The Benefits of School Residentials
Residential Trips in Thailand
School Residential Trips has featured high during this visit to Bangkok. As a ‘trailing spouse I’ve tagged along with Saint Mick of Thana whilst he has visited his school’s residential trips to Rayong, Khao Yai, Kanchanaburi, and Nakon Nayok.
Tagging along on the visits has been a real trip down memory lane for me as I’ve relived the emotions I felt when my kids were on residential. If you know me it won’t come as a surprise when I say it would be quicker to list what I didn’t worry about, rather than what I did! On each trip though the kids returned smiling and just about in one piece. I do remember a few colds, scrapes and tired eyes, but these memories have by and large been replaced by the excitement of their chatter, and the elation of their sense of accomplishment about what they’d done, seen and achieved. I always remember Betsy's joy, who struggles with balance, after she managed the bike ride under the lovely, kind, watchful eye of Madame Peppard who had tight eye on her well-being.
Sleep Deprived Empty Nesters
I’m lying here in bed at 3.35 a.m. listening to the rain outside wondering whether Annie got home ok from her night out yesterday. I’m not too worried as I know she was travelling with her friend Alfie, but I question whether it is raining over in Spain too and if not whether it is cold. I hope that she has remembered to wear a proper coat. I know she won’t have put gloves on or even taken any to Salamanca with her. I check my phone to see if she has messaged but I am not expecting anything. It is her third year at university and I have slowly weaned myself off from asking her check in every ten minutes. I often manage up to an hour now! (Only half joking!)
Mick is in Bangkok and will probably be just getting up, I bet the dog is barking for attention. Betsy is in York and has messaged earlier to say that she is safely home from her evening out. There is no one to disturb if I switch on my very loud coffee machine so I get up and make myself a drink. It’s ok, but I know that Mick would scorn the inferior ‘bargain basement’ coffee beans. Only two weeks until half term when I see him. This makes me smile. I breathe out. For the first time this week my anxiety levels are within acceptable levels. Relax
I pick up Lucy Worsley’s Jane Austen At Home which I’m about half way through. I adore Jane Austen, (particularly Pride and Prejudice) and admire Lucy Worsley but I’m soon sleepy. I lay the book aside. I have planned to blog in the morning about ‘Empty Nesters’ and I drift off wondering what type of empty nesters Mr and Mrs Bennet were. ....
Frasier as Prologue
There’s an episode of Frasier which explores his need for tranquility and solitude after Martin, his father, moves in with him. This is illustrated by an elaborate display of him plumping the cushions, pouring himself a glass of sherry and playing gentle classical music as he prepares to read his book alone. However, Frasier’s enjoyment is stymied by interruptions from Eddie the dog, the doorbell, the phone, and so on… if I’m not mistaken the same episode, or a further one on the same theme, concludes with Frasier throwing his father’s chair out a high window into the street below in a Freudian accident! It’s very funny if you haven’t seen it - one of the great Frasier farces. However, this isn’t a post about Frasier, but I did feel something akin to his frustration whilst trying to prepare to read Margaret Atwood’s highly acclaimed and much anticipated The Testaments by first re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale. How hard can it be to simply read a book?!
Frustrations only a Lover of Reading will Understand
There were many obstructions to reading The Handmaid’s Tale. Firstly, I had to dice with death to reach it from my bookshelf in preparation for my reading it on my plane journey to Bangkok. Alphabetized of course so ‘A’ for Atwood was at the very top! Secondly, my reading was prevented by irritating and irritated passengers on the plane. These included a nobby-know-it-all man who was sure I was in the wrong seat (I wasn’t); a very posh lady who, with her XXL sized makeup bag and abundance of Gucci hand luggage, considerably over-spilled into my area, (the irony being that she had been moved after complaining about her own oversized and overspilling neighbour); and an intemperate non-English speaking man across the aisle whose gesticulations and rants clearly demonstrated that my reading by my iphone torch light (oh, the overhead lighting had been too bright for the aforementioned (now in need of beauty sleep) passengers) was disturbing him. In the end I gave up trying to read The Handmaid’s Tale on the plane and instead satisfied myself by watching a couple of episodes of the eight Prime Time Emmy Awards winning series adapted by Hulu. (This, by the way, was excellent, but all good scholars know that the reading must precede the viewing whenever possible!)
Determined to be philosophical and patient (even though The Testaments was burning a holy hole in my very core and I had a whole further book to get through first) I decided I’d read The Handmaid’s Tale on the way to Hua Hin instead. My marvellous Saint Mick of Thana (honestly, not to gush, but he is the best husband ever) had booked us into the Hilton for the long weekend. Things continued to go wrong delaying my reading. After a completely rubbish day at school and after being on the (what felt to me very late) late shift at a school event (I haven’t seen him for six weeks after all) Mick broke down on his way home. He had to leave the car under a dubious looking electricity transformer and an even more dubious Thai buzzing electric spaghetti of wiring on a flooded road in the middle of a thunderstorm and hope to not hear any fire-engines. Eventually the car was towed and once fixed the next morning we finally departed. However, after all the drama and having not seen Mick for six weeks, I felt the least I could do was actually chat with the old fella on the journey, so the reading was once again delayed.
Hua Hin, as always, doesn’t disappoint and the book at last – eureka - is read!
The Handmaid’s Tale – Nostalgia
As far as I know, Margaret Atwood is a pretty ‘out there’ author, offering inspiration and online writing advice. This would be great for IB students to tap into. I even think I read or heard on a radio interview somewhere that Atwood has a scheme where she ‘pair writes’ with a new author and acts as their mentor. If I haven't got that wrong (which I possibly have, how incredibly cool. She is one of those people that I’d invite to my dream dinner party, I’d probably be so star struck that I would just gawk in awe and say nothing whilst our elderly and incontinent dog Wizz, did her trick of wanton weeing beside the guests!
I first read The Handmaid’s Tale when I was about 18 or 19. I loved it then, but I love it even more now. If there was ever a book (and even better, a sequel) for a nostalgic 50 year old to revisit and reflect upon this is it. It is brilliant. I’d give almost anything to (just one last time) sit down with a group of students and study it together. Faces of students I’d taught jumped into my mind continually as I read – Elyse, Vic, Petra, Hanoi, Leonardo, Michael. We’d have an absolute ball soaking up the text and debating the themes within. Honestly, there is just so much to dissect and chat about, it’s absolutely a first-rate read which I’d highly recommend. If anything it feels even more relevant now than it did thirty years ago. It’s made me determined to revisit all of Atwood’s other books too and check out what I missed. Oryx and Crake, as well as being a love story, is of course such a great text for exploring environmental issues with. As a teacher, fiction can keep topics intensely personal whilst completely de-personalizing them and thus avoiding conflict in the classroom (does that even make sense?) As a Harry Potter fan it seems like Atwood is constantly ahead of her time - a much more relaible version of J.K Rowling’s Professor Trelawney, with the added extra of talent beyond belief thrown in for good measure.
Margaret Atwood’s Brilliance
Atwood keeps the ‘I’ at the centre of all her writing. It is through the minutae of the representation and portrayal of individual life that we are able to so successfully explore the global central themes of societal oppression, religious indoctrination and environmental concern. A real beauty of her writing is an unspoken acknowledgement by her characters, usually the protagonists, that this is the case. She demonstrates that rarely, probably never can a utilitarian society reflected in whatever type of dystopia portrayed, (or rebellion against the dystopia) suppress individual and personal want. For example, Offred guilitily rushes through her account of her affair with Nick.
I think what re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale reminded me of the most is how marvellous a tool fiction is to explore world issues and also how fiction (for me anyway), more than anything, else gets to the crux of exploring the human condition (whatever that means!) Her references to the misuse of Islam on which to blame all world problems; the dangers that having a little power brings; and the skills repressors have of using the oppressed to oppress further, gave me plenty of food for thought. I guess historians and sociologists would do the same by studying real-life societal issues (Brexit perhaps!), but for me it is only by escaping society that I can start to understand it. Let’s face it, it is also good to escape, though having said that reading Atwood is not a passive activity.
The paradox of the utter insignificance of the individual juxtaposed against the absolute significance of that same individual is never far from the surface of her books. This leaves the reader with their mind blown, their energy levels in overdrive and their desire to make every moment count; resolute, as for all of us life is transient and short. With this in mind, I was very saddened to see yesterday that Atwood’s long term partner died whilst Atwood had been in the UK promoting her new book The Testaments. Sad news indeed.
Anticipation of Atwood’s The Testaments
Back to the sun, sea and sand in Hua Hin. I am recovered from my journey, full from a very large breakfast and admiring the view. I am replete and ready to reverently open the pages of The Testaments. I hope that I don’t get my lovely new hardcopy spoiled by reading it on the beach, but if I do such is life! I have avoided all reviews and sincerely wish for the following: that I do in fact get to find out what happened to the central characters in The Handmaid’s Tale; that I learn how the utop/dsystop-ia fell (I know from the epilogue to Handmaid that it did indeed fail); and that the book doesn’t fall into anything as banal as an exploration of whether Offred chooses Luke (if he is alive) over Nick. That would be very disappointing. However… I shall see. I won’t be blogging again until I’ve read it.
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. (I was even reading in this blog called Techie Mamma about one little guy's very first day at pre-school.) It’s been, of course, lots of kids 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!