Nervous Kids or Nervous Parents
I’ve seen lots of photos on Facebook this week of exceptionally smart and smiley kids, decked out in new uniforms and shiny shoes. It’s been, of course, their first day back at school and it’s unlikely they will be this smart again for another year. These ‘first day back at school’ pictures range from cute nursery snaps to collages of kids sporting gappy toothless smiles, replaced by braces, replaced by ‘to die for’ pearls. Mums’ and dads’ (mainly mums’) pride, but also nervousness, is apparent in the posts as successful first days of term are celebrated. Supportive comments such as ‘how grown up’, ‘what a lovely smile’, and ‘she’s looking so smart’ are genuinely heart warming and, to me, show social media being used positively. A mums’ (and teachers’) tribe at its best.
I remember myself just how stressful these rites of passage moments can be. Year 2 to Year 3 is a big jump and discussed infinitum. How will the children get to the bus independently without a bus monitor? The transition into Secondary is also a big deal and merits plenty of butterflies in the tummy for the whole family. This is despite excellent transition programmes,brilliant induction programmes and several coffee mornings for anxious parents. For parents the thought of their eleven year olds having to navigate the large campus, remember to put their bags in the lockers and avoid the wrath of any teacher, who think children who are late to class should be turned to mincemeat, is enough to turn the calmest of mums into ferocious lions defending their cubs! This is especially the case when transitioning to a new school, new country and making new friends.
Libraries as a Safe Haven
When I was in the libraries I was always on the look out for students who might be feeling a bit lonesome, had lost their ‘helping hand’ or ‘buddy’ or were not having the best of times. Having found those kids I’d have a bit of a chat, but keep things low key. The library can be a real safe haven for students who are struggling and the last thing I wanted to do was to take that ‘safe place’ away from them. I would though pass on any concerns to tutors and pastoral heads who could then go on to support as appropriate. Whilst encouraging reading and sharing book suggestions was ‘my thing’, my primary aim was making sure the kids were settled and integrated with friends and their being in the library every break and lunch was often an indication of a concern.
The Friendship Minefield
The whole issue of friendship concerns can be a minefield that even the best of teachers and parents can’t always help with. As much as we want to ‘fix thing’s it isn’t always that easy. (We wrote about it in our IB Survival Guide and included strategies for handling friendship concerns for older kids.) With the younger ones some seemingly ‘lost’ kids just need time to find their feet but others need a little more intervention. Lunch times can be endless when eating alone, or wandering from place to place in the search of a friendly face; for some kids a teacher’s sympathetic look can be almost unbearable. I don’t know if it is because I’ve read so many ‘teen books’ (it came with the job) but my level of empathy about this has always been in overdrive. I find it heartbreaking to watch kids lonesome and struggling kids try to fit in. (Quiet note to self – stop being so melodramatic Sally!) Perhaps because of this,, or because I can’t seem to quite let teaching go (just yet), I’ve been trying to think of a few strategies for helping kids find their niche during their school leisure time.
School Strategies to Help Kids Find their Place
Whilst these ideas might help students that just need a bit of settling and enable them to meet other like-minded kids, I’m not for a second suggesting that they are a quick fix to solving more serious friendship issues. Lunch time activities, of course, need staffing and teachers are busy at lunch already helping with extended essays, choir rehearsals, drama meetings, swim meets and so on. Staffing is always going to be a challenge though perhaps teachers who run lunchtime activities could have their after school commitments reduced. It’s just a thought. Even better, why not get the senior students run lunch time activities for younger kids. I know Betsy used to love going to Year 2 to read with the little ones. It doesn’t have to be reading though and activities could be as varied as yoga, radio club or even line-dancing.(I’ve no idea why that came to mind!) Draw on the kids’ own passions.
A Cautionary Note
I know my old school had tons of opportunities for the students and one of the problems was that it was quite often the same kids who seemed to join everything. This meant that perhaps sometimes less confident youngsters hung back. With this in mind it is perhaps not too good an idea to overly advertise and promote some new activities. Instead directly invite the kids who you think need support. Be careful about asking a crowd of settled kids to look after someone who is perceived as ‘uncool’. The intention is good, but not all kids are as mature as they seem and it can make the lonesome child feel worse than they already did.
When my kids were at school I used to worry about this type of thing all the time. If they seemed down I immediately wanted to fix things and intervene and I know for sure (as the girls have told me) that my anxiety rubbed off on them! Ho hum! C- on the parenting scale! There often, though I can't pretend always, is less to worry about than you think and in my experience kids will find a teacher (or several) who they can make a connection with. It is often kids who don’t always seem to fit in, who teachers get on well with. For example, just before the end of term a lovely young lad, who was often in the library, bumped into me at a school concert and before he knew what he’d done he rushed up and gave me a hug and told me he’d missed me! I had no idea at the time I was working in school that our ‘little chats’ were having any kind of positive impact on his school day. Knowing that they were meant the world to me and put a smile on my face worthy of a facebook ‘first day of school photo’ post.
Good luck with the new term everyone.
Here in England I think that there must be still quite a while until the kids go back to school. (It’s weird though as just being in and around the village you wouldn’t even know it is the school holidays. Where have the days gone where everyone congregated at the ‘Rec’ on their bikes?) Back in Bangkok things are in full swing for the new term. Expat teachers are in their classrooms getting their displays and schemes of learning ready, parents may be breathing a sigh of relief, (taking a whole family back home or on exciting adventures is expensive) and the kids will be buying out B2S, (other stationery suppliers are available) and admiring their new shoes and uniforms ready for the big day.
Although I quit work suddenly and unexpectedly last September this is the first official start to the new academic year that I haven’t been part of. As the clock ticked round to 8.00 am this morning and I was still lying in bed, (wishing Saint Mick was there to bring me my cup of tea, but not being sorry to not be up at 5.30 a.m.) I was anticipating all that would be occurring across the waves. I wonder how accurate I was:
The Whole School Meeting
I’m guessing that the rebels will be congregated on the back row, the Leadership Team will be at the front (and even if they are very well liked, looking like they have contagious diseases as no one else will go within a ten metre radius of them); the loud teacher (possibly from P.E) will shout out some semi-witty/facetious/jolly remark to get a laugh; the new teachers will be cringing as they are forced to stand up and wave; approximately forty percent of the staff body will sneak surreptitious glances at their phones or watches as the meeting inevitably runs over just a little bit; two teachers will be asleep, at least ten teachers will have throbbing headaches from welcoming the term in the night before a little too enthusiastically, and the Head will in turn be earnest, hilarious, passionate, engaged and frighten all, but the very established, with his excessive energy levels and enthusiasm. New Learning Support staff may be doing a quick evaluation of whether this is sustainable long term. (It is!)
New Teacher Types
The new teachers, affectionately known as ‘newbies’, or ‘newies’ will be looking a little worried, bewildered and overwhelmed. They will probably have a smile pinned to their face, but look in their eyes to see the fear! This is the first time they will have seen the aforementioned Head’s ferocious passion and they will be unsure they can match up. Having already been in school for a week or more for their induction, they will have their list of pros and cons regarding working in their new school and living in their new country. Their kids, accommodation and lack of surety about where to shop and pay the bills will be taking its toll and a few may be missing their portacabin classroom and single school caretaker to chat to. Some will be loving it but most, at this point, will be relieved to just get started! Amongst them will be the following types:
The Enthusiast: they love the facilities (and why wouldn’t they) and say so loudly and frequently; they love the kindness of the Thai team) and they tell anyone and everyone several times a day. They love the food, the climate, their classroom, the parks, the temples. They even love the traffic. They can make some ‘returners’ feel just a little tired, jaded but for others they are a breath of fresh air serving as a reminder of how amazing expat life can be.
The Complainer. There will probably be only one or two but they will be heard and moan about everything. The beds aren’t comfy in the school housing, the sun rises too late, the sun goes down too early, the 5 star breakfasts that are provided in the canteen should be 6 star; the school is too big, the Sports Hall is too much like an Olympic one; the classrooms are too perfect.; the new laptop too shiny. The irony is that this complainer will bore their family ad infinitum going on about the perfection of their new school and daily life. A particular type of Complainer is known as the Exploder. They often lose their cool and will isolate and alienate the Thai Business staff, completely lose face and respect and probably not stay long.
The Homesick Sad Eyes. They will admire the marvellous school facilities, but feel a little lost. They will be the ones to give established but nervous presenters an encouraging smile as they are likely to be lovely people. They will ‘line’ or ‘whatsapp’ their friends and parents every night and miss going on a regular friends’ night out. When they were in uni, it probably took them a term or more to settle in but no need to worry, with the support they will get from their team in their new year group or faculty, they will be fine. They will probably make lasting friendships.
The Party Goer. They will either be under thirty or born-again single oldie and spend several weeks in the delusional belief that Bangkok, city of sin, means that the candle can be burned at both ends. Although they knew at the rigorous interview that working in a top international school was not a return to Khao-San Road back-packing fun, they won’t completely get this either until they are called in for a gentle chat with a ‘boss’ figure person. In recent years these are fewer in number and get weeded out as too high risk!
The Prover. They will throw themselves into being brilliant. Their displays will be fabulous; their reading corner to die for, and their class blog so good that the rest of the team may seethe with resentment that they have to match up. They will be exhausted by half term and after that most will turn into all round superstar colleagues. A few of the provers will never come to terms that their unique status of ‘Excellent’ teacher is a fairly common phenomenon in their new school. They will probably become fluent in Thai in six months or less to maintain their ‘genius’ level status.
The Excellent. This will, of course, be the vast majority of the newbies. They will be quite quiet, biding their time before making suggestions for change, non-point scoring or sucking up, but respectful, appreciative of their environment and care afforded to them. In fact they are all round good eggs who will embrace their school, culture and new life. I happen to know they will also be the first to make book suggestions for the library and use its fabulous facilities. You might see them with the bit between their teeth as they will just want to get started and meet the kids. It’s why they are there after all.
And so on .. that’s the new teachers pigeon-holed. I think I maybe need to return to school to get a lesson on being a little more open-minded! I can think of a few returning teachers who will be appalled at me right now and wouldn’t be afraid to say so. A final thing about the new teachers though is that they will actually look similar to some who have left and within the first week several of them will have been called by an ex-teacher’s name. I bet right now there is someone in the staffroom saying something like “Don’t you think that ‘x’ is the double of ‘y’, they even sound like them.” Or something like that!
I’m guessing that the returning teachers will be feeling nervous and excited and not have a good night’s sleep the day before the kids get back. They will be wondering why this is still the case after several years teaching, but it just shows how much they care about what they do. They will be having a little chunter about the dust in their classrooms, but be in awe of the housekeeping staff’s ability to turn things around in hours so that everything is spic and span for the kids coming in. They will have had exciting adventurous holidays and genuinely be interested in each others’ trips. However, after asking a colleague about their holidays, before the have returned to their classroom, they will have already forgotten what they said as their minds will be on making sure things are in place for the new kids in the class to be settled and happy.
The returning teacher will probably be skimming through last year’s planner (which is dog eared and stopped being tidy and colour coded after the first week) and find at least one large task they said they’d do in the holidays but haven’t. They will put it on a list and ignore it for a week or two longer. The returner will have a lot of lists, they will also have a pile of professional reading, of which they’ll read one or two, and they might have a weakness for pinterest teacher ideas. The returners are happy, refreshed and keen to get on. Although they will have butterflies in their tummy they will take this week in their stride, enjoy the warmth and humour enervating in their teams and already be wondering if they might, at half term copy one of the adventures their colleague has had this summer.
Anyway, I am neither a newbie or a returner so as I say all I can do is speculate on what is happening. I could check up with Mick, but most of his words will be used up for one day, so instead I think I’ll put the kettle on and have a read of my book. It’s a good one David Mitchell’s Sweet Sorrow – a great title, perhaps fitting for my nostalgic state of mind!
This week I’ve been blogging a bit about working in the same school as my husband and kids. My dad has also just spent a week in respite care, so I think, with one thing and another, I’ve had institutions on my mind. This has got me thinking about the similarities between care homes and schools!
Similarities between care homes and school!
For us the idea of dad spending a week in respite care was in part to give mum a break from caring for my dad 24/7, (she wasn't at all keen.) We thought it might facilitate her getting some quality sleep; In addition we wanted to provide the opportunity for dad to build up his leg strength and improve his mobility. My mum and dad both saw the logic of the plan but were not completely confident it was a good one. As always my folks were probably right – the respite week wasn’t completely successful! My mum and dad both missed and worried about each other (despite mum visiting every day) so couldn't rest ther minds. To make matters worse dad has come home a bit below par having caught some kind of flu bug! That brings me to my final similarity between care homes and schools.
It’s good to have you home dad.
Is Making Friends with Colleagues a Recipe for Disaster
Living overseas and being thousands of miles from family and friends back at home, I have found that the expat friends I have made are extremely important to me. Friends made whilst living living abroad know first hand what it is like to be away from home living in an alien environment with a foreign language to navigate (or not). They understand the issues surrounding your children being third culture kids; they empathise with your homesickness, not just for family but for seasons, and sports fixtures; supermarkets and being called ‘love’ in the high street shops. The friends you make share worry and concern about family back home and laugh with you at the frustrations that come with living in particular cities (why can’t Thai people do roundabouts?). They share your lust for adventure and new experiences. Expat friends are transient not stationary. They come and go and understand the stresses of relocating somewhere new; the reliance on social media to keep in touch is a given.
Expat friendships are a big deal. Trust is essential as communities are tight knit and gossip can be rife. I think that I’d go as far as to say that these special friendships can almost take on the status of being equivalent to a ‘second’ family. This isn't necessarily positive - haha - friends really do get to know each other inside out – ‘warts ‘n’ all’!
So that’s all well and good, but what is problematic is that these deep and meaningful all giving and consuming expat friendships, are probably made at work, in my case, at school and this definitely has cons as well as pros.
Cons of being Friends with a Colleague
That is a long list of negatives which seems ironic when all my close expat friends did actually start out as colleagues. (It was a treat for me when I became a cross-campus member of staff as I then went on to make some lovely new Primary teacher friends too.) I do know some teachers who avoid making friendships with colleagues from school because of the potential problems as listed above. Not so me! I think with a bit of humour and the occasional eating of humble pie, colleagues can become the best friends you are likely to find. Lets face it a friend who is a colleague, especially one who is a teacher, is someone with whom you are likely to share a lot in common. If you are passionate about teaching and learning then there is always something to talk about. If a friend is a real friend they will even be forgiving if occasionally you act like a petulant teenager and fail to maintain an absolute professional decorum at work (At least I hope that’s the case!) Sorry Jackie!
I feel certain that the friends I’ve made at Patana (some of whom, like me, have now left school) will be friends for life! They know too much about me to not be! (That was a joke – kind of!) My own kids often refer to the Houghton gang ‘Billy, Rosie, Jamie; and later Sophie and Tom with whom they’ve grown up in Bangkok as like having extra cousins. Over the years they’ve not only met grannies, grandpas, uncles and aunties but have been on holidays with them and spent key celebrations together. Friendship really has merged into family time. During the years we’ve not been with our own folks, friends have been happy to lend their family out and Christmas days have been spent with a variety of grandparents, aunts and uncles all mucking in and enjoying time together. I think this is a pretty special status to reach, so despite the potential cons I declare that good expat friends are about the best friends a person can have..
I blogged yesterday about what it was like being married to the Secondary Principal. After writing my post the girls said to me that if I thought it was bad being the Principal’s wife then I should try being the Principal’s kids! I retorted if they think that was bad then they should try being the Principal’s kids’ mum! (By the way I’ve got no idea if the apostrophes are correct in the last sentence.)
Our comments were largely tongue in cheek as the kids have had an amazing education for which they and I are truly grateful. I’d even go as far as to say that they’ve even enjoyed being teachers’ kids, especially Betsy. She cites the following advantages and disadvantages:
Advantages of Being a Teacher’s Kid
Disadvantages of Being a Teacher’s Kid
The girls say that as being a teacher’s kid is a fairly common phenomenon in international schools it isn't really a big deal. I do agree but, like being the Principal's wife, it has its moments ...
The plight of teacher's kids: "Why can't you persuade your dad to let us have pizza in the canteen every day?"
Remember the time when:
It breaks your heart to see your kid sad at school, which can happen when you are also there all day every day. I've found that sometimes I've just have to speak up for my kids and risk the wrath of colleagues who might feel betrayed. Often though, being part of a system I've found it prudent to bite my tongue (and vent in an odd third person blog style way later!). It really isn’t the done thing to be ‘one of those’ mums!
Ultimately, I've found being a teacher’s kid’s mum has meant I've been able to see on a daily basis all of the truly fantastic educational opportunities the kids have had. I've had the knowledge to tap into everything on offer and been in the position of understanding most of it. Being part of a school that lives its mission, has a great teaching staff and a wonderful pastoral system intent on improving the well-being of all the kids has been as reassuring as it gets. All in all being the teacher''s kids' mum has been a privilege.
Times have changed. All four of us used to head to school and then there were three, two, and now just Mick :( Photos courtesy of a sad Saint Mick of Thana.
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