consultancy. Frankly, until politicians stop acquiring and furnishing unnecessary second homes with our money, I think they should keep quiet about teacher salaries.

(4)(I do seem to recall the toilets for visitors, outside the Head’s Office being rather nicer, but they were a two minute walk away, which is a long time when you are dashing to the loo between lessons. And this particular school has had an Academization rebuild, so I’m really hoping that the English staff are able to have an unharrassed loo visit. If there was anything I wished for them when I left, more than students who would actually sit down for a whole lesson, it was that.)
Other interesting, and, I daresay, more authoritative articles on this issue:


Half of a Yellow Sun – a Review (part of the 2015 Africa Reading Challenge)

Clara Wiggins’ thoughts on a book I’ve been wanting to read…. And now I think I will! I’m having a fiction writing week, so am grateful for Clara’s permission to repost this insightful review.

Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a remarkable speaker as well as writer: have a listen to her TED talks, especially this one:
Thanks Clara!

It’s strange when something so awful as the Biafran war happened and you don’t really know anything about it. Especially when you’ve actually lived in Nigeria, as I did when I was a child. We weren’t there long – around 5 months, in 1980 – but it was enough to understand a little bit about that huge, and hugely complicated, country. A little bit, but evidently not enough – as I really didn’t know much about Biafra.

To be fair, I was very young when we were there – 11 or 12. And what child of this age really does know about war? Except all primary aged children do learn about some wars, like World War 1 and World War 2.

So hurrah for fiction, which can open our eyes to parts of history that otherwise would totally pass us by. I have always found it easier to understand the…

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Gatsby, The Great and hopeless dreams.

I finally got round to seeing the most recent version of ‘The Great Gatsby’, directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo di Caprio as the eponymous Gatsby.  It was good, and I appreciated its artistic merit, but for me it couldn’t come close to the intricacy and magic of the  novel. It seems to me that the words are visually stirring enough:  how can you add value to lines like ‘In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.. . .’ by trying to recreate the scene in a film studio? They have value enough.

‘The Great Gatsby’ is a book about dreams, in particular the great American Dream- and this is coded in the hopeless yearning of Jay Gatsby for his old flame Daisy. But Gatsby doesn’t just yearn: he has been raised on the rolling crest of America’s belief that anything is possible, and he has already reinvented himself from poor James Gatz to millionaire Jay Gatsby. This reinvention is doomed to failure, though: Gatsby has even been referenced in American economic statistical data : The Great Gatsby Curve, which shows that economies with the biggest gap between rich and poor have the lowest social mobility. ( and Gatsby’s dream was always going to be a failure and, by implication,  we are made to question the American Dream itself. Gatsby invests five years in curating himself as a suitable match for Daisy, who has subsequently married and had a child. Such is his conviction that if he wants something badly enough, he can make it happen that he seems to think he can turn back time: ‘Can’t repeat the past? ‘ he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”  . . . “I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before.”  It seems to me he  is cut from the same cloth as the contestants on ‘American Idol’, mimicked mindlessly by the contestants on UK music talent shows who say, ‘But I really want this…’ over and over in disbelieving tones, as if they truly thought that there was a magical,  exponential relationship between wanting something and getting it. Sometimes there is, of course but only at a terrible price. The person, institution  or belief system  who gives you what you want just because you want it so much will normally also take your soul. And there is great wisdom in the saying, ‘Be careful what you wish for . . .’

Ultimately, Gatsby can’t be good enough. His money and goods are considered vulgar and crass, and his lack of traceable, respectable ancestory is suspicious and underworldy. Daisy recoils from it in the end. Gatsby is left standing outside her house in a pointless and unnecessary attempt to protect her but in fact ‘watching over nothing.’ After he dies, there are no friends at his funeral except our narrator, Nick Carroway and later, the ‘owl eyed’ man from his party ; Gatsby was so fixated on reclaiming Daisy that he forgot to really make any. Nick Carroway watches the story unfold from the margins, ‘within and without.’ He seems to have spent his own passions and dreams before the the story begins, and his distaste for the ‘carelessness’ of people like Daisy and Tom is palpable. But Jay Gatsby seems to touch a chord, or pull on a buried memory or feeling. He is unreliably ambivalent in his feelings about him, ranging from ‘I disliked him so much by this time, I couldn’t even be bothered to tell him he was wrong’ to  ‘”‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together!”‘Ultimately, however, he seems to find a purity in Jay Gatsby, despite his deception and criminality. Perhaps he feels that Gatsby has continued where he once left off, following his dreams, the money and lavish parties simply a means to an end rather than serving any purpose for their own sake. When Gatsby is articulating the history of his love for Daisy, he says ‘I was reminded of something, — an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago.” By this, does Nick mean that he almost recalls the mantra, the conditioning of the pursuance of dreams from which he has been liberated? Or does he remember soft, tender moments from his own history that have been brutalized, dismissed and written off as the same ‘appalling sentimentality’ that he coldly brands Gatsby’s story? There is always a sense that his own story is unfinished: he is in the middle of running away from some sort of ‘understanding’– or misunderstanding with a woman, and is uneasily aware that he has been signing his letters ‘love Nick’ whilst almost embarking on a love affair with the flawed Jordan Baker. I think that, momentarily, something calls to him in the purity of Gatsby’s longing and brings back cauterized dreams and plans. Either way, he’ll never know, because the moment he captures the elusive, liminal feeling, it is lost from his lips before he can verbalize it: ” ..but they made no sound, and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever.”

Dreams are dangerous, and Nick Carroway knows this. Fueled and pumped by cultural trends and media mantras, we tell our children to ‘follow their dreams’ and ‘follow their hearts’ but we are guilty of not also telling them of the hard work and tediousness of the path they will have to follow, or tell them how to manage when their dream ends in failure over and over again. ‘But I really, really want it,’ they cry and it is easiest for us to blame the obstacles and tell them or ourselves they’ve been cheated and of course, they do deserve what they really, really want. Might it be  better to encourage them to discover happiness in other, closer places, and to invest it in more than one thing? How many people have really found lasting and comprehensive happiness through the one thing they always dreamed of?

But it is true that the world needs dreamers, and if Gatsby hadn’t died, I’d like to think would still be there, in the dark outside Daisy’s house offering himself as her protector and soulmate. In my head, the novel ends here, with Gatsby, the perpetual optimist, ambassador for the fragile, infinitely suffering fabric of our dreams standing there still, even as Daisy and Tom pack up their extravagant possessions and then retreat ‘into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together….’

Heartfelt Reading


image off google images/pinterest and nothing to do with me.

image off google images/pinterest and nothing to do with me.

Just popping in to offer you some Valentine literary delights in the form of a post I’ve written for

an online magazine: Here wondermag


I’m currently reading ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt, which really isn’t very romantic at all, but I was starting to feel I was the only person left who hadn’t read any of her work. I’ll read ‘The GoldFinch’ too if I like it a lot.

scret hist

I downloaded ‘The Secret History ‘ after giving up on ‘The Luminaries,’ a Booker shortlister by Eleanor Catton. Now, it has been a long time since I gave up in a novel half (well, about a fifth actually) way through but it wasn’t yielding enough reading pleasure for the time commitment required. (It is a really long novel.)luminnaries

I’d love to know if I am missing out though, and should probably persevere. No one I know has read it, even my most esteemed and erudite English teacher colleagues, so I got no encouragement to persist with it there. It seemed to me that it was a novel for which so much care had been taken over the structural patterns (apparently there is some kind of mathematical precision in the length of each chapter), the cleverness of the astrological chart concept and the intricacies of history that the momentum of the storytelling has got kind of swamped. On the other hand, the reviews are really enticing. This one really whet my appetite: ” The novel is like a huge Rubik’s Cube, with panels of plot sliding and reforming, to create new patterns and perspectives.” I do so like a clever book, but maybe I’m just not clever enough for this one?

If you’ve read it and loved it, drop me a line and persuade me to pick it up again. In the meantime, enjoy my handpicked Valentine’s reading selection, some of which is an awful lot less erudite than ‘The Luminaries!’ And remember- romance is always better in books!


Goodbye Blogging 101- and awards!

Finally had time to check my reader and discovered it was the last day of Blogging 101! I hope I catch the 101 Blog in time because I’d like to make my last post about the awards I simply haven’t had time to deal with since the Day Job went crazy a week ago.

Thank you Rainyday Reflections, and johnlockian – myfangirlunivese. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blogs–  and thanks for bothering to read mine.  I saw a few awards floating about, and just as I thought I was going to have to make one up and nominate myself for it– three arrive at once.  Like buses! (London buses, for those of you who live in countries where public transport is a well oiled machine!)  Also, I haven’t won an award since I did a tap dance when I was twelve, so it is all very exciting!

First up: the clever, witty and engaging Clara at nominated me for this award.

The rules are as these:

Now 15 blogs is rather a lot, so I’m going to be as genuine as possible and nominate the blogs that I really do think transmit cultural, ethical, literary and personal values in the form of creative and original writing. I’d be lying if I said I routinely read so many blogs that  that I can name them off the top of my head and therefore I’m sticking to a favourite few.  So, without further ado, I would like to name: Bohemian Nerd

And now for the next one- Ta Dah!!…..


The Liebster award!  Nominated by the very creative and crazily interesting

This award is given in the spirit of making connections and

discovering new blogs.  The rules are thus:

The Rules

1. Display the Liebster award on your blog.

2. Thank and link back to your nominator.

3. Answer the nominator’s 11 questions.

4. Nominate 11 other bloggers with about 200 or fewer followers and link to them.

5. Draft 11 new questions for your nominees.

6. Notify your nominees via their blogs or social media.

Here are the answers to the questions I was asked by artistic and lovely

  1. What’s the story behind your blog’s name? President Obama’s powerful ‘Don’t tell me words don’t matter’ speech. He should get over here and give our tame politicians some lessons in rhetoric.  Or at least, his speech writers should!
  2. If you could have any super power, what would it be? Why? I’d like to control time.  There is never enough of it. Especially the good bits.
  3. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? Do hard maths in my head. Play guitar.  Run super fast. I know I could probably learn all these things, but there is never enough time!!
  4. If you had the power to change the world, what would you change? Why? In the developed world I’d declare a four day week. I’m not sure that would help the developing world, however.
  5. What is your favorite way to unwind? A book. A sunlounger. Sun. A glass of wine. At least one of those and preferably all four together.
  6. What was your favorite childhood book? Malory Towers by Enid Blyton. I won’t defend it; it just was.
  7. If you were going to live on a deserted island, what three things could you not live without? My kindle. Cups of tea. My husband, who makes them. 
  8. Share your favorite quote. ‘Only connect and human love will be seen at its height.’ Forster. Or back to Obama: ‘Don’t tell me words don’t matter.’
  9. Would you rather vacation at the beach or in the mountains? Beach. Beach. Beach.
  10. What advice would you give to your younger self? Depends which younger self. But possibly, man up. (Or woman up.)
  11. If you won 10 million dollars in a context; what’s the first thing you’d do? Fix the damp patch in the bathroom. Go on holiday with my family.  Sorry- was I supposed to give it to charity? I’ll do that when I get back.

And the other questions from JohnLockian at who writes about thoughtful and interesting stuff.  Have a look!

  1. If you could wake up tomorrow in the body of someone else, who would you pick and what would you do? One of my kids. I’d love to experience their day.  I’d say and do the stuff you only know to do with hindsight.
  2. Where were you 3 hours ago? In my car, driving home from work. 
  3. What do you constantly think about, that either makes you sad or something else? The brevity of life.
  4. What is the habit you are proudest of breaking or want to break? Not speaking my mind- or maybe, not knowing it.
  5. Do you have anyone you go to for advice? In real life or online. I don’t think I do.  I have some very old friends, who I would call if I needed some– even if we’d had a two year gap in communication.
  6. Is there anything I should know? No.  I’m really boring.
  7. What is your favorite word? Least favorite? Serendipitous is a goody. I don’t like ugly words like prang. Unless I need them.
  8. Who is your hero? Jack from ‘Lost.’ ‘Jack’ from 24. Jack from the box. I don’t know.
  9. Have you ever been stung by a bee? I trod on one, once.  Or it might have been a wasp.
  10. Are you afraid of heights? A bit. Not mad keen. I have too much of a vivid imagination.
  11. What is the most memorable class you have ever taken? My first Bikram Yoga class.

And the following have been nominated for this award and I’d love you  to answer my questions below. I couldn’t see all the follower numbers, so apologies if this is incorrect:

And your questions . . .

1. Think back through your last full day. What would you have changed and why?

2. Do you regret losing touch with anyone, and why do you think it is too late to rekindle the friendship?

3. What did you say or do that made someone feel good today?

4. Look up nearly 45 degrees.  What do you see?

5. Are you looking forward to tomorrow?  Why/why not?

6. West Wing,  Downton Abbey, The Killing,  Doctor Who, Lost or The Simpsons?

Or none of the above?

7. Brontes, Austen, Wodehouse,  Nesbo or Patterson.

Or none of the above?

8. What was the last rude comment you had to keep in and to whom?

9. How did you sleep last night?

10. What would be your parallel life?


Blogging 101: a new style: fresh, energised rejuvenated.

My blog is called ‘JustWords’ and my tagline is ‘It’s all about the text’ and I’m rubbish at knowing when to stop wittering on —   so it was a fairly easy call. My new, adopted style should be a visual one. As a bonus,it is time-friendly too.

2014-07-13 14.14.18These  photos also address the task to ‘tell us about the last experience you had that left you fresh, energised, rejuvenated.’- although not all of these experiences are recent, just well remembered. Killing two tasks with one blog post. Efficient eh?

For some of these I have to credit my lovely daughter, who is more artistic, stylish and creative than me in every way. And I’m now defeating the object of my own blog post so I’ll shut right up and let the pictures speak for themselves.

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The most judged job in the world.

Every experienced teacher knows it: a mystery email; a whole school gathering; shifty smiles and nervous fidgeting from senior management. Those are the symptoms. There is no cure.


Much as I like to keep a level head about these things and not get over anxious or put on a false show . . . it may be that I go blog-dark for a week while I check my books are properly marked up to scratch with personalised targets for every child, and pupil responses that suggest an ongoing dialogue between pupil and teacher, which is jointly  working towards agreed goals. And stuff. After all, I quite like my job and it would be quite nice to keep it.

And it also makes me think that teaching might just be the most judged job in the world.

The kids judge you, like only kids can do. The rotor blade insistent hum of their parents is always present- sometimes loud and gusty; sometimes a background drone. Your line manager is obliged to judge your performance, as are their managers and the managers above them. The bloke in the pub, who never got taught to spell judges you, and so does the pub quizzer who thinks that being a teacher should mean you know every bit of trivia about everything. The summer results judge you. (You think they are meant to judge the kids?  Oh no!) And then there are the Inspectors. They walk in, you perform for twenty minutes, and then they judge you.

Now I know, I know– all this accountability is a good thing, and no one wants to go back to the 1970s, where you could put  your feet on the desk with a cup of coffee and a fag and have a chat about good karma, call it a lesson and no one would know or care. But it’s wearing on the soul to be always in that constant state of readiness, alert to the fact that for every twenty nine things you are doing really well, it will be the thirtieth thing that decides your professional reputation: the clanger, missed book, mixed up name, missed learner profile, the unguarded comment, the forgotten merit mark, the sole class under-achiever, the absent child who didn’t get given the work, the present child who just didn’t get the work, your own sick child that meant you didn’t get to work. That one thing will be noticed, and judged and  bandied about in the community to form your reputation,  So you maintain consistent vigilance, a constant state of high alert. I’m not really moaning, but it does make you tired.

But it also makes you self-aware, robust, and resilient. No one can take criticism like a teacher can; no one can reflect upon things they could probably do better like a teacher can. Ask any teacher – or any teacher I know- what they could have done better in a lesson, and they will give you a list longer than the arm you are using to write it all down. And that’s for an outstanding lesson. One of my ex-department heads has a story about me that I left an Inspected lesson virtually weeping and mouthing ‘I’m so sorry’ at her, whilst the Inspector approached her from the other direction to tell her that he’d just witnessed ‘the best of inner city teaching.’ I still think it wasn’t a great lesson. I know what a great lesson feels like: it squashes time and you’ve all arrived at a different, more enlightened place by the end of it, even if it wasn’t exactly the place you first intended. If there was an Inspector/observer you will have forgotten they were there, and you are too busy finishing up with extra questions from  students to notice him or her say thank you and slip away.  The observer was irrelevant, really. You don’t need feedback that time.

But all the judgement really helps with being a (sort of/ potential/aspiring) writer.  I never, never take offence at any constructive criticism, and the rejections don’t floor me for more than a moment. You can’t please everyone, all of the time, and you can’t get all of it right all of the time. You can only try, and then try a bit harder.  And it’s OK to be pleased with something that no one else likes. Or reads. (just don’t expect to be paid for it!)

If you have a moment, have a look at the piece I’ve written- about writing and not giving up- for a new, but growing online magazine. It’s about the sheer, bloody-mindedness craziness of wanting to write professionally: the odds defy all logic and only a loon would try.

Blogging 101: Be inspired by the neighbours. How To Be Happy…spreading it around!

I didn’t think too long or too hard. I love reading the bits and pieces at This is not a plug because he has over 2000 followers and needs no help from me. His blog is called ‘Transitions.’

Today’s blog was about happiness:

It’s no airy-fairy claptrap, which is always a relief, but references (copied and pasted!) Csikszentmihalyi and his theory of flow, and the importance of being in a state of ‘vital engagement.’ Csikszentmihalyi mostly refers to work and I won’t paraphrase Steve Rose’s argument (because you can just have a look for yourself) but it made me think a lot about the people I know who seem genuinely happy. They always have a ‘thing.’ It’s usually their work, but often it is an absorbing hobby or passion. And their rewards are not material– or if they are, then that is not actually what makes them happy.(although maybe it helps!)

This all prompted me to think about the things I do that I think give me a sense of ‘vital engagement’ and ‘flow.’ They are:

  • That kind of writing that feels like I am bashing out a rousing musical composition instead of letters on a screen. Either you know what I mean or you don’t.
  • The book for my bedtime reading that I put down and then realise I have to be up for work in an hour and a half.
  • The run where I forget I am running. I’m in some weird headspace instead.
  • The yoga class where I forget to think.
  • The lesson I teach where the bell goes after what I thought were the first ten minutes. And the kids aren’t even bothering to pack up because they thought the same thing.

That’s a lot of ‘flow.’ I am just flowing all over. I am one lucky gal!

Another post references a book called ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ by Marina Keegan and explores the function of groups that offer us connectedness. Suddenly feeling disconnected underpins the depression experienced by:

  • veterans
  • parents experiencing ’empty nest syndrome
  • graduates who lose that ‘all in it together’ feeling when they leave college.

These groups are very disparate- and yet they are more similar than you might think. All these people knew what their role was, knew they were depended on and knew that others shared their experiences. And now they don’t. It’s the kind of belonging we also get from a religious community, or an interest group- or even an online forum.

I could probably do better here: I have fabulous departmental colleagues, and a wonderful family– but I got too busy for my lovely book club, and I’m too quick to decide I can’t make the class drinks, and too hesitant to throw myself into some new project or initiative if I think I’ll be over-committed. I’ll never be the first to suggest a night out, or whatever but I’ll often be the first to say I can’t make it because…well, there is always a because. I put myself on the margin and tell myself I’m happy there. An observer. A Nick Carroway. Can you really be happy like that? (Sorry about the Gatsby reference; just taught it today. End of chapter six- amazing!)

Lastly, I want to mention my lovely friend who writes a new blog As a fifty-year-old-in-waiting, I’m following her avidly. In her last blog she quotes someone else: (see how I’m spreading the joy around?) saying: “Your beliefs do not define who you are – your actions do.” Yes, I know several really cool women in their late forties and fifties and they do stuff. They throw themselves into their jobs and make them what they want them to be; they run marathons all over the world; they have a passion for theatre; they sleep outside and campaign for homeless people.They don’t seem to spend too much time mourning lost prettyness or smoothing their skin.  They’ve got other stuff going. They are invested. Whatever they do, they participate fully. .

…which leads me all the way back to It is the things we participate in and do that give us our sense of identity and belonging– and therefore our happiness.

So, to summarise– like a good teacher should (we call it a plenary these days) the JustWords guide to happiness is:

  • Have a thing
  • Get a group. You don’t even have to like them. In fact, I think it works better if you’re just kind of thrown together, like at work, or church or a military squad. Or a book club. The weirder and more eclectic the mix the better.
  • Do stuff instead of buy stuff. Cool boots don’t make you happy, but walking in them might.

Blogging 101, New Assignment: A Post to My Dream Reader. A very silly post.

Blogging 101— New Assignment: A Post To My Dream Reader. I had some fun with this one…!

Dear Managing Director of a Global, financially solvent and well established publishing house,

Thank you for reading my humble blog. I’m so pleased that you like it and thrilled that you love my writing. I’d be delighted, of course, to send you the first chapter and synopsis of the novel mentioned in my blog. Don’t worry; it is true that I am very busy but it is absolutely no trouble at all.

I look forward to hearing from you soon,

Yours faithfully,

Lorna Syred.

Dear Managing Director of a Global, financially solvent and well established publishing house,

Thank you so much for your incredibly quick overnight response: I’m so pleased that you enjoyed that first chapter, and that you now can’t wait to read more. And yes, I agree that there is an opening in the market for science-fiction for intelligent young women and I’m delighted to help you try and plug that gap. Please find enclosed the next few chapters, which are in a revised and readable state, and, in the meantime, I shall continue to work on the rest.

Yours sincerely,

Lorna Syred.

Dear Managing Director of a Global, financially solvent and well established publishing house,

I’m glad you enjoyed your reading last night; I was impressed to find your email early this morning! Yes, it is true that I have a hectic job and a family to look after so the ten figure advance will definitely ease the pressure of having to juggle so many different activities. I was quite overwhelmed by your comments about it being ‘Britain’s answer to ‘The Hunger Games’.’ I will certainly contact one of the agents you suggest so that they can help me broker a multi- media deal: not something I think I can do on my own!

Kind regards,

Lorna Syred.

Yes, you are right- it was intended a part of a trilogy, so the three book deal would make perfect sense.

Dear Fred,

Thanks so much for negotiating that Sabbatical with my boss: don’t want to completely relinquish my job security until I know that the second novel does as well as the first! I’ve told Amanda that Ansel Elgort will be fine to play Jak as long as he can sort his English accent out. Btw– I understand that JK receives a substantially larger royalty payment than I do. Could we sort this out, please?

Thanks for your help, as always,


Hey Fred,

Yes– the premiere was a blast, wasn’t it! Ansel is hilarious in person! Agreed– it’s great to be able to provide Emma with a more mature role, after all those Harry Potters! It was such fun to be an extra on set– and my kids enjoyed it too! Hope you enjoyed the champagne; it was just a small reward for all your hard work. I’m delighted that I’ve contributed to the success of your company, and no- there is no truth in the rumour that I’ve decided to self-publish in order to keep a higher proportion of the profit!

See you soon- back to work on the next project. Thanks again, for that advance,


Well, maybe, you know, if I close my eyes and wish really hard….

Blogging 101: Why Am I here? And who am I?

Why Am I Here?
Original reason:Pure Panic!

As part of a resolution (NOT a New Year one! It was a random November one.) to develop my writing, I submitted to an online magazine, who liked what I wrote and asked for links to my ‘social media platforms’. Panicky panic. I was too embarrassed to tell them I had none (except a personal FB page) so I stayed up very late one night and created a manky looking blog and a Twitter Account. At that point it sunk in that every writer in the world has a media platform- from tin potters like me to the writing Royalty like JK. What an idiot for not thinking about that!

Reason now: Well, it’s just fun, isn’t it?

I’m having the best fun blogging! I found out that I know one or two bloggers in person and its been nice to connect with one or two more across the world. And for now it’s less about finding an audience than making those connections and finding a new interest in my life. One day though, I hope to merge business and pleasure and do a bit of a blog flog- but it’ll be a long time coming . . I’m only about a third of the way through a sketchy first draft of what might turn out to be something that deserves to be read.

And who am I? My name is Lorna and I’m a pretty ordinary 45 year old with a lovely family and a job I enjoy most of the time. Sometimes life is too fast paced and hectic though, and I like to daydream about getting up at 9 instead of 6, pottering around in scruffy clothes and mulling over the next installment of my terribly successful novel trilogy. And it’s my day off today (I work four days) and so that’s almost what I’m doing… except for the ‘terribly successful novel trilogy’ part. On my day off, I wish I could do this all the time; on a good day teaching, I wonder if I would give up the day job, even if I could. It’s a pretty good position to be in, I suppose!

See you for the next assignment!