The End of One Chapter leads on to a New One

I know things are hugely different this year, but the sentiment remains.
💙💙💙💙💙💙💙

Although it is many moons ago, Mammy remembers getting her Leaving Cert Results.

Mammy was certain that the contents of the little brown envelope were going to change her life. Had Mammy’s life REALLY depended on the contents of that little brown envelope, quite frankly, I’d be living an utterly dreadful, mediocre and half-arsed attempt at one. 😂

Because the results printed on my little scrap of yellow paper were quite awful, if I’m very honest.

The only mark I remember (or tell anyone about!) was my A1 in Honours English. Go figure.

As for the rest of them? I’d say the examiners only passed me so that they wouldn’t have to read my verbal diahorrea again the following year. 😂I’m not exaggerating either.

But the other grades didn’t matter. The A in English was all that mattered to me, both then AND today. Yes, I got into college, but not until I had spent a week back in the brown uniform 😣😣 convincing myself that I needed to repeat the Leaving Cert.

It wasn’t until the second round offers and a trip to meet (attack😛) the Dean of the English Department in Coleraine, that I finally got my place on the degree course. (I might have only been 17, but I was a stroppy one!😂)

English was all I loved. It was all that I wanted to study and, as the little brown envelope told me, it was apparently all that I was good at… All that I was good at THEN.

At 17.

As it turns out, I’m good at a whole load of things.

The Big LC recognised my ability to understand Shakespeare and write stories off the top of my head, but it didn’t (and couldn’t) know how strong I was at things like organisation, being a friend, laughing or leading.

So I was crap at French. Biology for me ended after the section on photosynthesis. But although my maths grade was dismal, I challenge you to find ANYONE who can work out a % as quickly as me when I see the word “SALE”. 😂😂

So there.

Now, over 20 years on, I’m an English teacher. I’m a writer and I’m a businesswoman. I’m a whole lot of things that that little piece of paper could NEVER have predicted me to be.

Our young people are incredible. And no class before has ever been tested like our class of 2020.

These young adults are like no others before them. They have had a LOT going on…

They have given their ALL for 2 years, and didn’t get to sit the papers. This will never be understood fully by the rest of us.

Some of them are dealing with trying to live up to expectations that might be unrealistic.

They were playing the match of their lives, and the goalposts not only changed…they disappeared.

Today is the biggest day in many of their lives to date.

Despite what it is inflated to be, it is NOT the most important piece of paper in the world.

Yes, the letters and numbers inside it will have an immediate effect.

Yes, some doors will open and yes, some doors will close, but what is written on the page does not define them.

NO assessment can fully know our children. It can’t measure the whole person.

It doesn’t see their kindness.
It can’t recognise their wit or humour.
It doesn’t measure their ability to change things.
It can’t recognise their skills as motivators, or thinkers, or makers, or doers.
It does not define them, nor should it.

And it certainly can’t understand or fully reflect the strength, resilience and bravery required to face final year in a global pandemic.

Be proud, because regardless of what is on that page, your children have come through the most trying end to school life imaginable…and we must remind them that they CAN do whatever they want.

Because WE know what they can be.

There are ALWAYS options and sometimes, the path that they are so determined to be the ONLY one for them right now, was never the right one for them…it usually takes a few years for them to realise that however.

But they will. 💕

So in the meantime, tell them how brilliant they are. And leave them under NO illusion that no matter what words and letters are on that piece of paper, that you are and will always be proud of them and that you will help them to get to where they want to go, may it be straight through the college door or in a longer, roundabout way.

But all roads lead ahead. And this long chapter is finally over. It’s time for the next one.

Today, I send love to all of the young people (especially my own Babbies😘😘) and to all you exam parents who await the results today.

And remember, those numbers do NOT hold the key to their future. They hold that key already.

It’s right inside them.

And no piece of paper or words on a screen can change that.

M XXX

Mammy Vs Múinteoir…Back to School.

Maria the Mammy…

Nope. 

Not a hope. 

Not sending them ANYWHERE NEAR schools. 

Need to keep them safe.

Can’t control things when they’re away from me.

Fuck the government and their ineptitude.

I don’t want them to be away from me.

I don’t want them to be frightened or worried or scared by anything.

I don’t want to think about how they can’t hug their friends or play with other kids who aren’t in their pod or whatever.

I don’t want them to go on a bus, mixing with kids from 6 different schools.

I don’t want to have to send them to Afterschool

I’ve had 6 months of keeping them close and knowing they’re safe.

BUT… 

They miss school 

They need school

They miss their friends

They need more social interaction

They need more than Myself and their Daddy

They need normality. 

They need education…because Homeschooling DID NOT happen here. (Kind of difficult when both of us were working full time from home.)

They need other adult voices.

They need routine.

They’re in a wonderful school and have wonderful teachers who I know will do everything to keep them safe and secure.

Maria the Múinteoir…

I don’t want to put myself or anyone of my colleagues or students in harm’s way.

What if I get it?

What if I’m an Asymptomatic carrier?

What if one of my kids gets sick and it’s my fault?

What is it going to be like going into work?

Am I going to be able to do my job properly?

Am I going to be able to make the kids feel safe and secure?

How can I support the students who need support?

How can I teach in my usual groupwork and collaborative style when they have to be socially distanced and I can’t sit beside them?

What about my students with extra needs?

How can I not meet more than 5 friends for dinner, but I can stand in a room with up to 30 young adults for up to 80 minutes?

How is under Jesus is this going to work?

BUT

I can’t wait to get back to work.

I miss my colleagues.

I miss my babies.

I miss teaching.

I need routine.

I need adult conversation.

I need some sort of normality.

My students need school.

I know it’ll be OK

I trust my management to keep us safe.

I will absolutely do MY best to keep my students feeling safe.

Teachers are a resilient bunch. 

We’ll do our best.

And it WILL all be OK.  

We are not in control and we can only deal with things as they come. 

Our front line workers back in March had to navigate their way through terrifying times with little or no guidelines, and they got it done.

They did such an incredible job in the “unprecedented” waters they had to wade into, and they adapted as they went.  They are heroes and while we as teachers are nervous and worried, and our fears should not be dismissed, we too will navigate and learn as we go. 

So many of us are experiencing all sorts of emotions this week, especially those of us who are parents also.  We are genuinely torn.

I need the Mammies and Daddies who are feeling the exact same way as I am as a Mammy, to trust me in the same way that I have to put MY trust in my daughters’ teachers. 

I need the parents who are sending their kids into me, to trust that I will do my absolute best to make sure that their children are able to learn in the new environment, and that they feel safe and secure in my presence. 

I need the parents to understand that I understand THEIR worries, because I too am a Mammy who is nervous (terrified) about releasing my little girls into the big scary world right now too.

I ask the parents of my school babbies to remember that none of us have worked in the current environment before, and that all of the newness in schools is new to us too. 

We are frightened.  We are worried.  We are anxious.  And our fears are real.  

But we are determined and we are professional and we are fully qualified to educate.  And as teachers, we care about your kids. 

The emotional chaos of the sudden closure of schools in March was huge… but that’s a whole other article. 

So while Maria the Mammy might fall apart in the utility room a few times this week at the thought of MY precious babies leaving me every day to go to a whole new world, Maria the teacher will pull myself together, take a deep breath, hang up my tracksuit and go back through the doors of my much missed school, to teach and to support your precious babies. 

And it will all be absolutely grand. 

‘Hack’ to School… (Yes. I punned.)

Back to School Hacks

Now that we finally know that our little darlings will be going back to school, we can start to think about getting ready.

Maybe you are already organised. Maybe you have been putting it off. Maybe you spread it out over a few months.
Maybe, like me, you refuse to acknowledge it until the very last minute and every year, berate yourself on August 29th as you trawl through the leftovers on the shelves.

Let’s be honest, whichever you are, we all get there and they all get back to school fully clothed and stocked up. Eventually.

But for many this year, there was a genuine concern that it was too early to start getting ready for fear that they would be off longer, was real.
Thankfully, we have had it confirmed by the powers that be, that yes indeed, our precious schools will reopen next month.

And I don’t know about you, but my two daughters are DELIGHTED.

As am I.

So here are some tips for getting organised (if you aren’t already!)
1. Make a list – What do you already have? What do you need to get? Do you REALLY need it all?
Try on uniforms and check what you need to replace. Is there really anything wrong with the trousers from last year? Will the jumper last another few months? School clothes are now available all year round. They don’t magically disappear from the shelves in October.
Check what you have already – Go through what is in the house – At a guess, there are 7 of those lunch box bags in my kitchen if I looked. So again, they’re going to be reused. Do invest in sturdy lunchboxes however. I love the boxes with compartments for the food. Again, check what you already have. The good ones last for years.. There is no Sanctimammy at the school gate checking that every item your child has is new.

2. Accept help if you’re lucky enough to be offered it.
Lists also help you know what to ask for if a family member asks what they can buy little Archibald or Susanella for going back to school. PE tee-shirts? Socks? Colours? Hat? If/When Aunty Jacinta asks, don’t be afraid to say what you need. Otherwise you’ll end up with 4 lunchbags or pencil cases.

3. Stock-Box If you do end up with loads of extra stationery sets or twistables, it’s a good thing. Children LOSE EVERYTHING! That lovely full pencil case won’t be full by midterm. I have a “stockbox” with all the extra sharpeners and rulers and crayons that they get and as the school year goes on, trust me, it’s a life saver. And only put what they need into the pencil case in September. Add to it then as they need.

4. New school bag? Considering that our kids were only in school until March, you might find that the school bag is still in good nick. Again, if it’s not done, why buy a new one. My eldest’s bag is as good as new from last year. (A few new Harry Potter badges on it and woohoo!) She’ll get a few more months out of it. There really is nothing wrong with the bag she has. And if and when it IS done, then I’ll get her a new one. Again, schoolbags are in shops all year round.

5. Leave shoes til last – If your kids are anything like mine, they like to jump two shoe sizes in the space of a week. Shoes will be measured and bought the week before school opens.

6. Labels – This is something I do buy happily. The sticky labels are brilliant. There are LOADS of different companies and they go on everything and STAY on everything. And as they get older, you have to label fewer things, so you’ll find that you won’t need to buy them every year. In Junior infants, label everything. I stopped short of putting one on her forehead. You can now get the labels that have little symbols for allergies or medical conditions on them too.

7. Jumpers/crests – If your kids go to a school with a crested uniform, remember that you can buy a jumper anywhere and have the label embroidered. My girls prefer lighter jumpers than the ones available, so I buy them and get the crest put on. It’s half the price and they’re perfect.
For many, the idea of not buying everything new is weird. As with everything, it’s YOUR call.

If you couldn’t imagine sending them back with the same schoolbag or lunchbag or whatever, that’s your call. But it’s not always a possibility for everyone.

For me, I don’t see the harm in teaching them that they get new when it’s needed. I’ve had the same “schoolbag” for almost 20 years.(OK it’s sentimental at this point, but still. It’s still doing the job!) And while of course it’s lovely to get new things, who says that everything has to be new in September each year?

Back to school costs a fortune. But it can cost less if we remove ourselves from the notion that they need new everything.

We all love a good hack! Especially when it helps save a few pennies.
If you have any tips to add, please share in the comments.
Mammy

The Road NEVER BEFORE Taken…

Every year, I teach Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’, whether it’s on the course or not.

I love it. And I love passing his wisdom on to my students. Sometimes, the hardest decision is the best one to make. The obvious, “easier” route may be more appealing; safer even, and yet those who took the road less travelled, will always in hindsight, confirm that it was the right road to take.

I love to use it as an encouragement to my students that they shouldn’t always follow the crowd, that they don’t HAVE to take the road that they feel has been laid out or paved for them. That when it comes to it, they must follow their gut and trust their instincts, and that no matter which road they choose, it will carry them onwards, to somewhere.

And yet this year, for the class of 2020, I cannot use this as I always do. Because this particular class group are not in control of their choices as they should have been. They have all been directed towards a new road; a road NEVER taken by any of us before them.

“knowing how way leads on to way…”

And unfortunately, the lay of the land means that there is no safe or usual road for them to pass through the end of school and on to the next stage of their journey.

It’s new and unchartered territory for them, for their parents and for all staff in the schools they attended.

And yet… this time next year, they WILL have travelled this new road. It will have brought them to their next destination.

A year from now, they will have moved through the current chaos and will be looking back on this time, glad that it has passed and no longer stressed by the situation.

Some of them will be working, or in college, or at university; physically or virtually…who knows? They might still be at home, having taken a year out, waiting for the course they plan to do to start, excited and ready to begin the next stage of their lives.

And while there is still uncertainty for our Leaving Cert students, and none of us can know where their roads will take them, this is not new. This uncertainty is the one thing that they ARE getting to experience like every other LC group before them.

And yet, for all of them, in a few months time, that uncertainty will have passed and they will be travelling on the next road of their journey. They will not still be standing at the crossroads wondering which road to take.

The road onto which our young adults are stepping, is new. None of us have been through it. So really, none of us are in a position to tell them how they should feel or how it will go.

I used to always tell mine “You’ll be fine, just like everyone who has done it before you.” I can’t say that this year. (Firstly, because they are not in front of me, and secondly, because they are trailblazing a new road.)

We old fogies have not been through this before them. We can not fully understand. We shouldn’t pretend to.

This group have lost much. They’ve lost their right of passage through the final weeks of school. They’ve missed their last classes with favourite teachers (and the joy of a final class with not so favourite!).

They’ve missed prizegivings. They’ve missed graduations. They’re missing their end of year celebrations; parties, masses, whatever events and celebrations that are traditional to their individual schools that they have expected and looked forward to for the past six years. For many, they’re missing the ending of 14 years together, through national school to now.

And as adults, we shouldn’t dismiss their sadness at missing these things. These losses are as important to them as our problems are to us right now.

But onwards they WILL go. And while they are indeed on a road never before taken, they will travel onwards.

To our school leavers, (especially to my own brilliant and inspirational young people) I want to wish you well. You are bright and talented and the world is yours for the taking. Trust and stay positive.

A year from now, you will look back. You will have moved on. You will be on the next stage of your journey, and while you will have travelled there on a new road, an uncertain road and a perhaps frightening road, there was a road. And you took it and it is taking you forwards.

And I truly hope that you know that wherever it has taken you, it is the road you were meant to be on.

As Frost said, “I-I took the road less travelled, And that has made all the difference.”

Schools…We’ll Sing Again

I went in to work in my classroom today.

The air was quiet…too quiet. One might say it was “dead”.

A building which usually fizzles with energy, when empty, lies in eerily quiet nothingness.

The decorations for the St Patrick’s Day that never was, and the notes on my whiteboard, are colourfully tragic reminders of how this virus lifted us out of our schools, giving no heed to sentiment or custom.

There is a calmness that made me shiver… all energy is stilled.

It’s as if the building is holding its breath…waiting.

And then, I heard a voice outside.
A familiar voice of a staff member downstairs. He didn’t know I was there. But I heard him.

And so I let go MY held breath, switched on my computer and logged in to my other world.

Then, I swung open the windows, played Musical soundtracks at full volume, and sang along as I worked.

I’m sure he heard me.

And in creating small noises, I reminded myself, and him I hope, that all it will take to reignite the energy in our beautiful cold building, is individual noises.

And individual noises, EVEN when complying with social distancing, will still build and grow into big noises; collective noises, noises which create energy.

While my first reaction was sadness at the “empty chairs at empty tables”, I think about the noises; the voices of the students who will eventually sit back on these seats, at these tables; each one a vital note in the song that is our school.

Our school is more than a building.

It’s an energy, created by the voices that combine to makes its noise; to sing its song.

And although we might be quiet right now, there is still a murmer…

A murmer that begins as soft, quiet, individual, but that will soon be together, performing once again, in harmony and syncopated rythyms.

We will sing again and these tables are only empty momentarily.

And the building will once again breathe and our air will be noisy and “awake” again.

“Awake”, not “alive”… it never died.
M x